A loser in the 80s boom finds himself down and out in the city one day only to discover a revolutionary movement against the alien overlords who have been turning the world into a greedy capitalistic asset-stripping business, for their own advantage. He plans to do something about it.
Nada, played by “Rowdy” Roddy (an ex-wrestler who made his debut in the video favourite Hell Goes To Frogtown) is one of the new American hobos, a loser in the 80s boom who comes looking for work to a big city with only a backpack for company. He stumbles over a revolutionary movement hiding out in a skid-row church and gets hold of a pair of sunglasses that enable him to see the world as it really is.
It’s black and white (“they colorised us”, someone protests) and every billboard and magazine carries a message encouraging the human race to lust for money, stay passive and knuckle under to authority.
It all turns out to have been the work of alien exploiters, who have melted-to-the-skull faces and are masquerading as the rich and powerful. They have bought the Earth but offering a select few humans immense material wealth to sell the rest of us out and are thus behind the Reaganite-yuppie me-first generation.
Nada reacts badly to this news, and takes a pump action shotgun to a bank declaring “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum,” before blowing away a couple of the monsters. Hunted as a psycho killer, he tries to find the remnants of the revolution, and convince, tele-exec Holly (Foster) to join the struggle against the Gucci overlords whose fancy watches are actually transportation devices and who plan to asset-strip the planet before moving on to their next victims.
They Live the second film from Carpenter’s deal with independent producers Alive films (with two more to come), re-uses some of the basic cliches of science fiction movies and prefers to leap about all over the place rather than develop a coherent storyline, but it keeps on the move, and it has a bizarre, intriguing combination of political allegory and old fashioned paranoid horror.
A particular highlight is the totally gratuitous prolonged back-alley fight scene in which Nada tries to persuade his best friend Frank to try on the glasses, and which progresses from a simple movie slugfest into hilarious parody of professional wrestling and knuckle-headed stubbornness. The Pay-off, which depends on that old standby the machine-which-can-be-blown-up-to foil-the-ploe, is a bit disappoiting, but eh film as a whole leaves you on a genuine high.
A bizarre, intriguing combination of political allegory and old-fashioned paranoid horror.