Blick Tolkien reviews They Live

They Liveaka John Carpenter’s They Live
94 min., 1988
Written by Frank Armitage
Directed by John Carpenter
Language: English
My rating: ★★★★★

Too bad I’m all out of bubble gum.

* * *

This is going to be a shorter review with less detail than normal. I realize that is a little uncharacteristic of my style but it is also uncharacteristic for me to review a film that I can honestly say from beginning to end doesn’t suck. The surprising part is that every performance on screen came off to me as being completely believable. The one exception of this would be the police officers during the first 3rd of the film when they were beating up the blind preacher and so on. The performance by Meg Foster is superb which considering her body of work which includes but is not limited The Stepfather Part 2, Master of the Universe and the upcoming Rob Zombie film Lords of Salem. The real shocker here, however, is that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper delivers something very rare to see on screen and that is a true to life performance. What I mean by this is that rather than going over the top he consistently appears to be a person shocked by and struggling with the revelation that his world has seemingly been taken over by these hideous alien creatures.

He starts the film as an idealist who still believes one can have the American dream. At no point during the film does he seem to become jaded toward that idea. Even once he finds out that some of the humans have turned on one another for profits sake selling out their own to these aliens. At some point once he realizes he is in over his head (which conveniently would be about the time he gets cold cocked by a bottle and knocked out of a window) he seeks out the help of the first person to show him kindness, Frank, played by Keith David. With the chemistry between him and Piper I wouldn’t be surprised if they had been pals long before this film was ever made.

David’s reaction to this situation was also very real to life in the sense that he would do just about anything not to get involved. Piper doesn’t even explain to him exactly what’s wrong but the simple gesture of asking Frank to put on these glasses was met with a resistance so strong that it turned into a full on out and out fight. This epic fight scene stood in history for a very long time as the longest man on man fight scene in cinema. Given the plot being that these aliens have infiltrated out lives posing as or adopting the personas of the rich and powerful works extremely well even now. Had you tried to pitch this ideas to any Hollywood producer type especially considering the only way to see these aliens is with a pair of scientifically altered sunglasses I’m sure an obese security guard would have promptly escorted them out of their office. Gladly for us this take on Reaganism by John Carpenter stands as not only a cult classic but one of the greats mentioned in horror film circles because he had enough notches under his belt to even get the thing made. The constant subliminal messages of sleep, obey, marry and reproduce, and don’t pay attention being fed to us constantly in all forms of media 24/7 is a concept that in my opinion will never seem dated. As is evident by Hell Comes to Frog Town, Roddy Piper did show he was capable of performing outside of the ring as well as in and wasn’t just a one trick pony with this film. The transition from the ring to the silver screen didn’t begin or end with Piper but it is rarely done as well. From Suburban Commando, The Marine, The Expendables or The Scorpion King there are a string of television’s most entertaining gladiators going for the gusto hoping to become the next big action star but this will stand out in my mind as one successful transition. If there are any of you that want to read more about his costar Meg Foster we have an interview we snagged at Flash Back Weekend where we were able to get her to say a few words. Until next time I Wish you all well and may all your films bring fright.

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About Zeb Carter

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at
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One Response to Blick Tolkien reviews They Live

  1. John Bruni says:

    This is easily my favorite of Carpenter’s movies. I was lucky enough to see it in the theaters when it first came out. I never got to watch anything rated over PG back then, but my father, who didn’t raise me, had much more open ideas about art and children, and I have thanked him for it ever since. On a side note, Piper is also very good in his episode of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.

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