“They Live” (1988)

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[amtap book:isbn=B0000AOX0F]

Aliens invade Los Ange­les (and by impli­ca­tion, the entire world) but no one notices, because of their tele­vi­sion mind con­trol devices. Instead, every­one is hyp­no­tized into believ­ing every­thing is nor­mal, with con­tin­u­al rein­force­ment through just about every media venue, from bill­boards and mag­a­zines, even to the dol­lar bills in cur­ren­cy. Only a few peo­ple can see the truth and they are the most hunt­ed peo­ple on the planet.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for the aliens, the newest per­son to see through the mind con­trol haze is a drifter with an extra­or­di­nary sense of self-preser­va­tion and the back-alley fight­ing skills to back it up. One drifter against an entire city. The aliens are in trouble.

Descrip­tion: The hero, George (Rod­dy Piper) an unem­ployed con­struc­tion work­er, wan­ders into Los Ange­les, look­ing for work in a down-turned econ­o­my. He was­n’t expect­ing to be a hero, but when he finds a pair of sun­glass­es in the ruin of a church after a police raid, he dis­cov­ers the glass­es reveal the truth about the world: a black&white image of ram­pant sub­lim­i­nal pro­gram­ming and indoc­tri­na­tion, all designed to paci­fy a pop­u­lace and hide an alien inva­sion and the aliens them­selves from the paci­fied populace.

And with that knowl­edge comes con­flict: once the aliens iden­ti­fy him as some­one who knows the truth, the full might of the city is after him. For­tu­nate­ly, he is also dis­cov­ered by the under­ground resis­tance move­ment who dis­trib­uted the sun­glass­es and is prepar­ing a raid on the cen­tral con­trol of the alien mind con­trol device: once it is destroyed, the world will see the truth.

His­to­ry: “They Live” is based on two direct sources as well as being fla­vored by John Car­pen­ter’s own expe­ri­ences in Hol­ly­wood. The orig­i­nal sto­ry was tak­en from the 1963 short sto­ry ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morn­ing’ by Ray Nel­son com­bined with a sto­ry named ‘Nada’ from the com­ic book “Alien Encoun­ters”. Nel­son’s sto­ry involved a man (George Nada) who was hyp­no­tized by a stage hyp­no­tist, who, when brought out of his trance, real­ized he (and the rest of the world) had been hyp­no­tized as part of an alien inva­sion: one of the aliens dis­cov­ered this and com­mand­ed him to die of a heart attack at 8:00 am. Car­pen­ter bought the rights to both sto­ries as the basis for the film.

Com­men­tary: When it was released, it received a mixed reac­tion from the crit­ics and nev­er real­ly reached an audi­ence.. Which was a pity, because the film pos­sessed both intel­li­gence and sly humor (the sub­lim­i­nal mes­sage on a dol­lar bill read “this is your god” and Rod­dy Piper’s quote in the bank: “I’m here to chew bub­blegum and kick ass … and I’m all out of bub­blegum.”) John Car­pen­ter took every cliché about alien inva­sions, mixed well with Phillip K Dick para­noia and social com­men­tary and cre­at­ed a scathing crit­i­cal satire about soci­ety in gen­er­al and its slav­ish devo­tion to con­for­mi­ty and con­spic­u­ous consumption.


  • To empha­size the “every­man” aspect of the movie, none of the char­ac­ters have last names in the film (except for clos­ing cred­its) except for the female lead, Hol­ly Thomp­son (played by Meg Fos­ter.) Strange­ly enough, she’s also the only human George kills through­out the movie.


[amtap book:isbn=159376278X]


  • Rod­dy Piper’s line about chew­ing bub­blegum and kick­ing ass was not in the script, but was adlibbed from some of the things he would say at inter­views dur­ing his pro­fes­sion­al wrestling career.
  • The extra-long fight scene between Piper and Kei­th David was only script­ed for 20 sec­onds: how­ev­er, they rehearsed the fight for three weeks and played it real, only pulling the punch­es to the face and groin. Car­pen­ter approved the change and kept the whole scene in the movie.
  • Kei­th David got his role because of his pre­vi­ous work on “The Thing” with Car­pen­ter. Car­pen­ter want­ed a black co-star who could stand up to Piper’s character.
  • The preva­lence of heli­copters (George is shot by a sniper from one in this movie) in Car­pen­ter’s movie’s is no coin­ci­dence: Car­pen­ter is a heli­copter buff who is often cred­it­ed as the “Man in the Heli­copter” in his movies.

2 comments to “They Live” (1988)

  • Darci

    There’s not much to the entry for “Nada” in Alien Encoun­ters #6 (April 1986, see http://www.comics.org/issue/41346/ ) but they list the same author, Ray Nel­son.  I won­der if it isn’t “Eight O’Clock in the Morn­ing” adapt­ed for the com­ic book?

  • HypnoMedia

    I would agree, after look­ing at the list­ing. It would also make sense, get­ting the rights for the com­ic as part of the package.