They Live, 1988, John Carpenter
They Live revolves around a nameless man referred to as ‘Nada’ (Roddy Piper), a quiet drifter who finds work on a Los Angeles construction site. One of the workers, Frank Armitage (Keith David), takes him to a local shantytown. After eating at the soup kitchen and spending the night, he discovers a pair of special sunglasses. Wearing them, he is able to see the world as it really is: people being bombarded by media and government with messages like ‘Stay Asleep’, ‘No Imagination’ and ‘Submit to Authority’. Even scarier is that he is able to see that the ruling class within the moneyed elite are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the TV broadcast that is concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in mass media.
Based on Ray Nelson’s 1963 short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning, the film echoed contemporary fears of a declining economy, within a culture of greed and conspicuous consumption common among Americans in the 1980’s. Professional wrestler Roddy Piper, whom Carpenter met at Wrestlemania III in 1987, was cast in the lead role; according to the director, “unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him.”
Commenting on the concept of the alien threat in an interview, Carpenter remarked: “They want to own all our businesses. A Universal executive asked me, ‘Where’s the threat in that? We all sell out every day.’ I ended up using that line in the film.” The aliens were deliberately made to look like ghouls according to Carpenter, who said: “The creatures are corrupting us, so they, themselves, are corruptions of human beings.”
Incidentally, the ‘Cripple Fight’ from episode 67 of South Park is based on the now infamous fight scene between Piper and David, which took three weeks to rehearse. When overdubbed with the original audio, the fight sounds and much of the dialogue match up almost perfectly with the animation.