Good evening, readers, Bill here again – I’d narrowed my film choices for today down to re-reviewing one of two films I covered very early in my career here at RSR – C.H.U.D. (1984) or THE BEAST WITHIN (1982). Discussing the films on Facebook, I decided to wait on re-covering THE BEAST WITHIN until I got the Blu-Ray of the film, and then discovered that by serendipitous coincidence, today (August 31, 2014) marked the thirtieth anniversary of C.H.U.D.’s release into theaters. Clearly, the Universe had spoken – I was to watch and review C.H.U.D. tonight. Now that I have my various “mature, responsible adult” errands taken care of, I can sit down with the film. Join me, won’t you?
George Cooper (John Heard, of HOME ALONE and HOME ALONE II, as well as SHARKNADO), a once-prominent photojournalist, has moved into a downtown tenement building in New York City with his girlfriend Lauren (Kim Greist, MANHUNTER) in order to pursue his latest assignment, documenting Manhattan’s homeless population, especially those known as Undergrounders, due to inhabiting the disused subway tunnels and sub-basements of the city. This assignment brings Cooper into contact with “The Reverend” A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern, also of HOME ALONE and HOME ALONE II, last seen around these parts in LEVIATHAN), who brings to his attention the fact that these Undergrounders are disappearing…completely. And their hunt for the Undergrounders brings them into contact with Bosch, a captain in the NYPD (Christopher Curry, STARSHIP TROOPERS), a cop on the edge of going loose-cannon because his wife has gone missing and the department won’t do anything about it.
Joining forces, Cooper, Reverend and Bosch descend into the sewers to conduct their own investigation, and discover that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been stockpiling nuclear waste in the sewers under New York instead of just moving it through. And that waste has begun to leak. And the missing Undergrounders…they’re not missing anymore. They’re also not human anymore. Exposure to the nuclear waste has mutated them into Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. And they’re beginning to venture to the surface in search of food…
I think this is a surprisingly divisive B-movie. I’ve seen a number of people rave about how great this film is, and a number of others utterly disparaging this film, usually with the comment that “people only like it because they saw it when they were kids and there’s the nostalgia factor.” I know I’m prone to use that line on people who claim to me that FREDDY’S DEAD or JASON TAKES MANHATTAN are good movies. Frankly, I didn’t see this film until I was an adult. I was 21 the first time I saw C.H.U.D. And in all honesty, I really like C.H.U.D. I think it’s a fun monster movie.
I really like the central cast. Heard, Stern and Curry all give great performances and have fantastic chemistry between them. I particularly love Stern and Curry together – Stern’s character “Reverend” is boiling over with anti-authoritarian sentiment and can’t contain his sarcastic attitude when dealing with authority figures, while Curry’s cop Bosch *is* an authority figure, and the banter they have going back and forth between them as they discover that their personal vendettas dovetail nicely and that they can both benefit from joining forces.
I like the way the story is structured – it’s built like a police procedural, with a mystery — the missing homeless people — presented and then assembling disparate clues – homeless people trying to obtain weapons to protect themselves from something they can’t describe, the discovery of a discarded Geiger counter and a contamination-badge, a witness to an attack, and finally a dead C.H.U.D. – to reveal, one step at a time, the answer to the mystery. It’s a very effective piece of storytelling.
The C.H.U.D.s themselves are simple yet effective – most of them are dressed in tattered shirts and trousers or coveralls, with masks and sleeves for monstrous exposed flesh. They’re pretty uniform in appearance – bald heads, bat-like ears, crooked fangs and oozing, scabby skin, with huge glowing yellow eyes. This uniformity makes some amount of sense as they’re all mutated by the same source of radiation, and I really liked the conceit in the film that the C.H.U.D.’s radioactive nature meant they could be tracked via Geiger counter.
Good long looks at the C.H.U.D.s are few and far between, the filmmakers preferring to keep their monsters confined to shadowy environments and either extreme-closeups or long shots. Unfortunately, the one really good shot of a C.H.U.D. (see above) is also one of the goofiest shots in the film, in which a C.H.U.D. demonstrates an interesting mutation – a neck that can stretch out and flex like a python – as it menaces Lauren. Unfortunately, this proves to be a disadvantageous mutation, since she’s got a sword (in an excellent example of Chekhov’s Gun, the sword is prominently shown in several earlier shots to establish its existence in her and Cooper’s apartment).
Final Analysis: A fun romp through the streets of 1980s New York City, C.H.U.D. combines monster movie and police procedural elements in a way that breathes fresh life into both. With great performances from a solid cast, decent-looking monsters and really strong, smart writing, I can confidently say that C.H.U.D. is a movie that wholeheartedly deserves every ounce of “cult classic” designation it’s garnered over the last thirty years.
Overall, I give C.H.U.D. (1984)…
FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.