Some directors have cameos in their films. Some, like Clint Eastwood, direct and compose scores for their films. John Carpenter has served as writer, director, actor, editor, and composer of the score in a number of films. Maintaining control of a vision from beginning to end doesn’t work that well for many directors. As a viewer you wish some of those powerhouse Hollywood directors would let someone else edit their works. Not so for Carpenter. You can come in on the middle of a Carpenter movie, past or current, and you know it who made it. His signature style is truly his own. And it works.
Carpenter is a genre bender–one film can be billed under several categories, from action-adventure, to sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and thriller. Most of his films fall in all of these categories to some extent. You’ll know his films through a dark thread of chills, a thumping baseline of a guitar or synthesizer, and a rebel or outcast lead character just trying to get by but being threatened by something, usually something otherworldly.
They Live is one of Carpenter’s best movies. A tale of a loner who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, the story follows an unlikely star as an unlikely hero, making his stand at just the right time, and maybe saving the world at the same time. Lucky for you, it’s heading back to theaters this summer.
It’s difficult to say what movie is Carpenter’s best, with a catalog that includes Halloween, The Fog, and Prince of Darkness. It’s tied for my own favorite with The Fog. Then there’s Assault on Precinct 13, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York. The list goes on. Carpenter is known best for horror, but he’s really king of the genre-bender. They Live is science fiction, but it’s also a reflection of the culture and politics of its time–a political drama. Isn’t it also a Western? Who other than John Wayne compares to Roddy Piper every time he walks on the screen in this movie?
The late, great, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, in an incredibly underplayed performance, stars as a loner trying to keep to himself. He is thrown into the middle of a waking up-to-reality by a group of grassroots rebels who discover that the wealthier elements of society are actually hideous aliens in cloaked bodies, attempting to keep us asleep through subliminal messages in our advertising. When our hero discovers special sunglasses and later contact lenses that show the true world, we soon learn the secret behind the plot and why this is a classic sci-fi film.
They Live also has the best of Carpenter’s soundtracks–including the repetitive theme of our hero, following him and leading us through Piper’s dark discoveries. And just like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt is known for its famous San Francisco car chase, here They Live has a standout best fight scene, a hilariously choreographed, iconic, hand-to-hand fight scene between Piper and co-star Keith David that stretches in excess of 15 screen minutes.
The movie features some familiar fan-favorite actors from the 1970s and 1980s, including Meg Foster, Peter Jason, Buck Flower, Raymond St. Jacques, and Susan Blanchard.
It’s hard to believe the movie premiered 35 years ago. Fathom Events brings They Live back to theaters for limited screenings September 3 and September 6, 2023. Bookmark the Fathom Events website here now. Participating theaters and ticket sales begin soon.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg