I said earlier that I love a good creature feature, so when I was wandering around a Media Play (remember those?) and saw the VHS cover (this dates the story appropriately) for C.H.U.D., with its radioactive mutant crawling out of a manhole, I was sold. Nothing seems to please me like a ridiculous monster on the poster or box cover for a movie, despite the fact that I’ve been burned fairly regularly by this sort of film when renting or buying blind. C.H.U.D. delivers on the cheesy monster front though, and even gives us a decent and above all fun movie to go along with it.
Captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) is a police detective whose wife mysteriously vanishes one night. The recent disappearance of several people in the area leads him to a soup kitchen run by A.J. “The Reverend” Shepherd (Daniel Stern), whose regular customers that live underground have gone missing. They begin to investigate the inner bowels of NYC’s subway and sewage system for some sign as to what is going on. Meanwhile, George Cooper (John Heard), a magazine photographer known for his work documenting the homeless of New York City, is asked by a local bag lady that lives underground to help her injured husband. He leaves his model girlfriend Lauren Daniels (Kim Greist) on her own while he delves into the underbelly of the city, in an apartment with some convenient sewer access.
Naturally, the disappearing people have been gobbled up by homeless people that have been mutated due to toxic waste underneath the city, and Captain Bosch and A.J. run smack into a sloppy attempt at a government cover-up. Here we have the titular title described for the first time in the film – these people have become Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, and Captain Bosch doesn’t agree with the government lackey, Mr. Wilson (George Martin) on how exactly a group of hungry mutants should be contained. Eventually, several of our main characters have run-ins with C.H.U.D., and not all of them end in their favor. Keep an eye out for John Goodman in a bit role as a cop in a diner that gets visited by some C.H.U.D. with some messy consequences.
The C.H.U.D. themselves look pretty fantastic for the film’s fairly low budget. Though they consist only of head and arm prosthetics and accompanying rags, it’s more than enough to be effective, as these are supposed to be unfortunate homeless that have been hideously mutated. Their misshapen heads coupled with luminous eyes look great, especially with all the night shots / underground shots in the film. There were apparently some fairly radical designs for the creatures by various artists that would have proved too expensive for the modest budget, but they’re still pretty great to look over if you hunt them down online or take a look at the DVD’s bonus features.
As far as atmosphere, C.H.U.D. oozes a grimy, nasty vibe that is punctuated by a synth-percussion heavy soundtrack that gets pretty bizarre during some scenes. The setpieces for the NYC underground are amazing, and are suitably filthy. Honestly, this film almost looks more like it was shot in the late 70’s rather than mid-80’s, owing the grainy film stock and the sketchy nighttime streets of New York, and the whole look feels decidedly dirty. In my opinion, this definitely works more in favor of the film rather than against it.
I love showing this movie to people who haven’t seen it before, mostly because the concept itself is so campy right from the get-go, and unlike many movies with this type of concept, it actually delivers a campy, entertaining ride that is fairly spot-on for a movie about toxic sewer-dwellers. The film even build some real suspense through use of Geiger counters to tell us how close to becoming chow our heroes are, and some handheld cameras do the same as they are held by people attempting to fight off C.H.U.D. in a particularly memorable clash. Daniel Stern gives a fun performance as A.J., and I’m glad that he can be something other than “the guy from Home Alone” in my mind. If you like cheesy, horror movie monsters, you owe it to yourself to give C.H.U.D. a whirl.
They’re not staying down there, anymore!