Skip

They Live
November 8, 2010 10:30 AM   Subscribe

They Live, John Carpenter's 1988 cult classic, is a fairly subversive piece of work. The film, which combines sci-fi, horror and satire -- and includes one of the iconic fight scenes in movie history -- is an allegorical treatise on the evils of capitalism, set in a Los Angeles populated by evil, conspiratorial and wealthy aliens. The film, despite a mixed original reception, has developed a rabid fan-boy following over the last few decades, and now Jonathan Lethem, the author of "Motherless Brooklyn," "The Fortress of Solitude" and, more recently, "Chronic City" has written "They Live," a meticulous, scene-by-scene analysis of its many, many layers.
posted by Joe Beese (128 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
Love me some Lethem. Thanks Joe, looking forward to a good read. Also, not using personal pronouns anymore.
posted by Mister_A at 10:32 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


(immediately skips to fight scene)
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:33 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Given the rich subtext it's suprising Zack Synder's name isn't attached to the remake so he can strip it all out.
posted by Artw at 10:33 AM on November 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


The fight scene
posted by Joe Beese at 10:35 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have come here to read FPP's and kick ass. And I'm all out of ass.
posted by prodigalsun at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2010 [39 favorites]


This is great.

I still feel like slideshow presentations on the web are a way to boost pageviews and increase display ad revenue, however.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


PUT THE GLASSES ON! I love that cheesy fight scene so, so very much.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2010


I love this movie (and Carpenter in general). Thanks for the link, Joe.
posted by brundlefly at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2010


Slight derail, but what the hell happened to John Carpenter. I remember The Thing and They Live fondly, but then the last thing I saw from him was Ghost of Mars and it seemed to be a total train wreck even by low budget sci fi horror standards.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:41 AM on November 8, 2010


I swear we've had other They Live FPPs before, although not for this exact site. But this move, It Lives.
posted by GuyZero at 10:41 AM on November 8, 2010


I still feel like slideshow presentations on the web are a way to boost pageviews and increase display ad revenue, however.

I came here to analyze cheesy action films and increase pageviews, and I'm all out of action films. Seriously though, this is cool, thanks.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:42 AM on November 8, 2010


I've a rather sad feeling that you just couldn't do a movie with as slow a build up as They Live these days.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on November 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


I came here to say what BrotherCaine just said. Carpenter had a great run of genre movies from Assault on Precinct 13 to this movie and has sort of sucked since then. What happened?
posted by octothorpe at 10:44 AM on November 8, 2010


Direct link: The commentary on the fight scene.

They Live! dialogue transcript (no character names yet, so it's a bit odd.)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:45 AM on November 8, 2010


I've a rather sad feeling that you just couldn't do a movie with as slow a build up as They Live these days.

QFT. If you go back and watch the original Terminator it's. so. slow. These days the credits have hardly faded and shit starts exploding. They Live has a great slow burn.
posted by GuyZero at 10:45 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]




I always thought it was interesting that the same actor who said this:
What's wrong with having it good for a change? Now they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em. They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money. You can have a little taste of that good life too. Now, I know you want it. Hell, everybody does ... What's the threat? We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team.
in They Live is the same actor in Escape from New York who got the lines:
I'm the President? Sure, I'm the President. If I knew where I got this
thing — *indicates the tracer* I'd be the President.
posted by adipocere at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine - In the Mouth of Madness was rocking, so I suspect something went wrong shortly after that. That he starts returning to his back catalogue with Escape from L.A. immediately after that might be significant.
posted by Artw at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2010


This place always reminds of me of that movie.

Also, CRIPPLE FIGHT!
posted by bondcliff at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2010


I've a rather sad feeling that you just couldn't do a movie with as slow a build up as They Live these days.

I recently watched both versions of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three back to back, and the difference in pacing is remarkable. The remake sums up the first 1/2 hour of the original in the opening credits.

(The remake also doesn't have all of the awesome 70s technology in the control room.)
posted by brundlefly at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Totally something to watch this winter with Young'n'StillGood. She'll love it. Particularly the final scene.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2010


This is your God.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


One of my favorite movies ever. Hooray!
posted by mykescipark at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2010


Well yeah, I mean Sam Neill. I think that was the last good one though (although I did see Escape from LA with low enough expectations that I managed to just barely enjoy it).
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2010


WHAT? Remake? Why has no one told me/cast me/attached me to direct?

Seriously, though? I love this movie. I would sell your children to be involved in a remake. Same goes for Repo Man.

In fact, if anyone wants to work on a script that merges the two premises, email me. I see our hero, Otto Nada, as a broke and down on his luck young man. He falls into a job as a repo man, until he finds a pair of sunglasses in the backseat of a car. All is not as it seems as our hero goes on a quest to track down and cut off a broadcast being sent by alien shrimp...
posted by Eideteker at 10:58 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I've even seen that whole movie (despite watching the fight scene probably 150 times). But even so, the subversive message was planted deep in my brain (omg...the irony!) and I think of the OBEY and CONSUME billboards several times a year.
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on November 8, 2010


And why doesn't Lethem ever bother to point out that "Otto Nada" is as great a character name as "Nemo", insofar as meaning goes?
posted by hippybear at 11:00 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Martin Scorsese is a fan.
posted by octothorpe at 11:01 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Carpenter had a brief flash of "back to great form" in the Masters of Horror episode titled Cigarette Burns. There's some truly disturbing moments and interesting characters there, so I still keep some hope he'll get off his ass and deliver something wonderful during the next years.
posted by Iosephus at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


So many knees to the groin! Awesome. Why won't he just put the damn glasses on?
posted by antifuse at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait there was a fight scene in this film?
posted by Mister_A at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Left unengaged is Los Angeles's car culture; apart from the police, no character seems to even own one ... The L.A. of "They Live" is dominated by foot traffic

Our reviewer does realize that the addition of cars, street clearances and such would raise the budget of what is a low-budget sci-fi flick, right?

This "no cars" decision has less to do with "John Carpenter, auteur," and is more about "John Carpenter, the effective director/producer that can squeeze a decent movie out of available, off-the-shelf parts combined with a few key expenditures in the right places."

Halloween didn't have any special effects. Bad guy with a knife and a mask, and creepy music (which Carpenter made himself). Done. The Thing had a great script, an ultra low-budget cast for its time, no big-ass set pieces, but they blew their budget where it counted -- on amazingly gory, otherworldly monster effects that made the movie. Brilliant.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


> I recently watched both versions of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three back to back, and the difference in pacing is remarkable.

'80s flicks have a reputation as the genesis of quick, MTV-style editing, but man...even Top Gun is paced like a Bergman film compared to contemporary action movies.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


Carpenter has always been hit-or-miss - Remember Dark Star? The made-for-television Elvis biopic? The Prince of Darkness?

Even his "good" movies are chock full of ultra-violent camp, scenery-chewing one-take performances and budget effects - and when it works, it really, really works. When it misses, we get Ghosts of Mars and Vampires.

He's been in semi-retirement, directing two made-for-cable horror shorts - but he's got two low-budget horror pics lined up for the near future, one of which is an anthology of shorts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2010


And that's why I don't enjoy contemporary action flicks. Too much action! Need to slow down and establish why I should like the hero(es) of the story. Not just because (s)he's the shootiest or stabbiest or what have you.
posted by Mister_A at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Prince of Darkness was fun, slappy!
posted by Mister_A at 11:16 AM on November 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


They Live is a magical film. It manages to make extremely complex statements about classism and economics with little more than wrestlers, sunglasses, billboards, alien masks and a story any red-blooded working stiff can understand.

So while I understand the desire to analyze They Live, given that it's a film so rife with commentary and allusion... it seems to be a weird choice for critical commentary, since we already get it. We *all* get it. It's all right there, in big black 4000-point type on the billboards of LA. It's in the magazine covers and on the TV. Carpenter gave us the sunglasses so that we may see the truth.

The only question is whether or not you put the sunglasses on.
posted by eschatfische at 11:17 AM on November 8, 2010 [15 favorites]


Not this year!
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:20 AM on November 8, 2010


I just went over to IMDB's They Live page to peruse the quotes...I'd forgotten about this one. Talk about prescient:

Frank: The steel mills were laying people off left and right. They finally went under. We gave the steel companies a break when they needed it. You know what they gave themselves? Raises.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


The fight scene

Ah, so that's where Captain Anderson learned the moves that would help him take out Udina.

My personal favorite "realistic" fight scene.
posted by kmz at 11:25 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" by Ray Nelson that They Live was based on is well worth checking out.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:27 AM on November 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


Both Halloween and The Thing are in my top five horror movies of all time. They Live would be as well, except I don't consider it a horror movie .. somewhere in between horror and sci-fi.

On the other hand - finally got around to watching Prince of Darkness a couple months ago. Don't think I made it more than 20 minutes in before I puked in my mouth a little, turned it off, and deleted the file. It was terrible!
posted by mannequito at 11:29 AM on November 8, 2010


This thing is mostly great, but he totally bungles the fight scene with the exact same false-equivalence that the real-world counterpart of the metaphor is burdened with:

If either of them stepped outside their entrenched positions to frame this absurdity ("You'd really rather keep at this than wear these glasses?" "You really want me to wear those glasses so badly you're going to take this endless beating?") the air of abjection and embarrassment would be hugely relieved...

But one of Frank and Nada's weightings of these actions is objectively right and one isn't. It really is more important that the Truth be transmitted than that Nada stop getting beaten up.
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I will fight you mannequito! It was hilarious! Better than Basket Case even!
posted by Mister_A at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2010


I love this movie so much.
posted by empath at 11:35 AM on November 8, 2010


I always wondered why Rowdy Roddy Piper's career as an action star didn't take off after this film. He's been relegated to syndicated TV and straight-to-VHS movies.

I had read Dean Koontz's Twilight Eyes before watching They Live!, and seeing some similarities, wondered why Twilight Eyes has never been made into a movie.

But this Salon article, this makes me happy.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:35 AM on November 8, 2010


At least they aren't remaking Dark Star. Please tell me they have no intention of remaking Dark Star.
posted by Splunge at 11:35 AM on November 8, 2010


I was always disappointed that They Live was stolen lock and stock (but not barrel) from Keith Laumer's A Plague of Demons (which you can read here). Aliens that are controlling us? Check. We can't see them normally? Check. Bad ass hero who came to kick ass and chew gum, but most just kicks ass? Check.

All of that but with better plot devices to explain why the hero is nigh invincible and a more interesting conclusion.
posted by plinth at 11:40 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Carpenter has always been hit-or-miss - Remember Dark Star?

Oh, I remember it. I remember it as one of my all-time favorite movies.
posted by interrobang at 11:42 AM on November 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


{hides self in wilfred brimley}
posted by clavdivs at 11:44 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


They Live was stolen lock and stock (but not barrel) from Keith Laumer's A Plague of Demons...

Hard to argue with this as the source. All you said, plus the name of the guy is the same AND it's knocking out the TV station that reveals all. There's even a hit of the class warfare in the fact that there are no aliens on the subway and the landlord alien.
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on November 8, 2010




I would sell your children to be involved in a remake. Same goes for Repo Man.

Why do you hate the world so much?

Also, it's not the most even of films, but man do I love Prince of Darkness.
posted by Artw at 11:50 AM on November 8, 2010


There were times when my friends and I used to get together and do back-to-back movie marathons that would include things like Buckaroo Banzai, They Live, Repo Man, Evil Dead 2 (and AoD), Real Genius , and the like.

While this was loads of fun, it would lead to one unexpected and bizarre side effect; through over-saturation, we lost the ability to communicate in anything other than catchy phrases:

"I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum..."

"Groovy"

"I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates who said..."

“Why is there a watermelon there?”

It would go on like this for hours. We must have been insufferable to anyone we encountered. Though I'm suddenly feeling the need to do it again.
posted by quin at 11:53 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love Prince of Darkness, and I've never quite understood the hate it gets. Maybe it's Jameson Parker. Not even a pornstache could give that guy charisma.
posted by brundlefly at 11:59 AM on November 8, 2010


'80s flicks have a reputation as the genesis of quick, MTV-style editing, but man...even Top Gun is paced like a Bergman film compared to contemporary action movies.

Had the same thought when I caught The Fugitive on cable a few weeks back. That movie spends more time developing Harrison Ford's character than everything Will Smith's ever made has spent on character development. They really oughta just name every main character either "Leading Man" or "Hero Protagonist" and be done with it nowadays.

Also, how the hell did I manage to see Halloween 14 times and Repo Man at least half a dozen and never see this thing even once?

*runs off to local Blockbuster*

*reads sign: "Store Closing - Everything Must Go"*

*contemplates options*

posted by gompa at 12:03 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


"They Live" remake might ditch the infamous alien sunglasses

And this, among many, many other things is why I hate the idea of them remaking classics like this. The glasses serve a critical function in the story: rather than some complicated piece of technology that might lend him and his claims credibility, they are a simple device that allows the character to see that reality is being distorted, but it also instantly makes him come off looking crazy and dismissable. So much so that he has to have the legendary fight just to get someone (who knows him even) to take him seriously.

I'll bet that whatever plot device they come up with the make the main character see the aliens won't be nearly as elegant.
posted by quin at 12:03 PM on November 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


alright Mister_A, you're on! I can't sit here and let you dis' Basket Case that way...

Although you know what beats them both? Rabid Grannies, baby!
posted by mannequito at 12:06 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


They Live is awesome. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it was Mr. Piper's second best movie.
posted by ND¢ at 12:17 PM on November 8, 2010


I always wondered why Rowdy Roddy Piper's career as an action star didn't take off after this film.

Well, he did do Hell Comes to Frogtown...
posted by steambadger at 12:19 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Course, Carpenters finest moment was a remake. Though I'd argue it was more of a deeper and more interesting adaptation of the same source material.

It was a different world, when remake didn't automatically mean shit... (see also the rather Carpenteresque 70's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers)
posted by Artw at 12:24 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


So can someone explain how Carpenter and Roger Corman differ?
posted by wenestvedt at 12:25 PM on November 8, 2010


They Live is one of my favorite movies of all times. I was in high school when it came out, and my job was working at a movie theater. I saw just about every movie in wide release in the late 1980s. The first time I ever saw They Live, I was alone in the theater. It blew my mind. It was so incredibly different than anything else in the theaters. And since I saw it by myself, it seemed like it was a special message to me. I'm really pleased that it has become such a cult movie.

As for Prince of Darkness, I took a girl on a date to see it at the same theater. We both thought it was the scariest thing we'd ever seen. Then, years later I rewatched it. Aside from the incredible "message from the future" sequences, it wasn't that scary. In fact, it was kind of stupid. I guess you had to be there.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, he did do Hell Comes to Frogtown...

Best Planet of the Apes ripoff ever. To this day, when I have to give a name, and I don't want to use my own, I throw down Sam Hell.

I raced to the store to get the DVD the day it finally came out.
posted by quin at 12:29 PM on November 8, 2010


You will not be saved by the god Plutonium.
posted by Dreamcast at 12:30 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


So can someone explain how Carpenter and Roger Corman differ?

Really? I'm not sure where to begin.
posted by brundlefly at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2010


Back in 1999, I was about thirteen at the time, and I had wanted to go see Princess Mononoke at this small movie theater in my town. My parents and sister didn't want to see it, so they decided to drop me off and go see another movie at different theater. We planned out the times so that both movies ended at around the same time. I can't remember what they had wanted to see, but it was sold out or something, so they ended up watching The Green Mile, which is like nearly two hours longer than Princess Mononoke.

So, there I am, by myself outside the movie theater, waiting for hours, with no idea what's going on (my family didn't have cell phones at the time). Then this weird, older guy comes over and starts talking to me. I'm just kind of making polite conversation, and he's telling me about his life as a gay Boy Scout leader, and I'm like, "This is kinda weird, but whatever."

And then, for some reason, he starts telling me about this movie I just HAVE to see. This movie will blow your mind, kid. This movie will really show you what's going on in America, he says. It's about aliens that infiltrate America and mind control people through subliminal messages and the good guys have to use sunglasses. It's called They Live.

Then he goes on to tell me about how the movie's just an allegory for the infiltration of corporate consumerism in our lives. And then he just went off about the WTO, I think, and all this other corporate and government control. I don't really remember it all. But, anyway, remember, I was thirteen at the time. I'd had a public school education. My parents were conservative Christians who had proudly voted for Reagan twice and thought Bill Clinton was as evil as Hitler. I simply had never been exposed to the idea that the government and corporations didn't have American citizens' best interests at heart. This was the first time I'd been told to think for myself and question authority and all that.

I remember being weirded out. Even at the time I wasn't a stranger to crazy people coming up to me on the street. But I remember thinking, this guy doesn't sound crazy. What he's saying makes a lot of sense. And this movie he's talking about sounds like the craziest movie ever made.

Anyway, I ended up renting They Live and loving it. But it wasn't the movie that changed my life. So, if you're out there somewhere crazy, old guy, thanks.
posted by fryman at 12:38 PM on November 8, 2010 [31 favorites]


I have the German DVD with commentary by John Carpenter and Roddy Piper... it's one of the craziest commentaries I've seen. I don't think they ever released it with the commentary in the US for some reason. It was the reason I bought a region-free dvd player.

I think the reason Piper never became a big star is that he's truly batshit insane, or at least he comes across that way.

I think I need to throw this movie in when I get home today.
posted by Huck500 at 12:38 PM on November 8, 2010


I think the reason Piper never became a big star is that he's truly batshit insane, or at least he comes across that way.

The great heels disappear within their roles.

In this legendary bit, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka was truly knocked woozy by the force with which Piper smashed the coconut into his head.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:54 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Carpenter has always been hit-or-miss - Remember Dark Star?

Oh, I remember it. I remember it as one of my all-time favorite movies.


That is word-for-word what I was going to say, ?!, although I like to think of it as an O'Bannon film not a Carpenter film.
"Good for you. You've decided to clean the elevator."
Timeless.
posted by Herodios at 1:11 PM on November 8, 2010


So can someone explain how Carpenter and Roger Corman differ?

Corman had a secretary named Carpenter who warned him not to go to the theater; but Carpenter had a secretary named Corman who warned him not to go to Dallas.
posted by steambadger at 1:11 PM on November 8, 2010 [18 favorites]


Best documentary ever.
posted by 445supermag at 1:17 PM on November 8, 2010


I believe that the producer of the film, by speculating about changing such a key aspect of the plot, is in fact inviting us to get into an absurdly extended brawl with him over whether or not he puts the sunglasses in.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:27 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


So can someone explain how Carpenter and Roger Corman differ?


corman used vincent price, boris karloff, peter lorre and jack nicholson...in one movie.
posted by clavdivs at 1:31 PM on November 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


They Live is critical cinema.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:33 PM on November 8, 2010


Carpenter always does the best commentaries.
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would sell your children to be involved in a remake. Same goes for Repo Man.

Shut up shut up SHUT UP.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:35 PM on November 8, 2010


Thanks for the post. One of my favorite movies.
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2010


"Why do you hate the world so much?"

I don't. I just love children. Wait—

Nah, but, forreal. I'd love to have a hand in making sure any remakes don't suck. Plus, I'd like to pretend I was Keith David in a setting other than in front of the mirror in my bathroom.
posted by Eideteker at 2:06 PM on November 8, 2010


I can't believe no mention of his truly epic movie, Big Trouble in Little China.
awwweeee yeeaaaa
posted by real_paris at 2:06 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't believe no mention of his truly epic movie, Big Trouble in Little China.

Since you mention it...
posted by Joe Beese at 2:08 PM on November 8, 2010


Blinky-dee-blinky blinklyblinky, Blinky-dee-blinky blinklyblinky, Blinky-dee-blinky blinklyblinky...
posted by Artw at 2:12 PM on November 8, 2010


I came here to chew bubblegum and make an amazingly witty comment, and I've still got like half a pack of bubblegum. So I'll get back to you in about 40 minutes.
posted by uosuaq at 2:19 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good film, except for the fight scene, which was stupid.
posted by idiomatika at 2:32 PM on November 8, 2010


Good film, except for the fight scene, which was stupid.

*points while screeching*
posted by brundlefly at 2:34 PM on November 8, 2010 [20 favorites]


Carpenter had a brief flash of "back to great form" in the Masters of Horror episode titled Cigarette Burns

The problem was that this story was ripped off from a novel I read years ago. But I can't for the life of me remember the name of it....
posted by lumpenprole at 2:35 PM on November 8, 2010


Found it:

Flicker
posted by lumpenprole at 2:38 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


*points while screeching*

Ha! Now that was a good film.
posted by idiomatika at 2:47 PM on November 8, 2010


The great heels disappear within their roles.

It's showdown time, you bet, and we ain't even saddled our ponies yet.
posted by StopMakingSense at 2:55 PM on November 8, 2010


It would go on like this for hours. We must have been insufferable to anyone we encountered. Though I'm suddenly feeling the need to do it again.

Temba at rest.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:57 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Carpenter always does the best commentaries.

Especially with Kurt Russell. They just sit there smoking doobie after doobie and after about 32 seconds they stop talking about the movie at all and it's just these two awesome dudes shootin' the shit and catching up with each other.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:58 PM on November 8, 2010


Click

oh baby does that sound like doom over the hedge.
posted by clavdivs at 4:42 PM on November 8, 2010


clavdivs: My favorite feature of the Assault on Precinct 13 DVD was that you could watch the entire movie with just the music track. The soundtrack is fantastic. Definitely my favorite John Carpenter soundtrack.
posted by Dreamcast at 5:18 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man, I love love love They Live. It was only after watching it a few years ago that I realized it was a kind of proto-Matrix, only with a much lower budget. And I love Lethem's ubergeek analysis of what could be just dismissed as a b-movie. It's great when high brow writers and publications delve into the surprising deepness of b-movie and action movie mainstays. Film Comment did a really in-depth article on Robocop many years ago that I remember in particular.

The one real criticism I have with They Live is the makeup. Those aliens look fucking terrible. I suppose they're supposed to be ugly and offensive looking, but seriously, the actors couldn't even open the latex mask's mouth. Carpenter should've splurged on Stan Winston or someone.
posted by zardoz at 5:27 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


My first watching of this was in 1993 in a college classroom, for a three credit-hour history class titled "Politics in Film and Literature". Great class, great movie.
posted by ewagoner at 5:41 PM on November 8, 2010


One of the top 10 greatest fight scenes in movie history starts around 55:00.
posted by Chuffy at 5:46 PM on November 8, 2010


{gets copy}
dreamcast, thanks i have that copy.... isolated score and interview with JC and Austin Stoker.
im watching it now. (did not like the re-make)
cooL


posted by clavdivs at 5:49 PM on November 8, 2010


Buckaroo Banzai, They Live, Repo Man, Evil Dead 2 (and AoD), Real Genius , and the like.

...Highlander, Flash Gordon, Young Frankenstein, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik-Yak, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead 1+2, Dark Star, Escape from New York ... oh yes, we would spend weekends watching (and quoting) them all from A to Zardoz.

quin, your friends and my friend were obviously part of the same tribe.
posted by fings at 6:21 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never had much interest in Lethem's fiction (and I admit that this may due to the surrounding hype/'buzz') but as a huge fan of They Live, I was interested enough to read this, and it was very well done. Kudos, Lethem.
posted by jonmc at 6:46 PM on November 8, 2010


Frank Doubleday played 'romero' in EFNY and the 'whitewarlord' in Precinct.

Romero: You touch me... he dies. If you're not in the air in thirty seconds... he dies. You come back in... he dies.

great stuff.
posted by clavdivs at 6:52 PM on November 8, 2010


Don't worry 'bout the buzz, jonmc, just schlepp over to the liberry and get Motherless Brooklyn. It's a good read. It's a... wait for it... a story!
posted by Mister_A at 6:59 PM on November 8, 2010


But, but... why didn't he want to put on the sunglasses?
posted by sammyo at 7:09 PM on November 8, 2010


Halloween didn't have any special effects.

Nor did The Fog, another absolute masterpiece. What I love is that Carpenter not only wrote & directed They Live!, he also wrote & recorded a lot of the music (the blues-y guitar stuff, IIRC).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:12 PM on November 8, 2010


why didn't he want to put on the sunglasses?

Because he was stubborn and prideful and didn't want nobody making him their bitch by forcing him to do something he didn't want to do. It is a little silly, in retrospect, that a problem with a 10 second solution ended up turning into a 5 minute knee-groin-fest, but that's just how some dudes are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:16 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


why didn't he want to put on the sunglasses?

Ever argue with a Tea Partier about socialism? Ever try to debate the non-existence of God? Ever try to tell someone how much a clown Glenn Beck is? They will dig in their heels and refuse to...put on the sunglasses.
posted by zardoz at 7:42 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Carpenter has always been hit-or-miss - Remember Dark Star? The made-for-television Elvis biopic? The Prince of Darkness?

Are you seriously slagging on Dark Star? Have you no soul?
posted by aspo at 7:48 PM on November 8, 2010


*knees Civil_Disobedient in the groin*
posted by mannequito at 7:50 PM on November 8, 2010


refuse to...put on the sunglasses.


"Push that button..."
posted by clavdivs at 7:51 PM on November 8, 2010


idiomatika: "Good film, except for the fight scene, which was stupid"

That's like saying 2001 was good except for that star gate part.
posted by octothorpe at 7:56 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


To apply They Live to the politics of today, you have to rewrite the scene so that after putting on the glasses, Keith David's character decides that the aliens are the real Americans, resolves to become one of them one day, and then continues to beat himself up for the rest of the film. Meanwhile Nada gets into a huge argument with a potential ally over whether they should just destroy the transmitting tower, or not settle for anything less than wiping every single alien off the face of the planet. Neither situation is resolved before the aliens finish sucking the Earth clean of all its resources.
posted by No-sword at 8:13 PM on November 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


Totally situationist - a self detourned film!
posted by pdxjmorris at 9:32 PM on November 8, 2010


— "an era in which the most serious ventures are masked in the ambiguous interplay between art and its necessary negation, and in which the essential voyages of discovery have been undertaken by such astonishingly incapable people".

I agree, he could have cast Terence Stamp and Connie Stevens but hey.
posted by clavdivs at 12:58 AM on November 9, 2010


Speaking of later Carpenter Flicks: In the Mouth of Madness arrived via Netflix today. I'd seen it back in the day but couldn't remember a damn thing about it. I stuck the DVD in the player today and immediately lost interest in it. So I watched it again. Still can't remember a damn thing about it. This hurts because I was a huge Carpenter fan at one time. My wife - no fan of horror movies - is asleep at the moment, so I may give it one more shot.

What John Carpenter should do to seal his reputation as an awesome horror filmmaker: A remake of the 1966 Terence Fisher flick Island of Terror. This movie cries out for a modern update, in my opinion.

He should then go on to redo this little gem.

Why neither of these movies have been redone by any of our current horror mavens is a testament to the impoverishment of the genre. Instead we get a bunch of lame comic book retreads. It sucks, and poorly.

On the other hand, we have The Thing, which is my all time favorite gross out horror movie. But I'd like to see Carpenter summon that magic once again. We're a patient lot, us horror fans.
posted by metagnathous at 2:42 AM on November 9, 2010


Why neither of these movies have been redone by any of our current horror mavens is a testament to the impoverishment of the genre.

Wait, what? A glut of remakes is not excactly a sign that the genre is vibrant.
posted by Harald74 at 4:07 AM on November 9, 2010


I'm sure that the remake will be done with jittery camera work and ADD editing and color corrected to be as orange and teal as possible. I just rewatched that fight scene and it's amazing how cleanly directed and edited it is.
posted by octothorpe at 5:22 AM on November 9, 2010


Any analysis of an overlooked, cultish B-movie that can find parallels with Yojimbo, Marnie, and The Muppet Movie is good by me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:48 AM on November 9, 2010


Cigarette Burns is certainly worth checking out, if only for creepy, creepy Udo Kier. Carpenter's next movie The Ward, set in a women's 1960s-era mental institution, sounds like it could be excellent.

I remember watching In The Mouth Of Madness on acid early one morning at a friend's house after he and our buddies had fallen asleep. The next day I told them I'd come close to chopping them up with an axe at one point, and yeah, I don't hang out with those guys anymore.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:33 AM on November 9, 2010


Here's Griggs's newest page, and a private group. (Not clear if the page is really by her or just a clever troll, and I can't see the group without an account.)
posted by metaplectic at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2010


woops, my bad
posted by metaplectic at 9:47 AM on November 9, 2010


They Live lasted two weeks in the theatres in my town, one week first-run and one week in the dollars. I count myself lucky that I managed to catch it in that brief timeframe.
posted by djeo at 10:30 AM on November 9, 2010


metagnathous: I liked In the Mouth of Madness. I think it has my favorite ending in any John Carpenter movie (the movie theatre scene), too. It's so weird. I think it's the last good John Carpenter movie.
posted by Dreamcast at 11:50 AM on November 9, 2010


-Love this movie, live Prince of Darkness. If JC only had so many brilliant movies in him, I don't slag the guy. People discuss a whole lot more of his projects as "Classics of the genre" than mine. Not every at-bat can be a home run, or even a single.

-The glasses, updated to a comtemporary context

-On the subject of remakes, I quote Keanu Reeves:
America just keeps eating itself. Pretty soon we're all going to get mad cow American disease.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:37 PM on November 9, 2010


er, love P.O.D. DOH!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:37 PM on November 9, 2010


hippybear: And why doesn't Lethem ever bother to point out that "Otto Nada" is as great a character name as "Nemo", insofar as meaning goes?

He might, in his book on this movie. It's part of a film criticism series from Soft Skull Press, called "Deep Focus" - "film criticism for people who like to read about pop culture from people who like to write about it." Plugging this only because it sounds interesting, not because I'm a company shill.

Keep those glasses in your hand, they spook me out. What? No, I don't have a spooky skull face and a bad wig.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:24 PM on November 9, 2010


Regarding In The Mouth Of Madness, I think a big part of its appeal was watching it in a theater, because SPOILER ALERT (Is that even necessary now?) there's this great meta-horror moment of watching a guy in a movie theater who's watching you watching him watching you and you're all gonna go crazy.
posted by zardoz at 3:31 PM on November 9, 2010


Ghosts of Mars = Assault on Precinct 13 IN SPACE.
posted by Dreamcast at 10:00 PM on November 9, 2010


Pretty much. And as such I actually kind of enjoyed it, though it's far from a strong movie. I liked the dopey ending.
posted by Artw at 10:23 PM on November 9, 2010


I could have done without the flashback structure though.
posted by brundlefly at 11:45 PM on November 9, 2010


« Older Mud, sweat, and tears   |   Is it the Economy, Stupid? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post