For me, the name John Carpenter always used to bring chills to my spine. I grew up under the assumption that his films were terrifying, not for me; slashy and gory.
I actually cannot tell you where I got this from, as having started dating someone with a penchant for his era of film making, I have come to realise that he isn’t the sort of director I thought he was.
Maybe I had him confused with Wes Craven or someone…? Or was there a really gruesome film released in the 80s about some maniacal demon, who worked as a carpenter (John) by day, but slashed up the bodies of virginal teens at night?
Who knows. Wherever I got the fear from, it rooted. I have avoided his films as much as I actively could. That was until Bae Watch, and Bae rattling his DVD copy of Carpenter’s 1988, Sci-Fi satire, They Live, under my nose.
I was super dubious; here was Roddy Piper, starring as Nada – a sort of wandering no-one (Nada! Get it?), in the traditional garb of Main Male Character in a 1980’s Action Movie – too tight jeans, flapping open shirts, long feathered hair and the threat of a cowboy boot. I sunk into the sofa awaiting 90 minutes of hammy acting, dire dialogue, wacky one-liners and arduous action scenes. All orchestrated with a backdrop of a synthy, bleepy-bloopy soundtrack.
And hey! It WAS all those things! But it was also so much more.
We enter a world of great divide, where the gap between the haves and have nots is stretching to snapping point. TVs chitter in shop windows with excitement about the 90s and what the coming decade will offer the decadently inclined few. Meanwhile, dirt-speckled couples dig about in dust for food. Men talk and argue at the sidelines of building sites, where they are momentarily employed, and in a makeshift camp, where drifters come to congregate, batting back and forth conspiracy theories about how the world ended up in such a desperate state.
One night, on the wonky TV they all sit around, a man demanding attention, flickers through the screen and interrupts viewing. Perhaps this mysterious figure has the answers they want, or at least the same desire to locate them – obviously, they must find this dude and band-up.
Nada, meanwhile, has discovered a discarded box of sunglasses, realising he is missing this very item from his Main Male Charater get-up, he snaffles a pair. What happens when he slips them through his long, 80s Man hair and over his 80s Man ears, genuinely put goosebumps on me.
Through this pilfered eye wear, Nada can see into an alternate present, in chilling Orwellian monochrome, we descend with him into a city cloaked in eerie messages of co-operation and persuasion, where the faces of some are peeled back, revealing corpse-like, unsympathetic skull-faces.
The race, then is on, to see which group can suss the other out the fastest, and take control of society.
I found all of the sunglasses aesthetic incredibly cool, even more so because it was the last thing I was expecting in a film I thought was going to be a popcorn romp of inanity. So total kudos Scary John Carpenter!
The film is witty and enjoyable and horribly apt at the moment (I’m still scared of Carpenter’s work, but for more Trump-skull-face era reasons). It doesn’t go anywhere, but then why should it? Why should any film that contains a really long fist fight between two men arguing over wearing sunglasses, do anything else?