Monday, December 2, 2013

John Carpenter's finest? Judge for yourself, as THEY LIVE gets a silver anniversary re-release

Those of us who saw THEY LIVE upon its original release some 25 years ago knew we were in the presence of something special. But who'd a thunk the film would hold up this well? It does indeed, and although a new They Live appears to be in development now -- oh, it'll be glossier and filled with more expensive special effects, all right -- it's difficult to believe that it could be any better than its predecessor.

Directed and with a screenplay by John Carpenter (shown below), from a short story by Ray Nelson, the movie burst upon us just a couple of months prior to the end of the administration of Ronald Reagan, as a kind of angry and ironic thank you for the horrific damage Reagan and his cronies had wrought on the U.S. populace (many of us had only begun to understand the extent of the damage at this time).

Chock full of politics, economics, culture and philosophy -- all of which were turned into a riveting "message" about consumerism and a populace put to sleep -- this is a story of, yes, an alien take-over of America in the form of the most seemingly benignly Capitalistic means imaginable. If it takes awhile (maybe one full third of the film) for They Live to get going, that first third is so full of progressive ideas it must have had poor Kyle Smith (if he saw the film first time 'round) shitting a brick. Set in a Los Angeles where jobs are scarce and the pay is woeful, the film shows us the working poor (after the de-taxation of the rich, an increase in the national debt, the union busting and other Reagan "achievements") reduced to eviction and living in shantytowns -- which are from time to time destroyed by the police.

If this does not sound so far afield from what we can soon expect if our politicians and Supreme Court continue their current "work," you can probably imagine what it was like for audiences a quarter-century ago to go into the theaters expecting monsters and scares and to come out 93 minutes later frightened in a whole new way -- with their brains de-frying then re-composing. The "everything you know is wrong" scenario sure found fertile ground in this film!

Not that there aren't plenty of scary monsters (above) and jolts along the way. But these are all used sublimely well in service to the message: How do you shake off the clammy hand of abusive power, no matter the species that is wielding it.

Slavoj Zizek, in his new film The Pervert's Guide to Ideology uses They Live as one of the better examples of an under-sung Hollywood classic that also possesses intelligence, wit and a philosophy. It surely is. The film also reminded me not a little of Nat Christian's 2011 Monday Morning, but with a much heavier use of the fantasy/sci-fi element.

In addition, the movie gave actors like wrestler Roddy Piper (two photos above), a young Keith David (just above), and Meg Foster (below, whose gorgeous, odd, see-through eyes make her look like an alien already) the opportunity to shine, appearing in a movie that is destined to outlast them -- and us -- all.

After the many thrills and plot machinations, Carpenter's ending is absolutely terrific: funny, nasty, dirty and exactly right for a movie that politically, socially and philosophically knew exactly what it was doing and did it damned well. So, come on, remake: Let's see what you're made of!

Meanwhile, you can peruse the original, from Universal Pictures, which opens this Friday, December 6, in New York City at the IFC Center, before eventually, I hope, coming to VOD, DVD and maybe Blu-ray in its crisp new high-definition DCP image.

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