Tuesday, August 23, 2011

They're Not Staying Down There, Anymore!

Director: Douglas Cheek
Cast: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry

It seems that everybody nowadays is referencing this silly b-film from the 80s, a fun flick that has developed quite the cult following among monster fans. Playing like an updated, albeit grimier and grittier, version of a 1950s creature feature, C.H.U.D focuses on one of the key fears of the times, in this case, toxic waste! Each era had it's own fears including radiation and atomic fallout, pollution and the environment. While not exactly the best written example of such fears, C.H.U.D is an entertaining enough piece of trash cinema that it deserves a viewing by the monster fan.

The film begins with a typical pre-credit sequence of a young woman getting attacked by something that grabs her and takes her(and her little dog,too!) into the sewers. We soon learn that several disappearances are occuring throughout an area of New York City. The plot intermixes different people involved in the area, who all come together by film's conclusion. They include a photographer(John Heard) and his model wife(Kim Greist). There's also a soup kitchen worker(Daniel Stern) and a detective(Christopher Cummings) who is on the case and is looking for his missing wife. Stern and Cummings soon discover that it's a government cover-up perpetuated by a man named Wilson(George Martin) who explains that what they are dealing with are called C.H.U.D., which translates as cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers! After an EPA and S.W.A.T. team are decimated on camera by the creatures, it's decided that they must be destroyed, and Wilson proposes they gas the sewers. More mayhem ensues, including the C.H.U.D. wiping out a diner(that includes a cop played by John Goodman!) and Cummings discovering the head of his dead wife! Heard, meanwhile, was investigating with a group of vagrants whom he had photographed in the past and after going down into the sewers with a reporter, he finds himself trapped after a run in with the monsters. His wife is attacked by one of the creatures back at the apartment they live in, but is able to decapitate it with a sword(?), while Stern, who got locked underground by Wilson's men for knowing too much, and Heard discover the remains of the two teams, and what C.H.U.D really means, which is contamination hazard urban disposal. Cummings threatens to expose Wilson, but is shot for his troubles. Heard and Stern escape the sewers, and Stern shoots Wilson dead. The sewers are gassed and it appears that all the C.H.U.D are all dead.

This is a weird film and not surprisingly, unpopular with the critics. CH.U.D is simply a well made exploitation film, nothing more and nothing less. What makes it stand out are it's imaginative and creepy monster designs, created by John Caglione Jr., which are actually effective and pretty scary. They are a frightening lot, complete with glowing eyes and luminous, sickly colored skin. There's not as much footage of them as I would have enjoyed, but what is there counts. The decapitation scene is the standout, though i'm somehwat confused how an ancient sword could dispatch one, but a S.W.A.T. team armed with flamethrowers(!) could not defeat them!

The cast and direction are also somewhat different. It's really bizarre to see good actors like Heard and Stern in something like this and it adds to the fun. Cheek really went for a gritty atmosphere with this, as everyone appears to be grimy and sweat stained and unclean. Nothing appears sanitized, the attempt to capture the seediness and filth of early 80s New York captured better than anything this side of Larry Cohen's films. The atmosphere is heightened and is part of what makes C.H.U.D work so well after all these years. Of course, there is the usual quota of silliness, beyond the ridiculous name for the title monsters, which I doubt anyone in the cast was able to pronounce with a straight face. The vagrants and bums all look appropiately dingy, but man, that underground dude with the knife really overacts and is a riot for the bad movie crowd. There's plenty of other eccentric moments that include an inappropiate shower scene(which is featured uncut on the DVD! Yay!), some screwy dialouge, hilarious overreactions(Heard has some great acting when he discovers some dead bodies in the sewers) and the infamous truck that hits a manhole and explodes, even though I may find that explainable when one considers the combination of a spark and gas in the sewers, but maybe i'm bringing logic to something that dosen't need it!

When I was a kid and originally saw this film, which had already become a cult item among my friends, the film was re-edited and contained a different ending. The middle piece with the diner being attacked was placed on the end, cutting to black and the sounds of screams and panic, before going to credits. It actually was pretty effective and while it may seem cliche for the ending of a monster movie, I sort of enjoyed that edit. The film is still very enjoyable today with enough cheese and strangeness to appeal to the cult film devotee and cool enough monsters to appease the horror crowd. It's sort of silly, but contains a great atmosphere that has rarely been duplicated, though I suspect a remake is forthcoming. A sequel was made, but not as the Romero-esque epic I envisoned about the C.H.U.D. attempting a takeover of New York and battling the police and the army. It wasn't anything that exciting, but was instead a comedy called C.H.U.D. 2:Bud the Chud(1989) and did not contain any of the original's awesome monsters, instead playing like a rip-off of the superior, Return of the Living Dead(1985). It was a terrible sequel and certainly ranks among the most disappointing and dull that I have ever seen. It didn't even have a quarter of the fun of the original, which is still able to entertain fans today.

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