Conceived on 1950s B-movie sci-fi terms, They Live is a fantastically subversive film, a nifty little confection pitting us vs them, the haves vs the have-nots.
Screenplay by ‘Frank Armitage’ (presumably another Carpenter pseudonym as was ‘Martin Quatermass’), based on a Ray Nelson short story [Eight O’Clock in the Morning], takes the clever premise that those in control of the global economic power structure are secretly other-worldly aliens.
His leading character, pretentiously named Nada (Roddy Piper), is a heavily muscled working Joe, a wanderer who makes his way to Justiceville, a shantytown settlement for the homeless in the shadows of downtown’s skyscrapers.
Nada happens upon some sunglasses which, when worn, reveal a whole alternate existence, in which certain individuals – the ruling class – are instantly recognizable due to their hideously decomposed, skeletal faces.
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Nada becomes an outlaw, picking off aliens wherever he can. He seeks an accomplice, first in Meg Foster, who unwillingly rescues him from the police, and then in black coworker Keith David, another bodybuilder whom he has to fight seemingly forever before getting him to try on the glasses.
Pro wrestler Piper comes across quite adequately as the blue collar Everyman, and remainder of the cast is okay.