It’s been about a week since my last post and for the three of you that read this, I apologize. School has been hectic and a welcomed visit from my sisters is underway, which eats into my extracurricular activities – most notably this little blog. I haven’t stopped watching movies though and within the next week or two I’ll probably blog about Inception, From Dusk Till Dawn, Highlander, and a few others. Right now I want to talk about C.H.U.D.
As a child I would see C.H.U.D. on the UHF channels about two times a year. It was usually squeezed in-between something like Night of the Comet or Night of the Creeps, and would play during the afternoon. I haven’t seen it for about 20 years when I found a copy at my local library yesterday. This is one of those rare occasions when a DVD transfer of a film actually takes away from the film, whereas a VHS copy would’ve made the grittiness of the film endearing. It’s odd to start out a commentary on a film with the negatives of its visual representation, but I believe this to be paramount. The film looks cheap and the digital transfer just brings out all the flaws in this horribly low-budget romp.
If you’re unfamiliar with C.H.U.D., it stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers and nothing else really needs to be said. I will continue though, since ending my post here would not be interesting or fun. The film stars Daniel Stern and John Heard, who both appear in Home Alone I and II (but never on screen together), and only interact briefly in C.H.U.D.’s third act. The plot is quite simple but actually a bit clever: a bunch of subterranean hobo’s have gone missing and have been transformed into cannibalistic creatures that devour select New York City inhabitants. Heard plays an award winning photojournalist, whose notoriety is based on documenting the homeless population living underneath the Big Apple and Stern plays an ex-hippie that runs a soup kitchen. Stern notices his cavernous regulars have disappeared and gets involved with a police officer (Christopher Curry) who’s trying to solve the mystery. It leads back to the EPA and a bunch of other government groups, also attempting to figure out what’s lurking underneath the city.
As it turns out, the government is bad and the little guy is good. Instead of trying to help the citizens of NYC, the government agency (led by Michael O’Hare) is trying to cover up years of chemical dumping in the sewers. The makers of C.H.U.D., who didn’t do much else afterwards (except for director Douglas Cheek, who now directs documentaries about Wal-Mart and Fox News) were obviously trying to make an argument against large government, giving all the moral righteousness to the cops and pinning the unethical behavior to the Feds. It was the ‘80s after all, and many people weren’t happy about Reagan. C.H.U.D. appeared in theaters two years prior to the Iran-Contra scandal, and even though I was only a little kid at the time I’m certain there was distrust of the administration. A band like Reagan Youth didn’t get their name because of the former actor turned politician’s honest political practices (I never heard of a punk band called Carter Youth or anything along those lines).
Aside from the commentary regarding big government, the film features a batch of creatures that are unintentionally (or possibly intentionally) hilarious. Years of exposure to radioactive materials spawned a race of creatures with glowing eyes and a taste for human flesh. Like Dee and Charlie in that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, they can’t get enough of that great human taste. They go after people out walking their dogs, other homeless people, a man making a phone call at a phone booth, and a few others. Their blood is neon green and even though they’re supposedly hard to kill, Kim Greist (Brazil) has no trouble decapitating one in her apartment. The gore quotient in the film is decent, although a little cheesy. There is a good deal of destroyed human corpses, but the gore isn’t really that exciting. Nothing is really shown happening and all the violence is already done by the time the cameras arrive. I’m not a gore hound, but I wasn’t really impressed with the violence and felt the film would start to creep towards something scary and violent but would fall short. It was disappointing.
The acting was mediocre and even a seasoned actor like John Heard has some really terrible scenes. He wasn’t bad when it came to exposition, but his reaction to a room filled with corpses was over the top and corny. He started to convulse like he was having a seizure to show his terror. I guess he got better with age. The dialogue was a bit cheesy and I felt that the film cut corners in regards to plot development. I’m not saying it didn’t follow a linear path, but this dialogue felt amateur and like the work of a student filmmaker. Nothing really felt sincere and, for the most part, I didn’t have any emotional attachment to any of the characters. Aside from Stern’s character I wasn’t interested in their survival.
The most interesting part of the film is the underground homeless population. There’s a documentary that came out almost a decade ago titled Dark Days, which explores this issue. Using this as a key feature of the film was very interesting but it wasn’t fully explored. I did read that the film cost only a little over a million dollars to produce and I’m sure that most of that money went to the creature effects and the one explosion that occurs. However, instead of trying to make a cheap monster movie, the makers of C.H.U.D. could’ve spent a little more time trying to explore the lives of NYC’s underground residents instead of government conspiracies. The whole toxic waste thing was akin to a Troma film and I kept thinking that Lloyd Kauffman could’ve made C.H.U.D.
I don’t think I can write anything else about C.H.U.D. It’s good if you can watch it for free, but I wouldn’t suggest spending a penny on it. Here’s the trailer.
On a final note: I know this review sucks. I knocked it out in about ten minutes and I just wanted to write something. Sorry.