They Live (1988)


“The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are non-existent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices.  They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery.”

“Outside the limit of our sight, feeding off us, perched on top of us, from birth to death, are our owners! Our owners! They have us. They control us! They are our masters! Wake up! They’re all about you! All around you!”

Sounds like quotes from some sort of left-wing, socio-political film aimed at attacking the media, social injustice, consumerism and Big-Brother government? Well oddly enough that is exactly what this film is, which is something I was not at all expecting when I read the plot synopsis on IMDB:

‘A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.’


Now to me, that synopsis sounded like a good old tacky 1980’s horror film – plenty of bad special effects, bad acting and very little meaningful plot. WRONG! Well, ok, not entirely wrong – there are lots of bad special effects; however the film is more or less entirely focussed on social commentary – with the aliens and action* primarily existing so that people will watch it. The idea of the film is that people are blinded to the reality of the world that we are living in, the media and government spoon feeds us what we ‘need’ or ‘want’ for a good life and distract us from the real issues like poverty and injustice, grooming us into perfect monotonous drones.

The first half hour has no aliens, no sunglasses and no fighting. It is entirely about the poor economic situation for the lower-classes. It centres primarily on high unemployment, slums and takes a good healthy swing at media advertising: with TVs primarily showing beauty accessory adverts, fashion shows and other consumerist bullshit.  We see attacks on the lower classes by the police, suppression of information and a good amount of government cover-up.

Then we get the glasses and the criticism is bumped up a notch – going from slight attack on the ‘way-of-things’ to full blown beating-the-shit-out-of-it-with-a-baseball-bat-with-nails-stuck-into-it-and-then-stamping-on-its-still-twitching-corpse. The glasses reveal the subliminal messages that are being put out in advertising: ‘marry and reproduce’, ‘no independent thought’, ‘consume’, ‘conform’, ‘submit’ and allow out hero to ‘open his eyes’ to the reality all around him as well as see all the aliens camouflaged as upper-class humans. Considering how critical this film is of capitalism and consumerism I am amazed it was ever allowed out in 1980’s America. Probably that’s the only point of the aliens – if our main character had gone around shooting the greedy upper classes, rather than the aliens posing as the greedy upper classes I somehow think this film wouldn’t have done quite so well…

john_carpenters_they_live_1988_685x385 theylive

Suggesting that the media is all propaganda and brain washing? That’s ok – its alien brainwashing. Shooting policemen? FINE! They are alien policemen. Shooting a load of civilians in a bank? Yeah! Go right ahead – they are all alien civilians!! Aliens make everything ok.

Oddly enough I quite enjoyed this film – both for the societal commentary and for the odd bits where our hero shoots some aliens. My one criticism is that there is not enough killing of aliens and sheer RAMPAGING GORE – I was hoping for a bit more of that! I’m not normally a massive fan of older horror films, and I’m not sure this really classes as horror per-say, more sci-fi, but actually this is quite a good film, running along the lines of Invasion of the body snatchers – only with far more blatant social criticism.



*Oh, and mandatory hot woman. She is pretty bad-ass though – she hits our hero with a bottle and pushes him out a plate glass window down a cliff!** (He did abduct her first though – so not exactly unwarranted.)

**In fact our hero gets his ass kicked quite a lot.

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