In honor of writer/director/composer John Carpenter's return to his roots with an updated version of his classic film Halloween (which, sadly, he won't be directing) and as I've already expressed my fondness for wrestlers-turned-actors, it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite films of all time is John Carpenter's classic They Live. Even though I love the movie, I do have a bit of a problem here. This is supposed to be a "guilty pleasure" piece, but I'm not so sure They Live qualifies. I do get a certain amount of pleasure from watching it, but I don't ever really feel guilty about it.
Dictionary.com defines "guilty" as "having or showing a sense of guilt, whether real or imagined" and "pleasure" as " enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one's liking; gratification; delight." So, thinking about it in those terms, maybe we can call They Live a guilty pleasure after all. Here's why: the film is so good that you want to watch it over and over again spending quite a bit of your time with the movie and far less time on other things like taking out the garbage, work or talking to your family. You should probably feel guilty about not doing those things, so taking it that way, They Live does qualify. Glad we got that sorted. Now, let's get on with it.
They Live, which stars "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Keith "Don't call me David" David, George "Buck" Flower and Meg "No Nickname" Foster, is equal parts action, sci-fi and social commentary on the state of politics and the influence of the media in modern society. The story of the film is pretty simple. A drifter with a "checkered past" named Nada, played by Piper, arrives in Los Angeles looking for an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have too much luck with that plan.
Piper soon comes to realize that things in the City of Angels are not exactly what they appear to be. In fact, far from it. It seems an alien race has taken over the city with its sights on world domination. Their plan is to subjugate the human race through the use of subliminal messages all over the city forcing the humans to "marry and reproduce", realize that money is their "god", and above all, "obey." Piper stumbles on the alien's plans and with the help of a group of resistance fighters (and some cool sunglasses that allow him to see the aliens for what they are) he's off to work and ready to "chew bubblegum and kick ass." It's bad news for the aliens though, because he's " ... all out of bubblegum."
What follows is campy sci-fi action at its best as Piper and company smash their way through the alien's nefarious plans. Eventually, in order to defeat the aliens once and for all, Piper is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. This movie is also distinguished by several great performances , especially by Piper and David, as well as one of the best fight scenes ever filmed. Piper and David duke it out Mano y Mano in an alley for over five and a half minutes of punching, kicking and gouging -- with a few wrestling moves thrown in for good measure.
Particularly amazing about this fight scene is that Piper and David did all their own stunts. No doubles for these tough guys, because when director Carpenter called action they were ready to rumble for sure. When asked about this classic fight scene, director Carpenter said "It was an incredibly brutal and funny fight, along the lines of the slug-fest between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen in The Quiet Man"
When it was released in 1988, They Live met with less-than-stellar critical and commercial success. But over the years, after being released on DVD, has become much more appreciated as the classic 80's film it is. Asked about his film's less-than-stellar-performance once, Carpenter said "people who go to the movies in vast numbers these days don't want to be enlightened." I don't know if that was true in 1988 (I was pretty young then and didn't really think about that kind of thing). But today, in many cases, it does seem to be true -- especially if you look at the success of films like Saw 3, Hostel, House of a 1000 Corpses and others like them.
So, if you're tired of all the "splat pack" films (or just need a break from them for a minute) and instead are looking for a movie that entertains, amuses and even makes you think a little without pushing the envelope on blood, gore and torture, than this guilty pleasure might just be for you. I know it is for me. Just be sure you remember to do your chores and pay a little attention to your family too.