Film Review: They Live (1988)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s They Live (complete title)
Release Date: November 4th, 1988
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage)
Based on: Eight O’Clock In the Morning by Ray Nelson
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, Raymond St. Jacques, Peter Jason, Sy Richardson, Susan Blanchard, Norman Alden, Jason Robards III, John Carpenter (voice – uncredited), Al Leong (uncredited)

Alive Films, Larry Franco Productions, Universal Pictures, Carolco Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” – Nada

I remember wanting to see this in the theater so damn badly but no one would take me because I was nine years-old and my family was being really lame about it. To make up for that, I rented the hell out of this when my local video store got their copies in. In fact, I eventually dubbed a copy because that was the benefit of having two VCRs in the ’80s and ’90s. I think I still have it buried in one of my many boxes of old VHS tapes that I haven’t been able to play for fifteen years.

Anyway, They Live is a spectacular film.

While it’s not John Carpenter’s best, it’s pretty high up on the list and it is my favorite film to star wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Considering that this also has Keith David in it, there’s almost too much testosterone and gravitas that I don’t know how the celluloid didn’t melt from the masculine heat.

The story is pretty simple: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper shows up in town, tries to earn some honest money and work towards the American dream but soon finds out that the world is completely fucked because it’s been taken over by aliens hiding in plain sight. How does he discover this truth? With special sunglasses. Seriously, what the fuck is there not to like about this picture?

Also, this has, hands down, the greatest one-on-one brawl in the entire history of Western cinema. A fight so epic and so perfect that its choreography was stolen for the infamous “Cripple Fight” episode of South Park.

The film also features Meg Foster and her eyes that can melt steel, Buck Flower playing not just a hobo, Carpenter regular Peter Jason, as well as blaxploitation veteran Raymond St. Jacques, the cool Sy Richardson and an uncredited bit part for the greatest motion picture henchman of all-time, Al Leong.

As is usually the case with most Carpenter films, this one benefits greatly from his score. It’s brooding, sets the perfect tone and just has the right kind of vibe to enchant your mind and pull you into this cool and crazy film.

I also like the physical atmosphere in general and how Carpenter used daytime and nighttime as a sort of narrative tool, drawing allusions to the seen world and the unseen world in this story. I also liked how the special sunglasses displayed reality in black and white while the visible world was in full color. I’m not sure if that was decided upon in the initial draft of this story or if it was a convenience in pulling off certain effects that still worked and added another layer of duality.

They Live is just solid, all around. It’s one of those movies I can watch anytime and it’s just cool as hell.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other John Carpenter films of the ’80s.

Film Review: The Chair (2016)

Release Date: October 8th, 2016 (Northeast Wisconsin Horror Festival)
Directed by: Chad Ferrin
Written by: Erin Kohut, Peter Simeti
Based on: The Chair by Peter Simeti
Music by: Douglas Edward
Cast: Bill Oberst Jr., Roddy Piper, Noah Hathaway, Zach Galligan, Naomi Grossman, Ezra Buzzington, Joseph Pilato, Joe Laurinaitis

Alterna Comics, Crappy World Films, Girls and Corpses Magazine, 84 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my queue for a really long time. I kept putting it off because I was afraid I would be disappointed by it. Well, those concerns were valid, as I was.

I wanted to go into this with high hopes, as it was Roddy Piper’s last movie and also featured Noah Hathaway and Zach Galligan, two guys that made 1984 a great year for my young imagination. Additionally, this was based on Peter Simeti’s graphic novel that he released through his own comic company Alterna.

Simeti has always come off as a great guy and I like the vast majority of the comics he publishes. Especially in an age where more comics than not are kind of shit.

But in the end, this was a mess of a film that was really hindered by its budget. While you can do a lot for very little, this movie sacrifices the atmosphere by really cheaping out on it. And what I mean by that is that the whole thing looks as if it were filmed in one or two corridors with a few different rooms. And then everything is so damn dark, its hard to see the film in most shots.

Now the comic book is also very dark but the visual style works well in the comic book medium, as it takes advantage of a high chiaroscuro presentation. Even the comic is hard to look at due to the overly gritty art but it works for this story. In this film, however, the style and the character of what exists in the comic is lost in the constant darkness. Really, it’s a poorly lit film but that’s only one of many technical issues that hinders the whole presentation.

The acting by the more veteran players isn’t actually half bad. Piper does a pretty superb job with what he’s given and I can’t knock his work here.

Apart from Piper, though, the film is just insanely dull. It was really hard to get through, especially with the comic as a frame of reference and being a fan of four of the actors in the picture.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the graphic novel it’s based on but I thought the comic was much better.

Film Review: Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Also known as: Sam Hell (working title), The Hunter (Germany), Transmutations (France)
Release Date: January, 1988
Directed by: Donald G. Jackson, R. J. Kizer
Written by: Donald G. Jackson, Randall Frakes
Music by: David Shapiro
Cast: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Rory Calhoun

New World Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, you try making love to a complete stranger in a hostile, mutant environment, see how you like it.” – Sam Hell

I always wanted to see this as a kid but not even the video stores in my area seemed to be able to get it. Or they just didn’t want to pay the high fees to bring it in. VHS tapes for mom and pop shops back then were usually around $99 based off of the industry catalogs I used to flip through at one of my stores.

Anyway, time marched on and I forgot about this film until seeing it late one night on cable in the late ’90s. When I stumbled upon it, I was high and drunk but I found it to be completely surreal and wasn’t sure how much of the effect it had on me was the film itself or the chemicals in my system.

I wouldn’t actually get that cleared up until now, in 2019, because I came across this on Amazon’s Prime Video and rented it for a few bucks. I thought that even if it was terrible, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was a god to me and even if he’s gone, I still don’t mind putting a little bit of cheddar in the collection plate.

This also stars Sandahl Bergman, who I mostly only know from Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja where she found herself starring alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.

As was pretty common with low budget ’80s movies, this one is a ripoff of the Mad Max concept, However, it is a post-apocalyptic comedy that features a pink vehicle and mutant frog people. It’s goofy and crude and sadly, most of the jokes miss their mark, even with Roddy Piper trying to steer the ship. But it’s not his fault, the film’s script is just bad and unfunny.

Piper has charm and it comes through and frankly, it’s the one bright spot of the movie. I also like Bergman but she lacks the charisma I felt she had in those other two barbarian movies she’s more famous for.

I thought the effects on the frog people were pretty good, considering the era when this was made and the budget but the effects aren’t really anything special and the frog characters just make this film so bizarre that it becomes a gimmicky distraction from the already poorly written and mostly dull plot.

But this isn’t a total turd. Piper is still amusing in it. I just wish that this had been one of those rare, hidden gems from a bygone era but it was mostly just buried scrap metal in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: They Live because it’s sci-fi starring Roddy Piper from the same era. Also, other Mad Max ripoffs.

Documentary Review: Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story (2006)

Release Date: March 3rd, 2006
Directed by: Vince McMahon

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), 88 Minutes

Review:

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time. In the ’80s, he probably was my favorite but I also loved that dastardly “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The thing that really made Piper eclipse the others though, was the fact that he was the star of They Live, which is still the greatest motion picture to ever feature a professional wrestler in the lead role. Sorry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

This is one of dozens of WWE documentaries put out in the heyday of their DVD releases, most of which were met with great fanfare and always sold really well. Like most of the others, this was initially released with several extra discs featuring pivotal matches from the wrestler’s career. I happen to own the special exclusive addition that had an extra bonus disc featuring classic episodes of Piper’s Pit, Roddy’s popular talk show segment.

The documentary is chock-full of interviews with many of the people who knew Piper over the course of his career. There are interviews with his friends, rivals and other colleagues within the wrestling business. We also get to hear from John Carpenter on why he cast Piper in They Live and what it was like to work with him on the film.

The best part of this whole film is hearing Piper himself talk about his time in wrestling and about his life beforehand.

Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story is one of the brightest spots in WWE’s long history of wrestler biography pieces. It features one of the most entertaining men in sports entertainment history and it flows nicely and covers all of the relevant stuff in Piper’s long and storied career.

Rating: 7.5/10

TV Review: WWE Legends’ House (2014)

Original Run: April 17th, 2014 – June 19th, 2014
Created by: WWE, Bunim-Murray Productions
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Cast: Roddy Piper, Tony Atlas, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Hillbilly Jim Morris, Howard Finkel, Jim Duggan, Jimmy Hart, Ashley Roberts

Bunim-Murray Productions, Knucklehead Television, WWE, 10 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve had the WWE Network since the day it debuted. For $9.99 a month, a price tag that includes live streaming pay-per-views, which are normally priced at over $40 per month, for a fan, the price tag is well worth it.

Additionally, as an old school wrestling fan that grew up in that comic book 80s era of larger-than-life gimmicks and matches that felt bigger than the Superbowl, the 24/7 streaming access to the WWE’s back catalog of pay-per-views and events was a huge bonus. One thing that I was anticipating from day one however, was the debut of WWE Network’s initial flagship show, Legends’ House.

Waiting over a month from the Network’s launch, I grew antsy. All I knew was there was going to be a show that had “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Tony Atlas, Hillbilly Jim, Pat Patterson, Howard Finkel and “Mean” Gene Okerlund living together under one roof. As an old school fan, I thought this was awesome for a multitude of reasons.

The first being, my love and respect for the business and to see these guys, as themselves, brought back into a situation with their familiar peers three decades after their heyday. Secondly, I wanted to hear the stories and experiences they might share from those old glory days. Lastly, I just wanted to see these guys again and not just used sparingly on a Monday Night Raw here and there.

Now I’m not a reality television fan and find the medium to be boring as hell and horribly acted – yes, acted. Being that I’ve been involved in a reality show pilot, I’ve experienced the background side of it and understand how it’s done and how stories can be manufactured or blown up out of nothing. That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed Legends’ House.

This show, for all it’s reality TV forced scenarios and drama, still does a pretty good job of peering into these guys’ lives and true personalities enough to make it interesting despite the extra emphasis on tension.

In regards to overblown reality show drama, I didn’t need to see Duggan and Atlas resort to fisticuffs out of their apparent beef on the show. In fact, I’d rather them be bigger men and work it out. Fights just to have fights to draw reality television ratings just aren’t my thing – I hate that shit. As far as I’m concerned, save that crap for The Surreal Life and let these Legends maintain their dignity.

However, for the most part, I think the show handles showcasing its stars fairly well. The Legends mostly seem to be respected by the producers regardless of their Chippendales challenges and having to play with plastic flamingos on the lawn. It’s all in good fun and it isn’t presented in a way that undermines who these guys are. In the end, they aren’t compromising their very being for a quick 15 minute injection of rebound fame.

I think that WWE did a pretty good job with this show and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes and which Legends they attract after Season 1 concludes. Hopefully they follow the same course and they don’t find themselves in the business of creating predictable ten cent faux drama schlock. But then again, it’s been three years and there still isn’t a second season.