‘I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum…’
John Carpenter is not just a master of horror. The Halloween director is also an action movie hero having directed Assault on Precinct 13, Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China. To have been so influential across two genres is almost unheard of and this came to a head with They Live – the razor sharp satire of capitalism and advertising that combined horror and action to create something truly unique…
Pro-wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper plays an unnamed, down-on-his-luck drifter who happens across a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world for what it really is. Not only are advertisements instructing people to ‘OBEY’ but half the world is made up of aliens in the shape of rotting human corpses. If you think that’s a silly premise, that’s because it is, and that’s exactly why the ’80s was such a glorious era of cinema. Hollywood studios would throw millions of American dollars at any old crazy shit.
They Live is the first real instance of a wrestler making a genuinely successful film and while Piper can’t really act, he works for this role. He is likeable and funny and also apparently wrote the films most famous line – ‘I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum… and I’m all out of gum’.
This isn’t just a mindless action flick that only works through some kind of kitsch, so-bad-it’s-good ’80s nostalgia however. There is a real message here that societal change is needed and that our overlords must be overthrown, and this is very much still prescient in the batshit times in which we currently find ourselves. Roddy Piper would be goddamn furious with the state of the world at the moment.
They Live isn’t quite Carpenter’s best work but it’s an underrated ’80s gem that showcases the best of the era. I loved it.