I remember watching this movie late at night on one of the movie channels at my friend’s house back when we were in high school. It seems like it was on almost every night and we’d catch parts of it here and there, but I don’t remember actually sitting down and watching the whole thing from beginning to end. Well that guy is still my friend, and even without seeing any part of the movie in almost thirty years, we still mention C.H.U.D. occasionally and laugh about it, so I was pretty excited to watch the movie again to see why the name has stuck with us all those years.
The premise is simple enough: homeless people living in the sewer tunnels beneath New York City are missing and people want answers! And by “people”, I mean a cop (Christopher Curry), a photographer (John Heard, Cat People, Too Scared to Scream), and a soup kitchen owner (Daniel Stern, Leviathan) who have discovered some weird stuff going on below their neighborhood and start poking around for an explanation. The problem with all this poking is they soon start poking C.H.U.D.s, and if there’s one thing a C.H.U.D. hates, it’s being poked (Well, that and going too long without the sweet, sweet taste of human flesh). C.H.U.D., as the movie soon tells us, stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. Yes, I’m serious, but that’s not all. It’s soon discovered that, originally, C.H.U.D. stood for Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s nefarious, top-secret plan to dispose of toxic waste underneath New York City. Evidently, when the nuclear sludge your organization dumps into the sewer starts turning the homeless into people-eating monsters, it’s important to keep the acronyms consistent. Anyway, everyone keeps digging for answers and there’s a lot of traipsing through sewer tunnels, running away from C.H.U.D.s and trying to find a way back up to the surface before the bad guy (George Martin) can pump enough gas under the streets to torch the evidence of his unauthorized toxic waste site along with our heroes.
It’s a star-studded cast rounded out by a number of accomplished, recognizable actors. Hell, even the bit parts are filled with the likes of John Goodman and Jay Thomas, so the movie doesn’t lack for ability. The story was a pretty standard creature feature and the the script was decent, even funny at times. It had all the makings of a fun movie, but I have to say it left me kind of disappointed. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t exactly love it either.
I think the problem is that the movie can’t seem to decide what it is. Is it an ensemble of pretty great actors that needs a slightly less goofy story to be a good horror movie, or is it a cheesy, low-budget production that needs some over-the-top, affected acting in order to achieve so-bad-it’s-good status? It ends up being something that just sort of exists in the middle of all those things with the good and the bad parts cancelling each other out to make a pretty dull movie. It has its moments. When A.J. (Stern) stops at a payphone, presumably to call the media and blow the lid off the C.H.U.D. story, the Nuclear Regulatory goon (Ivar Brogger) tailing him hangs up the phone before A.J. can dial and literally swallows the dime that drops into the coin-return (?). Apparently, simply putting the dime in his pocket wasn’t a strong enough statement. There were a few decent instances of gore, most of which were scenes of the aftermath of attacks that were only presumed, and a couple of moments of claustrophobic tension in the tunnels, but not enough of either to make it exciting. The movie just needed…more.
Maybe I built it up too much going in, and looking back, I think the heart of what we liked about C.H.U.D. all those years ago was that it was called C.H.U.D., we knew what the letters stood for, and we thought that was funny. I guess that’s pretty much where I still stand on my opinion of the movie, but the fact that it pops into conversation all these years later means it must have done something right and it will always hold a special place in my memory. So give the movie a shot – it may eventually come in handy. Your grandkids might ask you what C.H.U.D. stands for someday.
“Two gas company guys just found it, a Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller…a C.H.U.D.”