John Carpenter had said that They Live had been the best film he had ever made, considering he also made Halloween, Escape From New York, and The Thing remake (arguably one of the scariest films and one of my favorite horror movies). To call this movie his best film is really interesting on my part because I can see where he is coming from with it. It's bad in the best possible way.
The film stars WWF Wrestling legend Roddy Rowdy Piper as the lead hero who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal to him that the world has in fact been taken over by an imperialist alien race who has turned earth into a capitalist, decadent hell. However, in sociological context, take away the aliens, and earth already looks that way. The film is interesting because it was made around that transition period between the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, so there's some competing trends and ideologies here.
The first time I saw They Live, I remember flipping through the channels and finding it on the Space Channel. It was already half-way into it and I saw Piper wandering around aimlessly on the streets of New York, seeing the aliens all around him through cheesy black and white POV shots, and I kept asking myself, "What the hell is this?" It seemed really surreal, almost like the world around Piper had become a B-movie. Then Piper opens his mouth with a barrage of bad one-lines (the famous "I am hear to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum) and I knew exactly what I was seeing. It was different, though. I had never seen a B-movie with a brain, a social-conscience, and a self-reflexive sense of humor before. Usually you only get one of those things and it's generally not the first two.
The beauty of They Live is that it is a B-movie, but it's a high-budget B-movie paying a loving homaging to the genre. It's one for the fans. It has the premise and the look of a B-movie. (Comparitively speaking to Carpenter's other works, the photography for this film is ugly as hell.) Carpenter is embracing the B-movie status of this film and using his talentsintelligence as a gifted director to make it that much more of a B-movie. Everyone involved in the film seems to know that except Piper, which makes the film even more enjoyable. His heroic crusades in the movie appear more like a madman on a killing spree - a direct jab at the whole 80s action hero trend. As a side note, Carpenter took this idea from the Italian Pablum films of the 50s and 60s, where Hercules went on fantastical and mystical adventures, but everyone in the audience watched him for how much of an idiot he was. There's a point in the film where so hobos are watching the original Hercules film starring Steve Reeves on a junky old television set.
I won't spoil anything for those of you who haven't seen this masterpiece, but there is a fight scene in the film that makes the entire thing worth seeing. It's so absurd and so ridiculously long that it made in the series "Top Ten Movie Fights." If you watch this movie for anything, watch it for that.
Review by thefiddle from the Internet Movie Database.