PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
A nameless unemployed drifter, referred to as “Nada” (Roddy Piper), finds construction work in Los Angeles. Fellow worker Frank Armitage (Keith David) takes him to a local shantytown for food and rest, where Nada notices odd behavior; a blind preacher urges people to take action outside a local church with shantytown member Gilbert (Peter Jason), a police helicopter scouts overhead and a homeless drifter (George Buck Flower) complains as a bearded man interrupts the TV signal, urging action against those in power. Nada investigates and finds the church is a front; the choir is actually an audio recording and scientific apparatus and cardboard boxes fill the room. Nada sees a wall compartment hiding another box but escapes when the preacher catches him. At night, police bulldoze the shantytown and attack its fleeing inhabitants. In the morning, Nada finds the church empty, but procures the hidden box. At an alleyway, he stashes it, finding it full of black sunglasses and taking a pair.
Looking through them, Nada discovers the reality of the bleak world. The media and advertising actually contain totalitarian commands of obedience and conformity in consumerism, to control an unwitting human population. Many with authority and wealth are actually humanoid aliens with skull-like faces. Nada confronts an alien woman at a store, who then speaks into a wristwatch notifying the others about him. Two alien police officers apprehend Nada but he kills them, taking their guns and going on a shooting spree against aliens in a bank, while one vanishes using his wristwatch. Nada escapes, destroying an alien flying camera and taking Cable 54 assistant director Holly Thompson (Meg Foster) hostage. At her hill-top home, Nada tries to convince her of the truth while suffering a headache from the glasses. Instead, Holly knocks him through her window and calls the police. Nada tumbles down and escapes, leaving his belongings behind.
Nada returns to the alleyway, saving the sunglasses box from a garbage truck. He tries convincing Frank to put on another pair, but Frank wishes no involvement as Nada is now a wanted man. The two engage in a fistfight as Nada forces the glasses onto Frank, who then sees the truth as well. They rent a hotel to discuss their predicament before Gilbert contacts them, notifying of a secret meeting with others against the aliens. There, Nada and Frank are given updated contact lenses to replace their glasses and learn more from the bearded man’s transmission. The aliens control Earth as their third world, causing global warming as they deplete its resources before moving onto other planets. Frank is given an alien wristwatch, a complex radio and teleportation device. The aliens primarily use a signal to disguise themselves and destroying its source will make everyone on Earth see them. Holly appears, apparently joining the cause and apologises to Nada. However the police attack the meeting, killing anyone in sight, while Nada and Frank are cornered fighting their way out. Frank accidentaly opens a temporary portal by throwing the watch, through which the two jump into a network of underground passages.
The two find the aliens in a grand hall celebrating with their elite human collaborators. The homeless drifter from earlier, now a well-dressed collaborator, believes the two to be collaborators as well. He takes them on a tour of the passages, revealed to link the alien society, including a space travel port. A further passage leads to the basement of Cable 54 station and the source of the signal. The collaborator escapes by teleporting as the two attack their way through the building to find the broadcaster on the roof, finding Holly and taking her along. As Nada climbs to the signal broadcaster, disguised as a satellite dish, Holly kills Frank. Revealed to be a collaborator, she takes aim at Nada along with an alien police helicopter, persuading him to stop. Nada drops his gun, but then retrieves a hidden pistol from his sleeve and kills Holly. He then shoots and destroys the broadcaster but is killed by the alien police, giving them the finger as his last act. With the signal destroyed, humans discover the aliens in their midst.
The other day, Yahoo! had an article about the best alien movies and They Live was on there. I’m not one to really use them as my source for what and what not to watch, but I figured it couldn’t hurt anything. I have to say that I think this was one of the biggest wastes of time I’ve ever encountered.
There wasn’t much I liked about this flick, if anything.
Homage to the old school. I love classic sci-fi flicks, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. When we see the aliens (through the use of special sunglasses), it is through a special black and white filter that apparently pays homage to those classic films of the 40s and 50s. Truth be told, if this would have been entirely in black and white, or even in a different era, it may have been 1000x better!
Accent be gone. I think most people know Rowdy Roddy Piper as the loud, obnoxious wrestler who was Hulk Hogan’s rival in the mid 80s…at least according to the Saturday morning cartoon, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling it was. I don’t believe his accent is real, but it was nice to hear him tone it down…a lot!
What didn’t I like?
No life. In contrast to the film’s title, the plot has no life to it. I just wasn’t able to get into the story. For something like this, there should have been something more exciting, not just some random bad acting and effects.
Plotholes. I could spend all day listing all the plotholes in this flick, but I’ll spare you. Just be aware that there are many, many places where you will be scratching your head wondering WTF?!?
They Live just didn’t do it for me. I felt like this film could have been so much more and it just wasn’t. How it has attained such a cult status is beyond me, maybe it has something to do with the economic themes it touches on. At any rate, I wouldn’t recommend this to my worst enemy!
1 1/2 out of 5 stars