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Although I’ve had such long-time favourites as The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China in my collection for a while, I’ve had little exposure to John Carpenter’s other films. The aforementioned greatness of The Thing and Big Trouble, and the excellent commentary tracks served up by Carpenter and Kurt Russell on those discs, prompted me to check out a few of his lesser known works. The first of these, They Live, comes courtesy of Momentum Picture’s forthcoming Horror Collection, which also features another Carpenter film, Prince of Darkness. My only previous exposure to They Live was the tail end of a presentation on some cable channel or another, so I was very much looking forward to watching the film.

They Live
As They Live opens we meet unemployed drifter John Nada, who is travelling around the US looking for what little work there is. Nada eventually finds himself in L.A., where he manages to get casual work on a construction site. It is here that he befriends Frank (Keith David, who starred in Carpenter's The Thing), who offers to show Nada to a place where he can get a hot meal and a shower.

Frank takes John to a camp for the homeless, where people are cramped together in makeshift shacks, struggling to survive on what little they have. As the evening draws in, Nada notices some strange goings on at the community church across the street. The following day he decides to investigate, and inside the church he discovers a secret meeting between some of the homeless people of the camp, a crude laboratory packed, of all things, with boxes of sunglasses, and rudimentary transmitter.

That night the camp is attacked by swarms of armed police, who disperse the residents, beating many of them to within an inch of their lives. Nada escapes the purge, and the following day returns to the abandoned church. While inside he takes a pair of the sunglasses he had seen the previous day and, thinking nothing of it, puts them on before he steps outside. This is when John Nada’s world starts to fall apart. The glasses alter his vision in such a way that allows him to see the world as it really it. Posters, magazines, signs, and even money all carry hidden, subliminal messages, and aliens are living among the people of Earth!

It seems that only John can see the aliens, who turn decidedly nasty after they discover that their cover has been blown. After a few cool one-liners, a messy incident with a shotgun and a kidnapping, Nada finds himself on the run with no one to turn to but Frank. After convincing Frank of the alien menace, both he and Nada join up with the underground resistance to try and shut down the alien invasion once and for all. Do they succeed? Watch the movie!
In addition to some great action and witty dialogue, They Live also just happens to feature on of the best fight scenes ever! When trying to convince Frank to wear the special glasses, John has a real fight on his hands, and the pair kick the living hell out of each other for what seems like an eternity. Just when you think the fighting has stopped, off it goes again, and this is not some stylised, over choreographed Hollywood fight scene, it’s a real street brawl! The fight has even been parodied on South Park, in the episode ‘Cripple Fight’. Watch it after the scene in They Live and you’ll find that they’re incredibly similar (minus Eric Cartman of course).

They Live
Momentum continues to impress by delivering yet another excellent transfer of a relatively old, low budget movie, and one that rivals many newer discs in terms of image quality. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is nothing short of superb, with strong, bold colours and nice deep blacks. The image is also surprisingly sharp and contains very little in the way of defects. This is another great effort, especially when you consider that many other distributors don’t offer restored transfers of older films at all. One thing that I did notice however is that for the first three minutes of the film the aspect ratio is wider than the claimed 2.35:1. Not a huge deal, but if nothing else it shows I'm awake!

Like the majority of the discs in the Horror Collection, They Live is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. While not offering much in the way of mind blowing aural effects, it is a solid track that does the film justice. The dialogue is always clear, and John Carpenter’s tremendous score sounds as good as ever (although to be honest, I’d only heard it once prior to receiving the disc). I particularly enjoyed the music that accompanied John Nada’s first appearances on screen, and indeed, it becomes his theme throughout the movie. The music has a melancholy tone to it, as if to drive home just how indifferent the human race has become under the rule of the aliens. At least that’s my interpretation of it anyway, but then music is a subjective thing and I’m sure many would disagree.

They Live
Without doubt, the outstanding supplemental feature is the commentary track from director Carpenter and star Roddy Piper. While the banter isn’t quite up to the standard of the Carpenter/Russell collaborations, both John and Roddy seem to be having a good time as they recount many stories about the production. Roddy sounds genuinely thankful to John for the opportunity to be part of the film, and Mr. Piper certainly makes for interesting listening as he tells tales of his many scrapes both in and out of the wrestling ring.

A short featurette is also included which, in addition to showing some behind the scenes action, features interviews with the cast and crew. Unfortunately this featurette is too short to be of any real interest after the first viewing, but an easy to find easter egg allows you to expand the interviews contained in the documentary somewhat and also to view a hidden photo (for details of the egg just click the link on the right hand side of the page).

They Live
They Live may be a slow starter, but by the time the action really kicks in you’ll be hooked. I found the premise of the film very interesting, and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper makes a credible leading man, especially ten years on when his exploits as a WWF star are no longer at the forefront of people’s minds. He is ably backed by a good supporting cast, with Keith David being particularly noteworthy. On a personal note, watching this film has cleared up the years old mystery of the origin of a sample I heard long ago on an album by the rapper Paris, but enough of my ramblings... They Live is a cracking film, which offers a great deal more entertainment than any number of films with much larger budgets. On the negative side the extras could have been more substantial and a remixed 5.1 soundtrack would have been nice, but this is just nitpicking. They Live is a great film on a good disc and I urge you to check it out.