A sci-fi/conspiracy film directed by John Carpenter, THEY LIVE! apparently has a bit of a cult following. Watching the film, I can see why it has a cult following and not a popular, mainstream one. Funny, weird, relatively low-budget, and starring really bad actors, THEY LIVE! is a very entertaining film.
The plot: a drifting construction worker wanders around town looking for a job. The worker is played by Roddy Piper, yes, as in “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, the WWF wrestler. If one needed a reason to see this movie beyond horror master John Carpenter’s involvement, watching Rowdy Roddy attempt to act should be that reason. Anyhow, he drifts around and finds a job at a construction site. Here, he teams up with a disenchanted colleague (Keith David) and together they hang out at a makeshift camp for mendicants. The only odd thing is a church across the street which seems to always have singing coming from it and a bearded guy on TV who interrupts broadcasts to talk about "them."
Before long, the camp is destroyed by cops and the church is raided. Only thing is, Roddy got to snooping around and found that the church wasn't really a church at all, but a sort of a store-room with random boxes in it. In these boxes were sunglasses, one of which Rowdy Roddy steals. Later on, he decides to put on the sunglasses and see what happens. What does happen is that everything that has writing on it, from billboards to magazines, actually say things like, "Obey," "Marry and Reproduce," "Watch TV." Without the sunglasses, they just look like normal everyday items. Hmmm...
This opening section is done very well by John Carpenter and it actually is very creepy discovering what Rowdy Roddy sees with the sunglasses. This is particularly true when suddenly he looks and sees that certain people aren't people at all, but skeleton-like aliens! Before long we are able to realize that aliens have infiltrated society without people knowing it and eventually plan to take it over. Rowdy Roddy, after taking some guns and blowing some of these aliens, becomes a fugitive from law.
After convincing Keith David to put on the sunglasses (which literally takes a ten-minute fist fight), Roddy joins part of a growing human resistance. Soon thereafter, we discover how extensive the alien infiltration is and what has to be done to stop it. What this really translates into is guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, and finally, guns. Not to give anything away, but there is enough gunplay in this movie to satisfy any NRA member's wildest fantasy.
THEY LIVE! is a terrific concept which is only done well enough to be entertaining. The first half of the film establishes the premise quite well actually, after that, there's not much place to go. For one thing, the plot doesn't do much in the second half. Moreover, the actors really aren't very good. Worst of all, the special effects are not always first-caliber. The budget seems to have gotten really low at one point, because the walky-talkies of the alien guards are the literally same gizmos used by the Ghostbusters to measure ghost activity!!!! Seriously! The exact same props!
Nonetheless, I had a blast watching THEY LIVE! It was a thoroughly entertaining bad sci-fi/action/B-movie. The poor special effects actually accentuated the experience. I can guarantee you also that this is most likely the best film you will ever see starring an ex-WWF wrestler.
Rating: *** (out of a possible 4)