A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #7: “C.H.U.D.” (1984)
by A.J. Hakari
C.H.U.D. makes a better punchline than it does a film. A very modest success upon its release, this 1984 horror story has since been name-dropped in a sizable number of pop culture venues, mentioned in everything from “The Simpsons” to Tony Hawk video games. I’d venture that more know of C.H.U.D.‘s existence than have actually seen it, though in this case, that’s not really a bad thing. C.H.U.D. is an almost intensely boring production, an exercise in cruddy special effects and schizophrenic plotting that hasn’t even the pluck to go down as a “so bad, it’s great” cult classic.
Living beneath the streets of New York City are a group of homeless derelicts known as “undergrounders.” Abandoned subway and sewer tunnels are their shelters, although a new threat to the Big Apple has recently sent them running for their lives. Word of missing people and strange creatures scurrying about the underground has begun to spread, inspiring such enterprising chaps as a photojournalist (John Heard) and a soup kitchen cook (Daniel Stern) to investigate further. What they find is far worse than grungy panhandlers, that radioactive goo has transformed New York’s forgotten men into cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers…or C.H.U.D.s, if you will.
C.H.U.D. plods on at such a lethargic pace, I can’t honestly imagine how it garnered such genre infamy. For a film that hops among a trio of protagonists in a story about mutated bums munching on New Yorkers, nothing really gets done. It reminds me of all those Godzilla flicks that had more scenes of people in suits talking about Godzilla than scenes of the effing monster. C.H.U.D.‘s build-up goes on for ages but never materializes into honest-to-God dread. It’s one thing to keep viewers in the dark and let their imaginations conjure whatever horrible abominations they will, but it’s another to have dudes droning on about some unfathomable menace and give us a stuntman in a Halloween mask in return. Between this, the gaping plot holes left unfilled by the end, and the fact that the movie can’t pick one main character out of three guys we don’t care about anyway, your chances of getting hooked by anything here are slim to none.
One thing C.H.U.D. gets right is its atmosphere; it gladly presents NYC at its most grime-encrusted, with nary a clean floor or showered person spotted onscreen. But it’s also the worst kind of B-movie, one with so much weirdness going on and zero motivation with which to deliver it. My apologies, C.H.U.D.ophiles, but this uneventful excursion into New York’s sewer-dwelling nightlife sure could’ve done with a Ninja Turtle or two.