They Live

John Carpenter’s 1988 sci-fi follows drifter John Nada (Roddy Piper) who, like Bono before him, finds a pair of sunglasses that makes him see everything in black and white.

“This 3D Justice League movie is horrible!”

Continuing the “burly bloke with a mullet stumbles into a weird hidden world beneath the city” theme he started with Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter satirises Reaganite America by having our blue-collar hero’s faith in the American Dream vaporised when he discovers (through the sunglasses) an elite alien conspiracy, subliminally indoctrinating the masses to “OBEY”, “CONSUME” and “CONFORM.”

The premise is straight out of ‘60s sci-fi (based on a 1963 short story by Ray Nelson) but the execution is pure ‘80s action, which is why Nada (in the traditional badass-called-John mould) never stops to ponder what’s going on; he just knows straight away that he has to kill all the aliens. The film only really stops for a memorably bizarre 6-minute street brawl over the sunglasses, resembling a wrestling skit about a Ray-Bans sale.

That the late Piper was a wrestler explains the ropey acting, though the role mostly requires him to punch people and say things like: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” These bolshy one-liners and subversive ideas make for a fun popcorn flick whose eccentricities have passed into pop culture; the world of genre cinema seen through Carpenter’s non-conformist lenses.

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