1984’s C.H.U.D. always seemed like a horror flick punching above its weight. The dedication it inspires amongst horror fans is so intense that even parody Criterion Collection covers get them worked into a tizzy, but is the film really all that memorable, save for its iconic poster art?
In many ways, C.H.U.D. is a typical creature-feature, not much different than the flood of films like Them! that filled drive-in theatres throughout the 50’s. People are disappearing off the streets of New York City, but when perpetually-filthy soup kitchen owner A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern) tries to report it, he’s stymied at every turn by the city’s bureaucracy. Finally, Captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) begins to investigate the disappearances, while photographer George Cooper (John Heard) is beginning to wonder why the subjects for his piece on New York’s street people keep vanishing without a trace.
For its short running time, C.H.U.D. sure packs a lock of characters and exposition into this mix, which makes the first half of the film a bit of a slog. We know from the opening moments of the film (and the poster) that something beneath the sewers is taking people, but Director Douglas Cheek takes his time getting us there. At times that helps to build suspense, including the over-the-top scene when a near-manic Daniel Stern is rallying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for answers during a very unusual meeting, but it occasionally gets bogged down in dull character scenes that only detract from the main storyline of the film (see: almost any scene with photographer George Cooper and girlfriend Lauren).
But once we really get down into the sewers, C.H.U.D. erupts into a crazed sci-fi/horror hybrid, with teams of police and NRC members hunting down the monsters with geiger counters beneath the streets, C.H.U.D.‘s annihilating a New York deli (including a baby-faced John Goodman), and one of the creepiest shower scenes this side of Psycho. If you’ve ever longed for a version of Aliens set in the streets of Travis Bickle’s Taxi Driver, then C.H.U.D. will be right up your alley.
Arrow Video has gone all out for this release, including a vintage commentary with the director and stars, a composer and score commentary by Martin Cooper and David A Hughes, brand-new featurettes with Production Designer William Bilowit and SFX Artist John Caglione Jr., a tour of the NYC locations with Filmmaker Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and Rogue Morgue‘s Michael Gingold, a racier cut of the shower scene and a whole second disc featuring the rarely-seen theatrical cut of the movie (which is actually about 10 minutes shorter). This is definitely a package that should appease even the most Photoshop-happy Criterion-hounds out there.
With great practical monster effects, a memorable score (that recently got the deluxe vinyl treatment by Waxwork Records), and a laughably great cast for an 80’s B-movie, C.H.U.D is an effective monster flick that definitely earns its spot in the vaulted 80’s horror pantheon.
C.H.U.D. is available now on Blu-ray / DVD from Arrow Video.