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They Live: Underestimating Camp

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  1. Introduction
  2. Unimpressed film critics
  3. The lack of real depth to 'Nada'
  4. The essence of an intentional camp
  5. Conclusion

Distinguishing a film as ?campy? is, arguably, as difficult as determining whether or not a film is ?good.? The definition of ?camp? is utterly malleable and, moreover, exists almost purely in the eyes of the beholder. Similarly, a film is rarely definably solely as ?good? or ?bad?; these are merely opinions. It is oddly fitting, and quite unfortunate, that films which become marked as ?campy? are rarely described as ?good?. This can be partly explained by the fact that the majority of movies known as ?camp films? are largely unintentional camp; put simply, camp films with a ?so-bad-they're-good? quality receive the most attention. The films of Edward D. Wood Jr. are examples of classic, unintentional camp; movies made famous by the degree to which they do not ?work.? While unintentional camp is certainly an important part of cinema history, intentional camp often goes unnoticed, or at least underappreciated. Many intentionally campy films are quite noteworthy, and, moreover, are simply good films. John Carpenter's They Live (1988) is an example of a camp film that not only ?works,? it has something meaningful to say. It is, in fact, a campy film, a socially parodic film, and a good film. Upon its initial release, They Live was dismissed as a campy sci-fi/horror movie with dreadful special effects and poor acting.

[...] One thing is obvious; whatever the reason(s), They Live, upon its initial release, was relatively unsuccessful with mainstream audiences and critics alike. Some may have found the film too others may have dismissed the film has heavy- handed social commentary. Either way, a provocative and entertaining, piece of ?camp with a conscience? went largely, and sadly, unseen. The essence of intentional camp, arguably, lies within its ability to make fun of itself before it can be made fun of by others. [...]


[...] The creatures in They Live control Americans with subliminal messages imbedded in all forms of media. Vaccari goes on to point out that aliens walk among humans, drive police cars, wear suits and get all the promotions? (Vaccari 1). The socio-cultural problems of 1980's America are easily explained in the world of They Live; aliens are controlling nearly all human thought, and are bribing the rest. The notion of such a takeover is quite campy, and not meant to be taken seriously in any way. [...]

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