Running Time: 88 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Format: 1.77:1 Anamorpic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Languages: English
Subtitles: None
Region: 1
MSRP: $24.98

Own It!
C.H.U.D. (1984)

C.H.U.D. is a throwback to the heyday of the ‘70s exploitation film. It’s most reminiscent of the Roger Corman produced movies of that period: It’s cheap but slick. The script, acting and direction are all stronger than you’d expect. It presents an almost shockingly realistic urban milieu, of a sort seldom seen much anymore. As well, it abounds with Corman-esque leftwing politics, especially in its portrayal of the homeless and the proclivities of the Government.

We open strongly with a teaser in which a woman is pulled into a manhole by a monstrous, albeit rubbery, claw. From here we follow a large yet sharply etched cast of characters as they fight to learn what’s behind a recent upsurge in missing persons. Inevitably, the truth comes out: Toxic waste illegally stored beneath New York City has turned members of the homeless community into C.H.U.D.s: Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.

I don’t want to oversell this, but it’s actually a pretty good movie. Admittedly, it’s not the kind of thing where everything makes sense. However, it moves quickly and smartly enough that we don’t stop to pick apart its ever-increasing goofiness. (Although the central Evil Government Plot makes no sense whatsoever: Why would anyone stow toxic waste in the sewers under New York City? This is a pretty big country; you’d have thought they could have picked a slightly less sensitive spot.)

The monsters are rather silly, it must be admitted, but the characters are sharply written and well portrayed by the likes of John Heard and Daniel Stern. Heard particularly provides a strong performance, even to the point of making his character often arrogant and unlikable. Meanwhile, many then-unknown but now familiar faces dot the proceedings. Not only does a comparatively thin John Goodman briefly appear as a beat cop, but his partner turns out to be Jay Thomas. Patricia Richardson, Tim Allen’s wife in Home Improvement, also pops up in the background.

C.H.U.D. was an inexpensive film and is never going to look like a hundred million dollar epic. Still and all, the picture looks pretty darn good, certainly as good as it’s going to get. Ironically, as is often the case with this sort of thing, the superior clarity can actually spotlight flaws in stuff like the monster suits. The sound is crisp and I detected no static or hum.

Extras include the obligatory trailer. This is also presented in a widescreen aspect and looks quite good. It’s pretty good, although it shows a couple of things I wouldn’t have wanted to see before watching the film.

There’s also a still gallery. We begin with shots featuring the various monster and victim prosthetics. Severed heads and that kind of thing. Then it’s on to photos of the actors and whatnot. This seemed to fall more into the "Why not?" sort of category, which is fine.

What really makes the disc take off is the hilarious commentary track. This is a real jumble, featuring five guys sitting around and yakking about the film. On hand are actors John Heard, Christopher Curry and Daniel Stern along with director Douglas Cheek and Shephard Abbott, who provided the original story this came from. (Mystery novelist Parnell Hall is credited with the script. Apparently the story behind this is still such a sore spot that the subject is tacitly ignored. Abbott does take the opportunity to boo Hall’s screen credit, though!)

This is great stuff, with the gentlemen basically striving to see who can break the others up the most. The only slight problem I had was that I seldom could tell who was speaking at any one time. (On the other hand, I don’t exactly have the world’s greatest ear, either.) Thus I’m not sure who’s wife played the woman killed in the beginning of the picture, nor which individual is the one who reveals that he actually managed to get paid what they were promised for making the movie. Even so, it’s pretty funny to hear the others reacting with surprise and some slight indignation, even after all these years, to hearing that one of their number didn’t get ripped off like the rest.

All in all, this is pretty close to being a must buy for sci-fi and schlock fans. A quite decent movie nicely presented and with a killer audio commentary to push it over the edge.

Ken Begg, 3/26/2001