An out of work construction worker drifts into town and stumbles upon an alien conspiracy to drain the planet of its wealth and enslave the disenfranchised lower classes.
George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead contained a commentary on consumerism and greed whereas They Live is more of a full frontal assault! The decidedly left-slanted script pulls no punches as everyman Roddy Piper discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveals a subliminal message transmitted through the TV to keep us docile and advertising as little more than slogans stating “OBEY” “DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY” and “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT”; even money itself boldly proclaims “THIS IS YOUR GOD”. John Carpenter’s hatred of corporate corruption and greed is barely disguised but his real venom is for those who would sell out their own for a few crumbs from the master’s table. It’s very subversive stuff and although the noise and bluster of the action scenes and deadpan one liners stand out to the casual observer, it’s the brilliant premise and strong political message that sticks in the memory, right through to a finale in which Carpenter – quite literally – gives the middle finger to the conservative right.
If anything, They Live is more relevant in today’s political climate than ever and like Romero’s film, it may not have spectacular set pieces and fancy effects but the brilliant simplicity of the idea behind it makes They Live something of an unsung classic.