They Live (1988)

they liveThey Live (1988)

Directed By: John Carpenter

Written By: John Carpenter, Based On a Short Story Titled “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson

Verdict: Two Thumbs Down from James and Me

Cross Posted Here

The Hubby took the girls to North Carolina for the weekend, to visit his sister, so James and I had a long overdue weekend alone together. We spent Saturday at the beach. Or to be more precise, we spent three hours at the beach and the rest of the day stuck in traffic.

Apparently Sarah had ordered It Lives from Netflix. I found it lying around the house. Thinking it might be an entertaining comedy, James and I watched it Friday night. Unfortunately, the only comedic value we gleaned from this film was laughing at the writing, acting, and ridiculous fight scenes.


Nada (wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper), a down-on-his-luck construction worker, finds himself living in an encampment with a group of other homeless people. He discovers an underground group of activists meeting in a church. After the activists are brutally routed by a SWAT team, he finds boxes of special sunglasses. Wearing them, he is able to see the world as it really is — people are being bombarded with subliminal messages like “Stay Asleep,” “No Imagination”, and “Submit to Authority.” This is clearly a conspiracy on the part of the government and media.

He soon learns … SPOILER …that our government has been hijacked by freaky-looking zombie-robot-like aliens. They are breeding us like cattle. Literally. Behind every racy ad and television program is the subliminal message “Marry and Reproduce.”


This cheesy, satiric little film, which delivers its message with all the subtlety of a sucker-punch to the gut, reflects the zeitgeist of the 80’s as I remember it. A certain sense of complacence, riding on the coattails of the improved economy, along with growing frustration over the widening gap between rich and poor, growing homelessness, and increased attention to corporate greed during the Reagan years. But the essential message is the same regardless of the decade or the party in office.

Despite the sledgehammer-like delivery of the satirical message and cheesy special effects, this movie could have had potential. Sadly, it started out weak and plummeted from there. Key points about this film James and I would like to convey:

  • The quality of the acting was underwhelming. I felt like Piper was unenthusiastically reading his lines. Not that I blame him for his lack of enthusiasm. The dialogue wasn’t exactly scintillating.
  • If there is an academy award for Longest, Most Pointless Fight Scene, this movie owns the category. It seems the filmmaker tried to shore up a weak script by directing a long, goofy street fight between the two main characters.
  • This movie is also a contender for a Worst Gunfighting Award. You’ve got to love it when the hero is wildly firing from the hip, with a clip that is never emptied, and a roomful of trained law enforcement professionals obligingly tumbles to the ground.
  • On a final — and irrelevant — note, a shout-out for women’s hairstyles in the 80s. James found it a bit amusing when I pointed out the big curly ‘dos, and admitted that my hair looked just like that back in the day. I think we ladies kept the economy afloat, throughout the 80’s, through massive purchases of hot rollers, hairspray, and at-home perm kits. Sadly, I actually thought I looked GOOD.

My Verdict on This Movie: If you’re in the right mood, you might very well enjoy this campy little film. But my best advice, for most folks, is to skip it. Watch The Matrix instead.

2 responses to “They Live (1988)

  1. Nooooooo! This movie is a classic! Yes, it’s 99% awful…but it’s so good too. That fight scene is the best part!
    Maybe it’s an acquired taste?

    Funny review, regardless.

  2. Thanks! You aren’t the only person to disagree with my assessment of this movie. One of my FB friends, a fellow liberal homeschooling mama, said it’s the “best bad movie ever.” Maybe you just have to be in the right mood for a “so bad it’s good” campy flick?

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