Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
Today’s special guest Tales From The Long Box columnist is JP Fallavollita.
It’s summer in the early 1980’s and I’m standing alongside a couple of buddies in the sequestered “Horror Movies” room of our local Jumbo Video. For the last few weeks, we’d been renting the types of VHS films our parents would never rent for us. But this was summer holidays. And our parents were at work. And we were mobile on our banana-seat bicycles, with a penchant for trouble and an idle time thirst for some scary stuff.
It’s another edition of our Biff Bam Popcast! As we get ready for Fan Expo Canada, our panel will discuss the films of the great director John Carpenter, who will appearing at Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear August 23-26 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Find out what Carpenter films are our faves and which ones we find lacking. The popcast kicks off at approximately 10pm with JP Fallavollita, Glenn Walker, Corina Newby, Andy Burns and our special guest, Alex West of Scare Tactic and a Rue Morgue contributing writer. Watch us live at 10pm right here, or catch it on demand after 10:30pm!
If nothing else, John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, which celebrated its 23 birthday this past weekend, will be remembered for two memorable moments. The first is this:
The second would be one of the longest fight scenes I’ve ever seen, and that apparently found both Piper and Keith David pulling few punches. Sit back and relax for a few minutes and check this out – I’ll be here when you’re done.
Believe it or not, there is actually more to They Live than either of those legendary cinematic moments. What may have been thought of as a simple sci-fi story back in November of 1988 has managed to age nicely, thanks to its overt commentary on consumerism and mind control.
If you didn’t see it back in the day or haven’t caught it in the ensuing 23 years, They Live folows out of work drifter John Nada, who unknowingly uncovers the truth behind the advertising and television we consume. Nada discovers that when he puts on sunglasses he discovers in a church formerly used by rebels, he can see subliminal messages such as “consume”, “marry and reproduce” and, when he spies a few dollar bills, “this is your god”. The sunglasses also reveal that the wealthy elite on Earth are actually aliens who have taken over the planet. Nada manages to convince his new friend Frank of the truth, and the two attempt to reveal it to the rest of the planet. If you’ve got a Netflix subscription, you can watch it here.
Like a lot of John Carpenter’s later work, They Live isn’t as well regarded as films like The Thing or Halloween. It didn’t do huge business at the box office, but it has managed to retain a life, thanks in part to the great performance by Roddy Piper. They Live was Piper’s first big film following his departure from the wrestling business, and he managed to do a great job, playing quiet when he has to and turning it up as the film progresses.
But for fans of conspiracy theories, there are other strengths to They Live, which come from Carpenter’s script (which he wrote under the alias Frank Armitage, a character from an H.P. Lovecraft story). Having grown frustrated with the obsessive consumerism of the 1980′s, Carpenter wanted to clearly attack and demonize big business and corporate monopolies, the wealthy elite looking to take control of our world. He uses aliens among us as the reason North American culture had become so materialistic and devoted to acquiring more and more, but in They Live those aliens are in line with the power hungry people of Earth looking to get rich quick. They Live may have been released back in 1988, but it sure feels like it could be set in Los Angeles circa: right now.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that, as a culture, we can all be influenced a little too easily. Definitely more than we’d care to admit. I don’t know, maybe it’s mass hysteria or something in the water, but I have no doubt there are subliminal messages in the commercials on our tv screens. Probably our movies and music too. How else can you explain the popularity of the Twilight films or Nickleback?
23 years later, They Live continues to live on. What I wouldn’t give for a pair of those sunglasses. How about you?
I’m going to let you in on something. One of my biggest fears is that one day I’ll come across something supernatural. A zombie, a vampire, a werewolf, ghost. Whatever. One day I’m going to come across one of these spooky things that are only supposed to exist on the page or the screen or in our nightmares and I’ll tell you and you won’t believe me. I’ll tell you that somebody I met didn’t cast a reflection or that I saw something walking the halls of my house, only to see it dissolve and you won’t buy it. You’ll say I’m seeing things or accuse me of playing a bad joke. Or you’ll think something worse. You’ll think I’ve gone mad, lost touch with reality.
But what happens if my reality and yours don’t match up.