They. Still. Live!
It has been a sad week with another spate of high profile deaths. Not just amongst the music scene but also from popular culture. And while I have lamented the recent passings of several influential musicians recently, my childhood received a major knock with the passing of former professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, AKA Roderick Toombs. A man who was an integral antagonistic figure in the rise of the WWE/F in the 1980s with his trademark Scottish rage and sharp wit leading him to be affectionately known amongst fans as “Hot Rod”.
Like many wrestlers before and after Piper would briefly trade the squared circle of the wrestling ring for the silver screen of Hollywood. And in doing so would create a genuine cult classic in the form of 1988 sci-fi thriller 'They Live'.
Directed by the legendary John Carpenter ('Halloween', 'The Thing', 'Christine', 'Big Trouble In Little China') Piper takes on the role of drifter turned construction worker John Nada, who after an encounter with a blind preacher discovers the world's rulling class are aliens who control humans through subliminal messages in mass media.
It hasn't dated well. There are some seriously cheesy effects, inconsistency, and the plot on paper is b-movie at best. But it is utterly brilliant – a subversive blend of sci-fi and horror that simultaneously parodies the hyper capitalist consumer society of the late 20th century. Piper and co-star Keith David's performances are strong (even if some of those around them aren't), and one highlight of the film comes in a five-minute long alleyway brawl between the two over a pair of sunglasses. It is also the birth place of some brilliant quotes including the now infamous “I have come here to chew bubblegum, and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum” which has cropped up in comics, television shows, computer games and music ever since.
It may be an acquired taste at best, and it is certainly no masterpiece. But it is a damn enjoyable film that worms its way into your affections with dry wit and brilliant action.
Piper would go on to have a long acting career and make sporadic come backs to his first love of pro-wrestling. But even if the mainstream never get to explore the depths of his talent inside and outside the ring, then at least in 'They Live' they can get a taste of what he was good at... chewing bubblegum and kicking ass!