They Live

They are living amongst us, manipulating the entire human race, dominating us using hidden messages of obedience and rampant commercialism. Who they are and why they're doing it are less important than how we will expose them—and who will be brave enough to fight back. A down-and-out working-class hero and all-around good egg (Roddy Piper) stumbles across special sunglasses that block the oppressors' shenanigans and gives him a clear look at them…and he doesn't like what he sees. This one-man army does what he can but knows he can't go it alone, and the motley underground resistance that forms faces an uphill battle to overcome an invasion that's permeated every corner of our culture.

As the Reagan Era was winding down, John Carpenter's They Live explored the sense of futility and exploitation felt by many Americans, particularly in the working class, as society largely celebrated and pursued conspicuous consumption. Boasting an interesting premise and impactful visuals but a middling script, it's not a great movie, though a fun one. Prescient in its themes, Carpenter's most "political" movie is also one that curiously resonates generations later.

Shout! Factory has done more than any label to fête Carpenter's long career, including this 4K/Dolby Vision release of this 1988's They Live. (His Prince of Darkness dropped day-and-date in the same format, too.) Film grain is well preserved, although noise is also evident, and shadows could certainly look more natural. The director's preferred anamorphic widescreen is prone to focus anomalies across the frame, yet the image has a stark presence. Purposely drab colors are favored to convey the emotional bleakness. But blues, reds, and greens have a pleasing pop when they appear, and HDR highlights look respectably bright.


A fresh Dolby Atmos remix with a 7.1-channel core further bridges the decades. Carpenter is a rare director who also composes his own music (this time with Alan Howarth), and the score here drives the mood, with a particularly bluesy bent to represent our hero's lonely quest. Dialogue is clear and helicopters loom ominously overhead from time to time, but there's been no attempt to impart the full-scale "wow" of a modern soundtrack.

Extras have been ported from Shout!'s 2012 Collector's Edition, with a Carpenter/Piper commentary on both the 4K and regular Blu-ray discs, along with a fine assortment of interviews, photos, and a vintage "making of" feature on the latter.

Ultra HD Blu-ray
Studio: Shout! Factory, 1988
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
Length: 94 mins.
Director John Carpenter
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, Buck Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques