Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #414
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 31, 1984
Sub-Genre: Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $4,650,000
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Douglas Cheek
Producer: Andrew Bonime
Screenplay: Parnell Hall
Story: Shepard Abbott
Special Effects: John Caglione Jr.
Cinematography: Peter Stein
Score: Martin Cooper, David A. Hughes
Editing: Claire Simpson
Studios: C.H.U.D. Productions, New World Pictures
Distributor: New World Pictures
Stars: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, Kim Greist, Laure Mattos, Brenda Currin, Justin Hall, Michael O’Hare, Cordis Heard, Vic Polizos, Eddie Jones, Sam McMurray, Frank Adu, Ruth Maleczech, J.C. Quinn, Patricia Richardson, John Goodman, Jay Thomas
Suggested Audio Candy
David A. Hughes “Main Theme”
The eighties were memorable for so many reasons. As well as introducing us to all manner of affectionately crafted tales of urban woe such as Larry Cohen’s classic fifties throwback Q: The Winged Serpent and Dick Maas’ criminally unsung Amsterdamned, it also presented us some marvellous acronyms. Pipping D.A.R.Y.L.’s “Data-Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform” to top spot was C.H.U.D. which ordinarily denotes “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal” but, in a glorious double entendre, also represents the “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller” of the title. In the history of magnificent movie mantles, this may well have been the most splendiferous.
I remember my primary exposure to Douglas Cheek’s B-movie oddity and the seduction was instantaneous. The sleeve art, with an ominous looking beast sporting glowing peepers peering from beneath a manhole cover, was sufficient to turn my head, while the catchy subtitle ensured there was no way I was leaving the video store without a rental copy tucked proudly beneath my wing. Back then, I was only really interested in any cannibalistic connotations as it looked like I was in for a treat with regards to splatter. Thus, 96 minutes later, my initial rejoinder was dismay as this was nowhere near as mean-spirited as the tantalizing title suggested. However, time has been kind to C.H.U.D. and, in the thirty years since its conception, it has gone on to amass something of a cult following and deservedly so.
Before you go scouring Amazon for your C.H.U.D. 1&2 box sets, I feel duty bound to inform you that David Irving’s C.H.U.D II: Bud the C.H.U.D. is deeply abysmal and in no way worthy of your consideration unless you’re either willing to accept it on its own ridiculous terms or are related to or affiliated with Gerrit Graham. Having said that, its predecessor is chock-full of biting social commentary about the people who run our cities and the corners they will cut to sweep their surplus beneath the concrete rug. Erin Brockovich would likely have suffered a coronary spending a single night in these dank New York back streets as the evil lurking there was a product of its environment and existed only because of their bogus intentions.
The buck here stopped at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who had seen fit to dump their toxic waste into the city’s sewer system and unwittingly caused a chain reaction of sorts amongst its sub-level population. Ordinarily placid vagrants were transformed into freaks in no way associated with nature and their primary desire was to feed amongst any late-night stragglers foolish enough to linger near that suspect manhole cover. It wasn’t long before folk started showing up on the side of milk cartons with startling regularity and it was left to burnt out photographer George Cooper (John Heard) to dig a little deeper underneath the sprawling metropolis.
After chewing the fat with The Reverend (Daniel Stern), whose soup kitchen was suffering from a significant decline in attendance, the pair decided to get some answers and, lo-and-behold they didn’t find them in congress. This meant taking matters into their own hands and scouring the oversized septic tank in an attempt at uncovering any foul play. Many of the events of C.H.U.D. played out in this underground cesspool and, in retrospect, Cheek’s movie was ably directed, well paced, and featured far more characterization than many of its counterparts and some truly memorable dialogue.
Heard and Stern were superb together and went on to work side-by-side a number of times, most notably with Home Alone. It’s hard to consider Stern without calling to mind Marv Merchants from John Hughes’ knockabout comedy and here he appeared similarly downtrodden and just as borderline demented. His exchanges with Heard were beyond priceless. Heard had already impressed me massively with his turn as Oliver in Paul Schrader’s wonderful Cat People and later went on to feature in one of my all-time favorite treasures of the epoch, Martin Scorcese’s After Hours, but here he showed his diverse aptitude for ad-libbing as Cheeks’ gonzo approach encouraged massive improvisation and the result was a group of protagonists we actually cared for.
It was a full country mile plus change from perfect and evident in its final cut that there were numerous issues translating C.H.U.D. from page to screen. Neither Heard or Stern, both of which had helped come up with the initial concept, were satisfied with Parnell Hall’s massively reworked screenplay and interjected with a number of scenes which Cheeks ensured didn’t populate the cutting room floor. The shoddy editing didn’t help and one imagines that the final product was still some way from what they had originally intended but, against all odds, it still worked.
Those searching for deep meaningful social reverence could take their pick amongst the themes explored here. It lifted the manhole cover on the ever burgeoning big city homeless problem, environmental hazard, and the unscrupulous nature of the governing bodies responsible for keeping our cities supposedly pristine and free of urban decay. However, for as much as C.H.U.D. had something to say, its greatest gift to us was its acronym.
I recall my first time in school standing up before my classmates to inform them of my motivation when growing up to be a fully fledged adult. Some wished to be astronauts, others scientists or Superbowl heroes, while I only ever dreamed of becoming a Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. Consequently I was ridiculed, pelted with rotten vegetables, and laughed out of class. Who’s laughing now punks? Three decades on, things are coming along rather splendidly. I am practically carnivorous, the last time I checked I possessed all the fixtures and fittings to comply with being classed humanoid, the nearest manhole cover is no farther than 500 yards from my house, and I dwell on a daily basis in my tool shed. Now if that don’t make me a C.H.U.D. then my name’s not Bud.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Perhaps my greatest C.H.U.D. inspired disenchantment came with the dearth of grue on exhibit. Up until 1984, any film which featured the word Cannibal had delivered the goods when it came to splatter. Outside of a couple of gnarly abrasions and a decapitated head still wearing its Walkman headphones, there was precious little to sate my ravenous appetite for destruction. Perhaps the title Criminally Hungry Undernourished Dwellers would have been more appropriate in hindsight. Nah fuck it; it just doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way. I’ll just stick with my vivid imagination and splice my own mental edit.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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