I’ve never had HBO or Showtime, including in the ’80s, so I only know C.H.U.D. as a reference. But we still have a video store here in Seattle and I was looking at the box one day and these glowing-eyed cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers looked pretty cool so I figured it was time I learned what all this is about.
If you never saw it either I’ll tell you what I have learned. It’s about a rash of disappearances among “undergrounders,” the homeless who find shelter in the underground tunnels of New York City, like in that documentary DARK DAYS. (This would be cooler if it had a DJ Shadow score, but the one it has by David A. Hughes is pretty good.) The authorities don’t really care until it starts happening to people who live at surface level in a higher class. There’s a nicely shot title sequence with a cool keyboard theme playing as a monster arm reaches out of a steaming manhole to snatch a woman out walking her little dog. It’s a powerfully simple opening that really sets the scene for a fun, energetic movie that doesn’t quite materialize.
A police captain named Bosch (Christopher Curry, HOME ALONE 3) gets involved because his wife disappears, and he goes to talk to this guy A.J. (Daniel Stern, HOME ALONE) who runs a soup kitchen and reported 12 of his regular undergrounders missing. These two are weirdly dickish and uncooperative with each other because they used to be on opposite sides of the law. But eventually they team up, explore the tunnels, find evidence that the city already knows what’s going on here, and threaten to go to the media if they won’t tell them what’s what. There’s some kind of coverup here and it’s pissing them off. People are being chudded.
Also the movie and the cops follow “George Cooper, prominent fashion photographer” (John Heard, HOME ALONE) who would rather be seen as a real Artist. He throws an artistic integrity fit while shooting his model girlfriend Lauren (film debut of Kim Greist, HOMEWARD BOUND: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY) for a perfume ad, and dodges phone calls from his editor hassling him about a deadline.
George knows that True Art cannot be rushed (that’s why my reviews of new movies never come out until after they’ve been out for at least a few days). He’s been working on a series of photos of the city’s homeless, but has had trouble getting a hold of some of his subjects. He gets mixed up in all this chud shit after one of his homeless contacts gets arrested for trying to steal a cop’s gun for chud protection. She makes him her one phone call and now the cops want to know what his deal is.
Stern, in his baggy, sweat-soaked muscle shirt, makes a good no-bullshit working class hero. He spends his life helping people and risks it against monsters. And overall this has a theme of the working class and the poor objecting to getting screwed over by the power structure.
There are a few important character actors in bit parts. Check this out:
That’s right, that’s 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE‘s John Goodman (HOME OF PHOBIA) in a real early role, the one that came after REVENGE OF THE NERDS. Here’s a tougher one. Can you recognize this reporter on the TV?
Well, neither did I. It looks like Michael Ironside or somebody but believe it or not it’s a thin, very different looking Jon Polito. You know him with a mustache and a rounder face, the bald, weasely guy in a bunch of Coen Brothers movies. MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE. In THE BIG LEBOWSKI he was the private eye in the Volkswagen Bug. The “fellow Brother Shamus.” He was in THE CROW. He was in HOMEWARD BOUND II with Greist and BUSHWHACKED with Stern and Curry.
There’s a vaguely Larry Cohen feel to this, though without the same kind of tight, propulsive storytelling. Unfortunately too much of this is serious people standing or sitting in offices having conversations about the situation. But the relationship issues faced by George and Lauren suggest a horror movie for grown ups. I like that when she brings up the idea of moving into her parents’ old house instead of selling it George blurts out “But that’s in the suburbs!”, thinking she’s forgotten that. So many movies promote the idea of cities as a dangerous place that you should want to get away from, especially if you’re starting a family. That would be natural for a movie about chuds, too. But here we have a guy who values the culture and lifestyle of urban living. And A.J. is someone who takes care of the poor and elderly, calls out the authorities on not helping, and risks his life going into the sewers to get people out before the city gases them along with the chuds. The city may be unforgiving, but the city dwellers do care about each other.
There’s a scene where Lauren is taking a shower and the drain is clogged, so she bends a coat hanger to try to unclog it and blood sprays all over her face. This woman is newly pregnant, having boyfriend troubles and questioning her future. And she’s naked in the shower and bends a coat hanger into a hook! I know it doesn’t seem like she’s decided to give herself an abortion, and it’s the ’80s, it’s not like she would have to do it that way. But to me it seemed like it had to be intended to bring the idea of abortion into your subconscious and worry about what’s going to happen to her unborn baby.
On the DVD commentary track though they just say “it’s an homage to Hitchcock” and there’s no hint that they thought about anything like that. The track is pretty good because it has Stern, Heard, Curry, director Douglas Cheek and writer Parnell Hall all together. They joke and get nostalgic but the actors don’t seem to remember very much about the movie and the filmatists don’t seem to understand what’s good about it. The director says that originally the chuds were going to be sick people, not monsters. Man, that woulda been a movie none of us ever saw before. They talk about the monsters looking bad, that the eyes are too big and bright, and there’s too much slime. They seem outraged by clearly the most interesting thing in the movie, the specific reason I rented it and the thing that I think most people would agree there’s not nearly enough of.
Hall is a mystery writer who only did this one movie. It’s Cheek’s only theatrical feature as a director too, but he’s worked more as an editor, including on lefty documentaries OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH’S WAR ON JOURNALISM and WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE. But if you met him what you should ask about is ALIEN AUTOPSY: FACT OR FICTION?
To be honest I didn’t think this one was that great. At first it seems like it has something, but other than the glowing eyes it doesn’t amount to much. Still, I might watch the sequel some time. On the commentary track they all wonder what it was about, they think maybe it was a parody like AIRPLANE! 2, but none of them ever saw it.