They Live (1988)

“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” In this offbeat paranoid thriller, professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper portrays a nameless, down-on-his-luck drifter and ex-construction worker (listed only as “Nada” in the film credits) who uncovers an alien conspiracy. It appears that creatures from another planet are responsible – through the use of subliminal messages urging mindless obedience – for the mind-numbing conformity that pervades the entire country. With the use of special sunglasses, Nada and others in a growing resistance movement can see the true ugliness behind the façade. Directed by John Carpenter on a shoestring budget, the film features a solid supporting cast that includes Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower and Peter Jason. One of the film’s highlights is the epic fight between Nada and Frank (David) in the alley (Nada is simply trying to get Frank to don a pair of the sunglasses so he can learn the truth). The fight reportedly took three weeks to rehearse and Carpenter compared it to the “slugfest between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen in The Quiet Man.” Spoiler alert: I also enjoy Nada’s final act of defiance as he gives the aliens the finger at the end. The tagline reads, “You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You’re wrong. Dead wrong.” They Live was based on a short story by science fiction author Ray Nelson called “8 O’Clock in the Morning.”

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