They Lived!

They Live- OBEY

The following is a transcript of the introduction film historian Darrell Buxton presented before the screening of They Live on Friday 18th July at QUAD. The film also screens on Saturday 19th July at 8:55pm.

Welcome once again to Fright Club, for tonight’s screening of the hugely underrated 1988 science fiction satire THEY LIVE. Usually at this point in the proceedings, I introduce myself with the phrase “my name’s Darrell Buxton, I’m QUAD’s chief expert in cult, horror, and exploitation cinema”, but this evening you should all be a little more wary, because as this movie is about to show you, things and people aren’t always quite what they may seem…


We’ve dished out free bubblegum on the way in, to those of you who want it. If you don’t know why we’ve done that, all will become clear very soon. In addition, I’m going to pause for a second and put on my pair of special sunglasses, if you’ll excuse me. (Darrell puts on sunglasses and peers round the room). Now I don’t want to offend, upset, or expose anyone, but those of you sitting in row D ought to be very careful and perhaps keep a couple of seats distance between yourself and your viewing neighbour. Just a friendly word of warning…


One of the legendary cult movie nights here at QUAD was our ‘Fringes’ screening of the 1988 actioner HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, a few short months ago. If you were here you’ll remember that the movie went down a storm. Well, the human star of FROGTOWN was former WWF wrestling hero ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper – and Rowdy Roddy is back! Wrestlers taking on movie aliens is far from a one-off, mind you. Jesse Ventura had already departed the canvas to join the muscular band tackling the invisible jungle hunter from another world in 1987’s PREDATOR, while in 1991 Hulk Hogan was to play an intergalactic space warrior battling a shape-shifting lizard monster in SUBURBAN COMMANDO. Of course the Mexicans had been doing this kind of caper for decades, with Santo and Blue Demon combatting vampires, werewolves, witches, aliens and every other kind of foe we love here at Fright Club, in their long running series of wrestling/horror combo movies from the mid fifties to the early eighties. So, the concept of a grappler ditching the spandex and exiting the ring for a career in front of the movie cameras was nothing new. Rowdy Roddy seemed to offer something more than bluster and brawn, though – his performance in FROGTOWN showed he could act, and bring a twinkle and a bit of personality to the role of a traditional action hero, and his character ‘Sam Hell’ shows comic timing and a winning sense of disbelief at the crazy events unfolding before him. Piper had already secured a meaty role as a wrestler in Hal Needham’s comedy drama BODY SLAM, but HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN offered him a true test of his ability, and he came through with such flying colours that director John Carpenter saw in him the ideal leading man for THEY LIVE.

Carpenter is our kind of director here at Fright Club, and indeed we’ve even shown his works in this slot in the past – THE THING, THE WARD and HALLOWEEN have all graced Screen Two at QUAD, and Carpenter’s career also includes wacky space comedy DARK STAR, tense siege thriller ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, ghost story THE FOG, Stephen King adaptation CHRISTINE, Jeff Bridges as an awkward alien on Earth in STARMAN, Chevy Chase as the title star of MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, Kurt Russell playing Elvis Presley in ELVIS: THE MOVIE, Snake Plissken in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and ESCAPE FROM L.A., and the hapless Jack Burton in the goofy Asian-tinged fantasy BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Add to this GHOSTS OF MARS, VAMPIRES, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME, and the remake of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, and you can tell that Carpenter is the kind of guy who would be right at home among the Fright Club crowd. As the late eighties approached, his glory days appeared to be behind him – BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA may have picked up a substantial cult following over the past three decades, but at the time it was deemed a major flop, and Carpenter had to retrench and rethink his career in the wake of this perceived disaster. This resulted in him signing a deal with a small production company called Alive Films, who offered him low budgets of just $3 million per movie but, crucially for this most challenging of directors, gave Carpenter full creative control over his projects. Carpenter finished two films under the deal with Alive – the first, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, was an ambitious shocker in which the essence of Satan is found to be stored physically in a cylindrical vessel discovered in a church in Los Angeles. Taut, scary, and with the most quietly terrifying ending to a film that I have ever seen, PRINCE OF DARKNESS revealed that working with limited resources really cranked up the Carpenter imagination and style. Within a year he’d followed up with THEY LIVE.

THey Live poster

Now Carpenter is not exactly a friend of the establishment – he’s something of an old hippy at heart, and it’s very clear from a study of his films and from watching interviews with him exactly where his political beliefs lie. He was vocally critical of the Reagan government, on matters affecting him directly such as movie censorship, but equally so on social issues, and THEY LIVE suddenly offered the opportunity to make a film that went against the prevailing grain and tackled the ‘greed is good’ culture which so many people seemed attracted to back then. If ultimately a production like THEY LIVE couldn’t attain audience numbers or attention sufficient to get its message across, at least it proved a satisfying exercise for Carpenter, a means of having his say and showing his primarily liberal or outsider following that he was one of the good guys. THEY LIVE is an extremely political film, made at a time when few filmmakers dared to broach political ideas in their work – at the time, perhaps only Brian Yuzna’s icky saga of middle class mutant sex parties SOCIETY and Bob Balaban’s suburban cannibal satire PARENTS attacked similar targets – and it uses science fiction and horror to get its points across every bit as well as the Twilight Zone TV series used to. In the guise of an alien invasion flick, here’s a movie about the state of America. And of course, like most successful political satires, it’s every bit as valid today in 2014 as it was 25 years ago.

They Live 1

I won’t go into specific plot detail, as there may be viewers here new to the movie, and I wouldn’t want to spoil too much of this for them. Suffice to say that the film has a unique visual sense, clever use of black and white, and is a much better and far more coherent story about worlds hidden beneath the surface of reality than any of the bloated and disappointing Matrix Trilogy. Famously, it also contains a contender for the title ‘best fight scene ever shown in a motion picture’ – casting a wrestler in the lead, I guess you’ve gotta give him the chance to flex his biceps and test his scrapping skills, and Rowdy Roddy, along with sparring partner Keith David, offer up an utterly outrageous back alley brawl which stops the movie dead in its tracks but which has taken on an iconic status all it’s own, having been spoofed by self explanatory South Park episode ‘Cripple Fight’ and Family Guy episode ‘No Chris Left Behind’, in which Peter Griffin battles a giant chicken. Earlier this year, cult U.S cartoon series ‘Adventure Time’ did a show called ‘The Red Throne’ which features a lengthy fight between characters The Flame Lord and the Flame King, voiced by none other than Roddy Piper and Keith David. In preparing for tonight, I did suggest that instead of doing a spoken intro to the film, I would challenge QUAD’s Adam Marsh to a live re-enactment of the THEY LIVE fight. What can I say, the guy chickened out…

Ok, chew your bubblegum, put your shades on, and settle back for a slice of entertainment and education. Not many movies tell you the truth, but I strongly suspect this one does.




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