C.H.U.D. takes two of the 1980s scariest things, homeless people and toxic waste, and much like a horror Reese’s peanut butter cup attempts to combine the two into one great tasting movie boogeyman.
Not content to coast with what on paper is a great idea (basically that the homeless have cooties), the film also adds in such reliable staples as the crabby cop, nosy reporter, crooked bureaucrat, angry homeless advocate, fashion photographer who doesn’t seem to care about any of it and of course his pregnant girlfriend who is there for the Chuds to harass when they get bored skulking around the sewers.
If this had been made by Roger Corman’s company, it would have been an easy over-the-top classic like Humanoids from the Deep or Galaxy of Terror. But it was made by Douglas Cheek, whose only other directing credits were from the 1970s children’s show Vegetable Soup and a religious documentary. And C.H.U.D. pretty much plays out like it was made by a guy with that resume.
To its credit, C.H.U.D. starts off well with an opening shot of a nasty New York City street at night and a woman and her dog getting chudded by one of the monsters coming out of a manhole, but it grinds to a halt immediately thereafter, content to bore the audience with its insistence on spending time with the completely superfluous characters of photographer George Cooper and his girlfriend Lauren.
Award winning stage actor John Heard plays George and he plays George just like you would expect an award-winning stage actor to play a character in an embarrassing role in a horror film – like he would rather be gang raped and then eaten by Chuds than have to act like he cares about anything that happens in the movie.
Having an actor not giving a crap about the movie he’s in though doesn’t guarantee the viewer a bad experience. On the contrary, it can be quite entertaining watching someone just not giving a shit while everyone else is giving their all to something as inane as C.H.U.D. Steven Seagal in almost every movie he’s ever been in is a good example of this. But while the movie wants to pretend that the biggest mystery is what the government is hiding in the sewers of New York (it’s just being used as a dumping ground for contaminated waste which will merely cause shrugs from an audience that doesn’t spend much time in New York sewers), the real riddle is just why are George and Lauren even in the movie.
Both play no role in moving the plot forward despite the amount of time devoted to them. Their only connection to any of this is that George did a photo essay on some homeless people that live in the sewers and he has pictures of a mysterious wound one of the homeless suffered. The pictures were used by the homeless advocate during a meeting with government officials to try and prove there are monsters living in the sewers, but nothing came of that meeting.
Ultimately George ends up in the sewers only because the nosy reporter pressures him to go with him while Lauren only gets involved because she lives in an apartment that has a door in the basement to the sewers for some reason. It all makes you wonder why we are watching them arguing about her career as a fashion model and whether to abort her baby instead of seeing Chuds trashing Broadway and eating the New York Yankees.
And this is really C.H.U.D.‘s biggest failing – not enough Chuds going all chud on everyone. It is understandable that as the movie unfolds, the Chuds are rationed out, but there has to be a pay off where we can see what a huge threat they are. In Humanoids from the Deep for example, the movie ends with a glorious twenty minute battle royal between monsters and humans. A scene in a diner just doesn’t cut it. (Even if it did feature a cameo from John Goodman.)
The movie is so uninterested in its titular monsters that the climax doesn’t even involve them, but focuses on the crooked government agent and the cop. A plan is mentioned to gas the sewers to kill off the Chuds, but not much happens with that other than drumming up some suspense as George and the homeless advocate attempt to escape the sewers they are trapped in. I guess the city officials just assume that all the homeless already living underground have either turned into Chuds or Chud chow.
The film does make good use of its New York locations, adequately establishing an atmosphere of a dirty big city that could conceivably harbor something nasty underground. But while there is a some rather graphic gore on display near the end (guy ripped in half, a severed head), the movie can’t escape its commitment to giving us the dullest version possible of the story, insisting on having our heroes not menaced by green monsters with claws and glowing eyes, but by a federal employee trying to run them over with a truck.
While it doesn’t make any sense that this lame effort has achieved some bit of cult status since even though it isn’t good, it also isn’t memorably bad, you do begin to understand why John Heard played his part in a way that you couldn’t help but feel like he was secretly rolling his eyes the whole time.
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