If someone penned a biography of me, it would be called “Pro Wrestling and Horror Movies.” Okay, maybe it would have a more clever title, but you get the idea. Someone who linked those two geek subgenres was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. I was 5 years old when I watched Piper defeated Adrian Adonis at Wrestlemania III in what was billed as his last match. So a year later, when I saw Piper was the star of a movie, I needed to see it. The film was John Carpenter‘s They Live, a sci-fi action thriller that to a young kid, was about ugly aliens and CURSING! As I’ve gotten older, They Live has grown into an outright cult classic, with themes much deeper than my 6-year old brain could understand. And with the unfortunate and untimely passing of Roddy Piper on Friday, at the age of 61 from cardiac arrest, it assures They Live will live on forever, for both pro-wrestling and horror movie fans.
Rather than write a review of a near 20-year old film, let me simply point out some of the reasons They Live earned its cult status:
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper – Say what you want about wrestlers as actors, but casting a wrestler gives your movie an automatic fanbase. Few stars of the 80s were as popular as Roddy Piper. He was the number one antagonist to superhero babyface Hulk Hogan, and left as a hero himself off to conquer Hollywood. Piper was cast for his physique, which wasn’t much compared to the Hogans and Andre the Giants of pro-wrestling, but was huge for an average man. His charisma in wrestling made him one of the best talkers in the sport, which allowed Carpenter to trust him to deliver lines and even ad-lib classics like, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum!” He and co-star Keith David were also given the freedom to choreograph their epic fight scene, where they actually have a WWF-style brawl in an alleyway for over 5 full minutes!
The Anti-Reagan/Capitalist/Consumerist Theme – Too young to fully get this as a kid, the movie is brilliant for the way it pokes fun at American consumer culture. Despite being anti-remake, I thought yesterday while watching how much more they can delve into this nowadays, with the great majority of people plugged into some electronic device at all times. In the film, the aliens are taking over thanks to subliminal messages in advertisements and TV. And the humans are okay with it, as long as they profit from it. Again, this seems to go along perfectly with an America that more than ever favors the wealthy and powerful, while creating perfect villains… many who are about to run for President in 2016.
Carpenter’s directorial touches and score – When you’re a filmmaker who lives within a specific genre, you have to know your audience. Few know their fans better than Carpenter, who could do no wrong from the late 70s throughout the 80s. His anti-establishment themes and reliance on anti-heroes, touched a chord with horror fans in the 80s. We rooted harder for these underdog characters, like Snake Plissken in Escape From New York, and Roddy Piper’s Nada in They Live. His simple scores paced each film and kept the tension at a pitch.
They Live is an awesome movie. Roddy Piper gives a classic performance, hitting the character perfectly. His unnamed (until the credits) drifter is quiet and reserved, until faced with the craziness of being woken up to the truths around him. Piper spun They Live into a long and successful career in B-movies, mostly in the sci-fi and horror genres. Roddy Piper may be gone. But his passing will ensure that They Live, lives forever.
They Live is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and on Amazon Prime for a $2.99 rental.