Adapting a book into a movie is a tricky thing. It either gets done right or it falls short in the worst ways imaginable. Starship Troopers was an awesome movie before I read the book by Robert A. Heinlein. While I still enjoy it, I think about all the awesomeness that could have been and sigh loudly. 1408 was not my favorite short story by Stephen King but the movie with Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack was phenomenal in comparison. The point I’m making is that a well-written piece of fiction has to be treated with the same sort of insight and love that the author put into once a screenwriter and a director take control. They Live is a beautiful example of just such a marriage from short story to screen. Based on Ray Nelson’s Eight O’clock in the Morning (first published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1963), They Live has become a classic that has opened minds and entertained for thirty years because it was well written and wonderfully inspired. The protagonist from both page and script is a man named Nada who uncovers a hellish reality in the world when his eyes are open to the fact that strange, terrifyingly inhuman monsters control the world as we know it. Desperate to stop them, to “wake up” everyone in the world, he sets out on a mission leaving a trail of alien bodies in his wake. At last, he uses a local news station to break the hold that the hypnotic creatures have over mankind. In the end, he dies from the treachery of a familiar monster but not before he exposes them to the world. The story itself is very short, very fast paced as far as its tone and progression, and it lays out a firm groundwork for what would eventually become one of John Carpenter’s most culturally recognizable and relevant films. John Carpenter became renowned for Halloween and The Thing but his most endearing and socially relevant film will always be They Live. Written and released in the midst of the 1980’s culture of commercialism and blind greed, the story centers on a wanderer named Nada coming to L.A. looking for work. Taking a job in a construction site he camps out with a group of other vagrants and displaced people, victims of a society that builds itself up on the backs of those who struggle to make society function while having little to nothing to show for their effort. Noticing a suspicious congregation in the church beside the camp, Nada snoops and discovers that the entire building is little more than a front, a mask hiding a distribution center for strange sunglasses. A police raid on the area breaks up the camp and the church but not before Nada can take off with the strange shades that allow him to see the world a little more clearly. Suddenly, in well-defined shades of black and white, he sees billboards ordering people to “consume,” “marry and reproduce,” and “obey” while strange loudspeakers hidden in rooftops and trees chant tell the people of Los Angeles to “sleep.” Money has become plain strips of paper with the words “this is your god” and strange round drones with cameras inside float over the streets and monitor the daily lives of the people. The most unsettling element of this strange new world, however, is that half of the people aren’t really people at all. Men, women, and children all through the town have become skinless, bulging eyed monsters interacting with their human counterparts as if nothing were unusual at all. These creatures, listed as ghouls in credits, are everyone, from beat cops and bankers to businessmen and rich old women buying their groceries. Nada’s shock and appall at the revelation doesn’t go unnoticed and he is soon singled out by these alien beings who send their enforcers in the form of two policemen to threaten and intimidate the newly awakened human into joining their order. Instead, Nada fights and prevails taking the weapons of the fallen ghouls and goes on a rampage worthy of any 80’s action flick. Eventually, as he plumbs through the great depths of the alien conspiracy he has stumbled across, he finds that the transmitter blinding the world is on top of a local news channel’s roof disguised as an ordinary satellite dish. Fighting his way to the top and close to victory, a woman he’s come to know and trust betrays him and leaves him dying feet from the transmitter. With his last bit of strength, he fires his pistol into the transmitter, destroying it, and offering the circling forces of evil a final “fuck you” with his middle finger and a bittersweet laugh. The world awakens and the end credits roll. I cannot do justice for this movie. You’d have to sit down and talk to me, listen to me ramble and rant to really get the full depth and understanding of how I feel about this film. It is both a masterpiece and a train wreck. The short story it’s based on is nowhere near as detailed in plot and characters but that’s to be expected with a short story. What it is, however, is a call for people to “wake up” and look at this strange, inhuman society that has been built around them while they “sleep.” Carpenter took this idea and ran with it, making the ghouls more human and relatable and that is a terrifying thing to think about. The alien monsters in They Live have no qualms selling out the human race to make a profit. After all, we’re the intergalactic equivalent of the Third World. The real horror is in how many “awakened” humans readily sell out their own kind for the short term benefits of fame and fortune. Meanwhile, the entire race is subliminally controlled with messages that lead them to lead a life as cattle ready for whatever slaughter their masters eventually intend to bring on them. Besides the powerful social message the film carries, the acting and makeup deserve some mentioning too. To begin with, Rowdy Roddy Piper as Nada was amazing. From classic lines like “I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubble gum” to his prolonged back alley smack down with Keith David (The Thing, Halo 2, Cloud Atlas) complete with classic pro-wrestling fight skills, Piper made the character of Nada live and breathe. The other amazing characterizations in this movie were the ghouls themselves. In Eight O’clock in the Morning, the Fascinators (later ghouls in the film) were reptilian, subhuman looking creatures far removed from humanity but masked by their psychic abilities and constant, subliminal control of mankind. In the movie, they, of course, took on a more gruesome, deformed look of humanity with bulging, shimmering eyes and skinless bodies. In many ways, coupled with the black and white cinematography and the vignette style lighting around their faces, it gave the creatures a classic, B horror touch that feels like an homage to the old sci-fi/horror flicks of the 50’s. Most of the people on this site have probably seen this movie. At the very least you’ve heard quotes or seen some meme of a skinless politician or public figure with the word “OBEY” is bold, uppercase letters. Do yourself a favor. Take a night, read the story online, then download the movie and experience a modern masterpiece. See larger image They Live (Collector’s Edition) [Blu-ray] They influence our decisions without us knowing it. They numb our senses without us feeling it. They control our lives without us realizing it. They Live. Horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) directs this heart-pounding thriller. Aliens are systematically gaining control of the Earth by masquerading as humans and lulling the public into submission. Humanity’s last chance lies with a lone drifter who stumbles upon a harrowing discovery : a unique pair of sunglasses that reveals the terrifying and deadly truth. New From: $19.78 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses Page to Screen on PDI | Danno of the Dead Blog July 10, 2016 […] at Psycho Drive-In are kicking off a new column devoted to film adaptations of great stories with Page to Screen and little old me has the privilege of being the very first contributor to this latest addition. […] Log in to Reply Tak Hallus July 24, 2016 I didn’t know this was a story first! I can’t wait until 1963. Just two more years… Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.