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Retro-review: They Live!



Theylive Friday mornings are a great time to surf the premium cable channels in search of rare gems -- those great B-movies from decades ago that for some reason HBO or Showtime executives think you ought to still pay to see.

Today's lucky find: John Carpenter's "They Live" -- his '80s ode to the yuppies of America, who it turns out are actually space aliens with a knack for subliminal advertising.

The movie was generally panned when it was released in 1988. The Washington Post's review was merciless: "It's just John Carpenter as usual, trying to dig deep with a toy shovel. The plot for 'They Live' is full of black holes, the acting is wretched, the effects are second-rate. In fact, the whole thing is so preposterous it makes 'V' look like 'Masterpiece Theatre.' "

Whoa, many of us believe 'V' was actually better than Masterpiece Theatre. So maybe it's time to take another look at They Live.

Starring former wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David ("Platoon" and "The Thing"), the plot revolves around a hopeless construction worker (Piper) who finds a pair of special sunglasses that allows him to see the world as it really is: A world run by aliens masquerading as humans through special broadcasted signals. It's a familiar theme -- we saw it again in The Matrix -- but Carpenter gives it his own twist with a simple score he wrote himself and the rather elementary, but oddly effective makeup effects of the aliens.

Don't let Piper's appearance discourage you from catching this flick. Some of the best movies of all time star former wrestlers (OK, no they don't).

But the movie does feature of the most quoted and parodied lines of all time: Piper's "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass ...and I'm all out of bubblegum." With poetry like that, how you can pass up this movie?


  • "The world needs a wake up call gentlemen... we're gonna phone it in."
  • "You look like your face fell in the cheese dip back in 1957."
  • "I'm giving you a choice: either put on these glasses or start eatin' that trash can."
  • "We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team."
  • "Life's a bitch, and she's back in heat!"


  • The famous "chew bubblegum and kiss ass" line was improvised by Piper, who had considered using it previously during wrestling interviews.
  • A fight scene between Piper and David was supposed to last for 20 seconds. But the actors rehearsed the scene for weeks and Carpenter decided against trimming it. It lasts more than 5 minutes in the movie.
  • Cibby Danyla -- reportedly a former beauty pageant winner in Texas -- has a nude scene with at the movie's end. Credited as "naked lady," it would be her only movie role.
  • John Carpenter wrote the movie but used the name "Frank Armitage" in the credits.
  • The communication devices used by the TV station guards also served as "spirit-detectors" in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters.

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 2:22pm]


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