Film Review: C.H.U.D. (1984)

SYNOPSIS:

 A bizarre series of murders in New York City seems to point toward the existence of a race of mutant cannibals living under the streets.

REVIEW:

I remember the trailer for “C.H.U.D.” & how excited me & my friends were to see it. A movie about cannibalistic mutants living in the sewers of NYC? How cool was that? We were so stoked to take this one in and it did not disappoint us in the least. It is still a great little movie although some of it’s flaws are more evident to my eyes & ears 27 years later. Let me explain…

If you don’t know, “C.H.U.D.” stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers” and what they are is the unfortunate result of what happens when you dump toxic waste under the streets of NY….in the same area where a large group of homeless people have been living. The result? A bunch of amphibian looking mutants who have a taste for human flesh & are starting to run out of food down below. What’s a hungry mutant have to do to get a fresh snack when everything in the sewers is getting stale? Look to the streets above!

The film stars John Heard (As George, a freelance photographer) & Daniel Stern (As A.J. aka “The Reverend”). George lives with his model girlfriend Lauren (Kim Greist) and both of them are looking to make some headway in their respective fields. While Lauren has no problem posing semi nude to get her face known to the world, George is a photographer with something of a conscience. He doesn’t approve of Lauren’s choices despite the fact that he’s doing the photography & decries big business & all who are slaves to it. A.J. runs the neighborhood soup kitchen, feeding the homeless and the needy with a makeshift crew. He is well known to the homeless population of the area & vice versa. He knows all of their names and faces. Because of this he’s the one who first notices that some of his regulars, those that live underground, haven’t been around for the last two weeks.

A local police captain, Bosch (Christopher Curry) is starting to snoop around as well. His wife has gone missing with no clue other than her shoe left by a manhole cover. During his investigation he runs across a homeless woman who was arrested for trying to steal a gun from a cop. Her name is Francine & she’s trying to procure a weapon to defend herself & her brother from the mutants that have started to manifest themselves in the sewers where the both of them live. She takes George (Who knows her & bails her out of jail) underground to show him why she needs the gun. Her brother has been badly wounded during a confrontation with the mutants and is in dire need of medical help.

Capt. Bosch has a uneasy relationship with the reverend but during a visit to the soup kitchen they both come to the realization that something is preying on the homeless population of the neighborhood. Plans are made to investigate further. Of course it all ends up with a unscrupulous contractor who while initially ignoring the demands of Bosch for some answers eventually relents and admits fault (For storing radioactive waste in the more remote areas of the sewers). But he refuses to admit this publicly & manages to convince the city to pump the sewers full of toxic gas to kill off the mutants. Just as George & the reverend are trapped underground…

Right off I have to say that this movie looks a lot like a horror film directed by Woody Allen. It was filmed entirely in the city & it lovingly gives the streets of the Bowery plenty of screen time. Not too many horror films that take place in NYC are filmed there. Usually you’ll see a couple of cover shots of a bustling cityscape to set the tone but the majority of these films are usually filmed somewhere else. Canada is a pretty popular stunt double for NYC sometimes. But the makers of C.H.U.D. knew that it was a film that needed to be filmed where the script takes place and does a fine job of getting the feel of the greatest city in the world right.

Speaking of the script (By Parnell Hall), it captures the cadence of the denizens of Manhattan just right. It’s obvious that a lot of the dialog was ad libbed though. Especially some of the exchanges between The Reverend & George, who thanks to Heard & Stern are fully fleshed out characters that you’ll grow to care about as you watch the movie. Christopher Curry’s Capt. Bosch is also a riveting character given a dollop of pathos by Curry during the proceedings. All of the performances are way above average for a movie of it’s ilk. If you see actors of this quality appearing in a horror film nowadays, it’s in a quickie cameo role to give the movie a name or two to add to the poster. Most of the faces here will be familiar to you as they are all great character actors. You’ll even see John Goodman & Jay Thomas as a couple of beat cops for a few minutes later in the film.

The titular creatures are pretty well realized also. They are reptilian looking with some really effective glowing pop out eyes. Their faces don’t move too much but there are some animatronic bits & pieces in their heads that give them a bit more menace when necessary. Since they’re transformed humans they still have their regular clothes on so it’s their heads & hands we see for the majority of the film. They are both creepy & menacing when they make their presence known. Smartly, we don’t see too much of them even when they’re running rampant. More than likely this is because of budgetary constraints but it helps to make their appearances that much more impactful.

The film’s flaws are few but stand out, especially if you’ve ever lived in NYC. The opening scene of Bosch’ wife walking the dog in the early morning hours looks wonderful but takes place on a deserted street that does indeed exist but you’d NEVER find a woman walking a tiny dog on this street all by herself at this hour, it just wouldn’t happen people. And speaking of deserted streets, there seem to be a plethora of them in this film. NYC is the city that never sleeps but you’d swear that the population of the city is about 100 or so if this movie is the first time you’ve ever seen the city. The film hasn’t aged well either. The loft that George & Lauren live in would rent for thousands of dollars a month now and while I guess it’s not really important to the storyline I couldn’t help but think about what it cost to live in that area nowadays. My mortgage payment for the mausoleum is in the thousands & it’s a friggin’ dump…

Although the film has a happy ending it’s far from a definitive one and a sequel was produced, 1989′s “Chud 2: Bud The Chud“. A sequel in name only that is more of a comedy than a horror film. It does a great disservice to the original. I wonder why “C.H.U.D.” hasn’t been scooped up for a mid budgeted remake as of yet. In NYC, the title has entered the local lexicon. Whenever something is amiss anywhere underground the problem is nearly always blamed on “C.H.U.D.” to this day. It would be a pretty effective film in the right hands. “C.H.U.D.” is a really good little horrific love letter to NYC & needs to be seen just for it’s spot on atmosphere. While it’s hardly a invitation to the city, it’s a great way to break the ice if you’re ever sitting with somebody who’s knocking New York. Just ask them “Does your pitiful little city have C.H.U.D. living underneath it, ready to feast on an unknowing populace”? I bet that’ll shut em’ up for a minute or two…

C.H.U.D. (1984)

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Those of you who don't know of The Black Saint & have yet to commit yourselves to him body, mind & soul will find yourselves in a most uncomfortable position when my army of acolytes is complete & ready to wreak havok upon this pitiful blue ball we live on. Oh, I really like horror movies as well & will take on all comers in a horror trivia contest. Bring it on!
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