In 1978, John Carpenter wrote and directed a movie about a mysterious, hulking loner who comes to town and slays innocent victims. Ten years later, he made another movie about a mysterious, hulking loner who comes to town, only this guy waited to kick ass until he was all out of bubblegum.
There are other obvious differences between Halloween and They Live, two of the most beloved films by one of the all-time great genre auteurs. But here’s the one that matters most: Halloween became a popular horror franchise that now includes 11 films released over the course of 40 years, including the forthcoming reboot due October 19.
They Live, meanwhile, sort of became reality.
Drones in the sky, conspiracies in our heads, militarized police in the streets, economic inequality in every corner of society, media that seeks to control our minds: The terror of They Live is more tangible and primal in 2018 than a slasher movie could ever be. Is that an overly grandiose way of describing a cheesy, semi-self-aware ’80s action flick? Am I projecting outsize cultural importance onto a cult classic starring a professional wrestler who utters awesome one-liners like, “Brother, life’s a bitch … and she’s back in heat”? Have I been wearing these magical sunglasses for too long?
Not if you ask Carpenter. From the beginning, he saw They Live—which turns 30 next month—as a fun action-adventure movie about a magnificently mulleted construction worker who saves the world and as trenchant social commentary. Over time, his take on the film has settled more on the latter.
“You have to understand something,” he told Yahoo in 2015, “it’s a documentary. It’s not science fiction.”