Directed by John Carpenter
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
I have always liked this movie. I remember it fondly from my childhood. Interestingly, I never really considered this a horror movie but, nonetheless, it is. I guess the idea of mind control via subliminal messaging isn’t that scary to me seeing as how it happens on a regular basis in this country…and elsewhere. But, I’ll talk about the movie first.
Roddy Piper is a drifter looking for work. His name is John Nada. He’s been down on his luck for some time. He takes the socially appropriate steps to regain his footing and is seemingly bucked back at every turn. After leaving the employment placement office, where the lady is outrageously in a bad mood and not sympathetic at all, he finds “walk-on” construction work and befriends a fellow worker named Frank.
Frank takes him to where he’s been staying, a makeshift shanty town with a soup kitchen type food service. They have a church and showers, everything you NEED. It’s no Beverly Wilshire hotel but, that kind of extravagance is never NEEDED, and this little town meets the needs of many who are down on their luck.
While snooping around, John finds a church on the site. It’s not just the regular old kind of church. This church is a front for a secret location for an “anti-alien” movement. Their main way of protecting themselves from the aliens and their mind control is to wear these special sunglasses that they have created. John takes a box of the shades, keeping a pair of the glasses for himself and hides the box with the rest in a dumpster in an alley. Then, he gets on his way.
Now, let’s talk about this “mind control” for a minute. What these aliens have done is they have taken over a television station, Cable 54, and they are sending out a signal that basically blinds humans to the reality of the world, now under alien control. Their goal is to deplete our planet of its resources and destroy it, then moving on to another planet to do it all over again. Their “messages” are everywhere. What we would normally see as a billboard for, say, beauty products ACTUALLY has a hidden message we can’t see that reads “Marry and Reproduce”. Storefront signage actually reads “Consume”, “Obey”, “Stay Asleep” …effectively lulling the human race into mindless cogs in the ever-moving machine of alien control and destruction.
So, after finding these sunglasses and learning the truth, John gets into a little trouble with some of the aliens, who are aware that he can see them. He escapes and take a woman hostage, Holly Thompson, played by Meg Foster. (Can I just say that this woman has some of the creepiest, coldest frost blue eyes I have EVER seen. Honestly, SHE is the scary thing in this movie.) They go to her place where he intends to hide out but, after a brief scuffle, Holly pushes John out the window. He falls to the ground and loses his sunglasses in the process.
John retrieves the box of shades from the dumpster and grabs another pair. Frank runs into him there, trying to give John his paycheck. John tries to explain what is going on but, frank doesn’t want to hear it. A great fight scene ensues and after many kicks and punches, John gets Frank to put on the glasses. (This is one of the best fight scenes of the 80s, truly.) Finding out the truth for himself, Frank joins John and they both go into hiding.
Eventually, they attend a secret meeting of all the activists against the aliens. Holly also finds the meeting, apologizing to John for the window incident. Their meeting is crashed through and a huge battle ensues. Holly gets separated from Frank and John.
John and Frank use a stolen alien wristwatch that allows them to escape the chaos through a portal. This portal leads to a very extravagant dinner party where tons of aliens are attending. One of the attendees, a new recruit so-to-speak, gives them a tour of the entire building. They find an entrance to Cable 54 through a basement and start looking for Holly. Once they find Holly, thy all head to the roof to destroy the satellite which is the alien signal transmitter. Holly ends up coming clean about being an alien herself and kills Frank before trying to stop John from stopping the signal. He kills her and destroys the signal, getting shot by an alien helicopter that is flying next to the building. As he is on the ground, the signal is finally destroyed and everyone everywhere sees the truth of what is reality.
I think the idea behind this movie, minus the alien takeover, is completely plausible. Whether you are aware of it or not, there are subliminal suggestions in things we see every day. From the McDonald’s famous golden arches to the FedEx logo, Pirates of the Caribbean, soda commercials, food commercials, magazines…it’s truly an enormous list (considering that in many countries, such things are illegal). The thought that one frame in a commercial or movie would hold a completely unrelated image meant purely to tap into the subconscious of the brain is NOT, in my opinion, far-fetched at all. If you look it up on the internet, there are tons of examples.
I also love that it’s regular, black 80s sunglasses that are the key to knowledge in this movie. I am entirely grateful they didn’t go with the whole aviator look (thank you Top Gun), which I think would have been a horrible choice.
Roddy Piper is classic in this movie, uttering a number of phrases form the cult classic that are now commonplace. The most famous, I think, would be, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” There is most assuredly a comedic aspect to this movie and there is no gore. There is violence (the news is more violent, in my opinion) and there is profanity but, in this day and age…who cares?
This is truly a great retro cult classic that will not leave you disappointed.