Guys, I’m embarrassed to tell you that I’m fairly certain last night was the very first time I watched all of John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live in one sitting. I can’t imagine never renting it back in my heavy VHS rental days at Family Video, but I was notorious for putting a movie on in the living room and then getting on the computer and AIMing with folks for hours only turning around and checking out what was going on in the film every once in a while (when sitting at the computer, your back was to the TV as the room was set up). I’ve seen huge chunks of the movie, though, but that whole first bit where Roddy Piper’s unnamed-in-the-film hero is walking around Rambo style, looking for a job and digging with his shirt off seemed brand new to me. I have no real excuse, so I’m just going to embrace whatever ridicule you might feel the need to foist upon me.
Okay, we all good? After spending a week in Disney World and really enjoying myself, I figured I’d watch something kind of action-y and horror-y to get back into my usual mindset. I was perusing my DVD rack which is piled with unwatched discs and was shocked to discover that I had a copy of Scream Factory’s recently released They Live DVD (I requested it from the fabulous folks at Shout Factory mere weeks before finally getting a Blu-ray player). So not only was I excited to give the film a full watch, but also to dig into the special features which, as you might expect, are fantastic.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, They Live follows Piper’s character — who’s only referred to as Nada in the closing credits — as he strolls into town looking for work. At first it seems like you’re just looking at a crummy part of town, but soon enough you begin to understand that something’s going on with this world. The middle and lower classes are being kept down by what appears to be television brainwashing, though a few people seem wise to the plot and are trying to do their best to enlighten the disinterested populace. Nada stumbles upon their main way of showing people what’s going on: sunglasses. These shades allow the wearer to see what’s really going on and it’s not pretty. The world is actually packed with subliminal messages bestowing the virtues of all things 80s (worship money, settle down and breed, etc.) AND zombie-looking aliens. As it turns out the aliens have teamed up with the rich to sell out the lower classes so the aliens can abuse the Earth’s resources while the main populace is none the wiser. Nada teams up with Frank (Keith David) to try and take care of the problem.
While the most iconic and well-remembered part of the movie, is probably the epic five minute fist fight between Piper and David (which I wrote about in a fun Topless Robot list called The 10 Longest And Awesomest Movie Fight Scenes of All Time), I’ve got to say that the themes of the movie really hit me and actually got under my skin a bit. That whole idea of evil living among us and not having any idea has always been a very effective one on me. Plus, you’ve got the general idea of brainwashing the lower masses while the rich take over and do whatever they want with the world. It’s an obvious metaphor for the 80s, but you can also see how those themes still carry over to this day. There’s a “How can we fight such a massive foe?” quality to it that can lead to either hopelessness or a unique trust in change and goodness. So, even while some of the effects or shots might look a little corny, there’s still a message going on here that’s the clear mark of quality in science fiction.
If you get the Scream Factory version of this movie, you can actually see and hear John Carpenter talk about his intentions going into the film, which basically revolve around rebelling against the establishment. It’s a really neat interview, especially if you’re like me and don’t know a ton about the genesis of this flick. I didn’t get through all the special features — there’s a commentary with Piper and Carpenter that I’m really excited to listen — but I did watch the featurette about the sights, sounds and special effects of of the film as well as an interview with Keith David about the film. As with just about every Shout Factory disc where they go the special features route, this one has all kinds of extra rad stuff to absorb for fans. The disc actually came out last November (where does the time go?) so if you’re a They Live fan, you probably already have it, but if you’re like me and increasingly out of touch with what’s going on, do yourself a favor and pick this one up!