They Live

They Live 
 
(John Carpenter, 1988)
 
☆☆☆☆
 
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster 
 
Summary: John Carpenter’s They Live is a searing indictment of capitalist greed and who better to guide it than the godfather of independent horror now in 4K UHD? 
 
“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum.” With lines like this you know that this isn’t the John Carpenter of Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13 but rather the John Carpenter who cut loose to bring us cult classics like Big Trouble in Little China and the underrated sci-fi comedy Memoirs of an Invisible Man. 
 
As well as having its tongue firmly in its cheek throughout, They Live has a fantastic plot hook: Nada, a carefree drifter (pro-wrestler Roddy Piper), discovers a pair of sunglasses that when worn allow him to see that aliens and subliminal propaganda has taken over the Earth. Banding together with a group of resistance fighters, Nada vows to rid the world of these imposters. 
 
 
The sunglasses grant Carpenter the freedom to unleash his brilliant visual style with real audacity. When we look through this kaleidoscope of skewed reality, we are treated to washes of high contrast monochrome and grizzly make-up effects that stand out stunningly against the gritty colour of Carpenter’s location photography used throughout the rest of the picture. The technique is as punchy and cool as Jean-Luc Godard’s inverted colours during the climax of Alphaville. Carpenter has been bold and vibrant before but seldom is he this overt in his visual style. 
 
Then there’s the casting of Piper in the lead - a risky move that pays off and then some. It would be easy to dismiss Piper as a cheap substitute for Carpenter favourite Kurt Russell but in reality, he is a more than capable performer with a masterful gift for blending brute strength with spot on comedic timing. He’s perfectly matched by The Thing’s Keith David with whom he shares a ridiculously long fist fight with in one of the film’s many offbeat buddy comedy moments. 
 
 
They Live may look and feel like wild escapism on the surface but there are solid, even terrifying themes simmering beneath. The resistance fighters who are flushed from their underground hiding spots feel like they could be out of Nazi-ran world war two while the ‘hiding in plain sight’ villains recall the invisible AIDS epidemic of the film’s1980s era too. But more so than all that, They Live is a searing indictment of capitalist greed and who better to guide it than the godfather of independent horror? 
 
Be sure to pick up this staggeringly good home entertainment box set that contains a fine print on 4K UHD and Blu-ray, a host of extras and even Carpenter’s very own soundtrack CD to round off the package. Full details below: 
 
  • 4 discs
  • (1 UHD, 1 Blu-ray feature, 1 Blu-ray extras, 1 CD Soundtrack)
  • 1 poster
  • 5 artcards
  • 48 page book
 
Extras:
 
  • Subversion: Exposing John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE - A brand retrospective documentary produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and featuring interviews with Associate producer Sandy King, cinematographer Gary Kibbe, actor Peter Jason, actor Robert Grasmere, composer Alan Howarth, stunt coordinator/Ghoul Jeff Imada, author Jonathan Letham, music historian Daniel Schweiger, Blumhouse editor Rebekah McKendry, and visual effects historian Justin Humphreys.
  • Original EPK: The Making of They Live (1988) John Carpenter profile - vintage profile of the director
  • Meg Foster profile - vintage profile of the actress
  • Roddy Piper profile - vintage profile of the actor
  • Audio Commentary with John Carpenter & Roddy Piper Independent Thoughts with John Carpenter – a 2012 interview with director John Carpenter
  • Woman of Mystery: Interview with Meg Foster – a 2012 interview with actress Meg Foster
  • Man vs Aliens: Interview with Keith David – a 2012 interview with actor Keith David
  • Fake commercials in the film 2.34 mins TV spots Photo gallery  

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