October Horrorshow: C.H.U.D.

I’ve seen C.H.U.D., the 1984 mutant monster flick, a number of times since its release. Each time, its objective quality, in my estimation, continues to fall. Each time, whatever spark and flare the movie had when I was young fades even more, and it becomes a more disappointing watch. But that’s only because in that old memory of my first viewing from was when I young, this was a good movie. Oh, boy, was I wrong. It’s not a good movie, but, it sure is shitty.

Directed by Douglas Cheek from a screenplay by Parnell Hall, Chud is a very 1980s New York City horror flick. Something is stalking homeless people under the streets of Soho, causing a number of disappearances. An ex-con who now runs a soup kitchen, A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern) has been trying to get the police to investigate why so many of the people who depend on his kitchen are disappearing, to no avail. But, after people up on the streets go missing, one police captain, Bosch (Christopher Curry), is willing to get on the case, and only because his wife is among the missing.

Meanwhile, a photographer, Cooper (John Heard), has come to know some of the underground homeless after his photos were used for a story on the tunnel dwellers of NYC. He’s something of a jerk, but he and his girlfriend, Lauren (Kim Greist), live in the neighborhood, and Cooper shows the homeless more compassion than most city C.H.U.D.dwellers are willing to. When one of them, Mrs. Monroe (Ruth Maleczech), comes to him for help, Cooper gets himself mixed up in the disappearances, alongside Shepherd and Bosch.

So, what is going on under the streets? Chud, it turns out, is an acronym for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. That is what has been snatching people. Those unfortunates who run across the Chuds meet a gruesome end, mutilated and eaten.

The Chuds seem to be tied to some sort of shenanigans going on underground carried out by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It falls to Bosch, Shepherd, and Cooper to find out just what that is, and, if necessary, SAVE THE CITY.

It’s a pretty serious situation. The Chuds are nasty beasties with ghoulish heads and glowing eyes. They wear rags and drip goo wherever they go. They also look halfway ridiculous, but it fits the film’s overall shittiness.

Much time in the film is spent underground. Cheek and company did some filming in tucked away spots in a couple NYC subway stations, and what looks like some service tunnels. It’s a brutal place for people to live, and also not an invention of this film. There have been, and still are, people living a dark and filthy life underneath the streets of America’s greatest city.

These sequences are filmed somewhat dark, making these spaces, and much of the action that occurs in it, hard to make out on the screen. That’s unfortunate, because underground is where most of the splatter happens. There are a some satisfying aboveground confrontations with the Chuds (one featured an early appearance by John Goodman). The Chud makeup doesn’t survive scrutiny under good lighting, though, so a happy medium in the underground scenes would have been ideal.

Cheek’s largest flaws were as a storyteller. Some scenes end abruptly or have confusing cuts. His most egregious storytelling sin was in not providing any resolution to the main plot.

Like many films, there is a third-party foil, where one isn’t really necessary. In this film, it is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, embodied by the bureaucrat Wilson (George Martin). The finale of the film sets up as an explosive resolution to the Chud problem. Denouement is also where superfluous bad guys get theirs, so Wilson is on hand for his comeuppance. Wilson is dealt with as expected, and then roll credits. That’s it. Cops, NRC dudes, bystanders, protagonists and antagonists alike, all go home, the threat of the Chuds completely passed over. The film, no exaggeration, ends before any finale involving the Chuds. It’s almost like everyone forgot about them. That is extraordinary.

Chud lurches along in mediocrity for most of its running time, held up by some compelling location work. Towards the final act, Cheek seemed to have forgotten how to make a movie, and it just races on towards its abbreviated end. It’s this storytelling ineptitude, more than anything else, that hurts Chud’s watchability. Everything else had a fine grime to it that fits well in the world of shitty horror cinema. A middle of the road shitty watch, C.H.U.D. lands in between I Am Legend and Chrome and Hot Leather at #89.

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