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C.H.U.D. (1984)

October 30th, 2006 · No Comments

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A woman walking her poodle is yanked down a manhole by some kind of creature and becomes the latest in a rash of disappearances in the Big Apple. Belligerent fashion photographer George Cooper (John Heard) – who would rather do an expose on the homeless – is summoned to the local police precinct when one of his subjects is arrested for trying to steal a cop’s pistol.

Cooper blows off a fashion shoot with his live-in girlfriend Lauren (Kim Griest) and enters the labyrinth of caves and tunnels under the city, where he finds a homeless man with a gaping bite in his leg. Cooper learns his girlfriend is pregnant and decides to forget about the street people.

Meanwhile, police captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) visits a soup kitchen run by a dude named “The Reverend” (Daniel Stern) who is just left of the lunatic fringe. The Reverend reports that all his regulars who live underground have disappeared, and that teams from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been combing the underground for a month now.

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The government admits that radioactive waste being temporarily stored underground may have mutated some homeless into “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers,” complete with glowing eyes and claws. With bodies piling up, they decide to flood the sewers with gas to kill them. Cooper and The Reverend find themselves trapped underground, while a hungry C.H.U.D. decides to crash Lauren’s apartment in search of food.

Directed by Douglas Cheek, from a screenplay by Parnell Hall and Shepard Abbott, C.H.U.D. has been referenced in everything from The Simpsons to Clerks II to The Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert recently blamed C.H.U.D. for building a drug tunnel between the U.S. and Mexico. Not really done in tongue-in-cheek style, it’s still more amusing than really scary, and has become a cult classic.

Abbott came up with a story based on the urban legend of homeless colonies in the subways. He told the producers that he was friends with John Heard and Daniel Stern, and that they had agreed to star in the film for scale on the condition that Christopher Curry, and first time director Cheek, were hired as well. Hall was brought in to rewrite the script after Abbott balked at doing revisions, and came up with the idea of making the government the bad guy.

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In spite of a budget of around $1 million, C.H.U.D. is a good little film. The idea of atomic monsters lurking under New York is imaginative and recalls Them! on several occasions. The writers did a nice job of balancing the cop and the hippie’s mystery with the story of John Heard’s character, then introduces a creepy siege on his girlfriend’s apartment near the end. The film also comments on homelessness and toxic waste along the way.

Cheek – an editor who never tried directing again – has limited skills when it comes to creating atmosphere, but perhaps because of it, keeps the C.H.U.D. off screen for an hour and generates a good deal of tension. Thanks to this, and Stern’s wild-eyed performance, the movie never gets boring. When the monsters do arrive, they’re effectively rendered by makeup effects artist John Caglione.

John Goodman and Jay Thomas appear all too briefly as beat cops who run into the C.H.U.D. The film’s well earned success on VHS and cable prompted Vestron to make a sequel, C.H.U.D. II: Bud The C.H.U.D. but without the cast or crew of this one. The sequel went for camp and effectively killed the franchise. The original is worth staying up late to catch on Cinemax.

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Tags: Black comedy

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