John Carpenter’s “They Live” is a tough-guys journey into self-denial and disbelief. Roddy Piper is Nada, a cross-country walker, a lonely soul seeking work and a way to live. He finds a homeless shelter where the non-capitalist, working-class folk stay performing construction or making food. The division between wealthy and poor has no in between; Carpenter head-on tries to look at the commercial world with a frown, and a little more conviction in the fist.
Nada befriends a family-loving, seemingly benign Frank, a dark-skinned man with the biceps of a God, who works on the construction team with Nada. Not too much exposition happens when Nada starts thinking that the church is run by a secret organization, planning to do something terrible. The preacher is blind, which is a signal we figure out in the end means he either didn’t know what was going on, or was fine with it if he couldn’t see it. Regardless, Nada sneaks into the theater in the midst of a meeting.
He finds glasses that reveal to him who is an alien and whose a human; the aliens have skulls for heads in a color-screen superimposition, acceptable for the time it was made. Their is a fight between Nada and Frank, because Frank is a family-values man and doesn’t want to investigate and ruin what he has–while Nada is a lone stranger, who has now taken up this mystery full-time. This conflict sends them spiraling into a fist-fight, one of the most famous of all time for its ridiculousness. Frank slams his fist and knees him in the stomach, throws him. Cars are used to hurt each other, and after a long fight of comic book Foley-sound punches, they finally stop rather abruptly. It had to end eventually: they punched each other like they were sacks.
The film takes an on-the-limb character and turns him into a combatant of a conspiracy; some classic Carpenter action and cheesy dialogue mix for great fun. The film had a ‘matrix’ quality that could have minorly inspired it, especially a scene in a store where Nada wears the glasses and fears what he sees beneath their human faces: They look like he is out of the loop, what is he looking at, and it creates the spellbinding imprinted reality of the Matrix. A blast of inventiveness and over the top action, They live is a movie you won’t be sad for digging up.