John Carpenter’s 1988 SciFi action masterpiece They Live needs to be remade every recession. It’s not a request, it’s a demand. And I have a proposal on when exactly to do it.
We can tie the productions to unemployment numbers. Once they hit a certain point, let’s say 7%, the rights holders commission a draft. The original film was released in November of ’88 (5.4%) but the nation had just come out of a crippling recession which topped out at 10.4% in 1982. We were as high as 7% in July of 1986.
In the film, our homeless hero played by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper makes friends with Keith David while taking a day labor gig at a construction site. It’s through this relationship and the introduction of a friendly vagrant commune that the bedrock of the socioeconomic underpinnings of the story are forged.
Put simply: There is no work. Life sucks. Take what you can get and shut up about it.
In today’s era of 8.6% unemployment. It’s a relatable narrative. A Google Image search for “They Live“ reveals inspired illustrations of both recession presidents. And unlike most stories that attempt to gain sympathy based on the economic plight of the underclass, They Live has a very simple solution everyone can get behind.
Aliens are controlling the planet using subliminal mind control. They use this to hide in plain sight. The rich are getting richer because they are in league with the aliens. We need to break their mind control hold on the proletariat so we can ultimately rise up and kill the aliens.
Class warfare as a justification for violence crass, easy and polarizing to say the least. Human survival as a reason for lethal action is primal, awesome and unifying. Throw in some brilliant creature design and no one can feel bad about Hot Rod murdering random strangers at the drop of a hat. Perfect action premise.
Thankfully, there has been talk of a remake. Unfortunately, it’s rumored to be based specifically of the source material for Ray Neely’s short story 8 O’Clock In The Morning. This has caused quite a stir since producer Eric Newman, who remade Carpenter’s The Thing earlier this year, insinuated that it would not include the iconic glasses which allows our hero to see behind the mind control curtain. More troubling for me, the story also lacks the economic subplot that makes They Live so instantly lovable for a theater full of people that know multiple unemployed people or are themselves without a steady paycheck. It’s also not particularly good.
It would be missing the point. Like remaking The Thing and removing the “the alien could be any one of us” device by constantly separating the alien from our survivors. Oh wait.
According to my proposal, we should have been hiring writers in December of 2008 when the unemployment rate hit 7.3%. Let’s not continue to make this mistake.
They Live is currently available on Netflix Instant. Watch it.