The city of New York is experiencing a rash of disappearances. These started within the homeless population, in particular, the homeless that dwell in the underground network of tunnels, subway lines and sewers that lie beneath the city. This is noticed by ex-con and soup kitchen worker, A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern), who notices that fewer and fewer of his regulars are coming up for air. A.J. reports this to deaf ears and cannot get anyone to take notice…but hell, these people are ignored when around, forgotten when they are not. But when reports start coming in of people being attacked and dragged into the sewers by monsters, the authorities can no longer ignore the problem.
Captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) of the NYPD is investigating these disappearances and the trail of clues lead him to A.J. Shepherd. Once they compare notes, they team up and head underground to do some looking around. At the same time, photographer George Cooper (John Heard), has been convinced by free-lance reporter, Murphy (J.C. Quinn), that there is something strange going on in the sewers and he convinces George to go with him to investigate. What they all find is that underneath the city, things live there that are far more terrifying than rats, gators and the occasional nut-job. There are also mutated, gooey, neck-stretching monsters with glowing eyes and sharp teeth who survive by eating human flesh. They are Chuds and they are running out of food below ground, and have started shopping on the streets above.
First time director, Douglas Cheek, knew his horror movies and implemented some tried and true horror movie tactics – to varying degrees of success – that have been used since the monster movies of the 1950s. Choosing not to reveal the Chud much in the beginning of the film to build up tension or possibly because they didn’t have much to show. The score by English composer, David A. Hughes, is used in all the right places and does a decent job at letting you know what feelings you should be feeling, even if you are not. Some scenes do not work as intended, like a shower scene that is edited badly and seems out of place plus a pointless Chud neck-stretch scene, but in all fairness, these were not choices by Cheek. Other scenes in C.H.U.D. do show some great originality. In one such scene a police crew, armed with flame throwers, are accompanying members of a EPA crew who are armed with Geiger counters. They are down in the sewer tunnels to make sure they wipe out any Chud’s they encounter. Using a video feed, the NRC chairman and police captain Bosch are able to see their every move via a series of monitors. When the crews encounter a group of Chud’s, you know they are coming, as do the two crews, as the Geiger counters are going crazy. You then see and hear a panicked crew become overwhelmed and slaughtered as each monitor goes to static. This entire scene was practically ripped off and used in a film to come out later, James Cameron‘s Aliens. Douglas Cheek also keeps the films subject matter, both overlying and underlying, dealing with issues such as environmental damage, government distrust and class prejudice. All issues that work no matter what generation you live in and are constant headline mainstays thus helping extend the shelf life of the film.
The acting is decent throughout the entire film with Daniel Stern doing a great job as the frustrated cook as does John Heard, even though his character is not your normal leading man type as on more than one occasion, he flips out worse than some chicks do in these types of films. Realism may have been the goal with those scenes, but in a horror movie such as this, they actually have a more humorous effect. The true villain of the film is not any of the Chuds, but rather Wilson (George Martin), the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Wilson is hell-bent on making sure that the story never makes it to the public, and he has a plan in place that will ensure that any Chuds living in the sewer will be meeting their demise, along with anything else living in the sewer. Adding to this is a nice twist later in the film that expands more on his motivations that have him making desperate, and extremely dangerous decisions. Kim Greist plays George Cooper’s pregnant girlfriend Lauren, and does a convincing job of playing the lone girl in peril, but rather than being a defenseless girl prevalent in horror films, Lauren is a strong female who handles herself better than anyone else in the film when faced with a Chud attack.
Peter Stein, no stranger to horror films before and after C.H.U.D., handled the cinematography and gave the film an overall look that is associated with other city themed horror films of the ’80s such as John Carpenter‘s Assault on Precinct 13 and Lewis Teague’s other monster-in-the-city-sewer film, Alligator. It is dark and dingy above ground on the city streets as well as underground in the sewer set pieces. Speaking of the way things looked, the only thing that did not come across the gap of time unscathed are the Chuds themselves. SFX guy, John Caglione (Amityville Horror), created the Chuds, but because of time restraints they were not able to fully create the Chuds as they were originally designed. Limited to just masks and hands, the Chuds look decent, but never lull you into thinking you are looking at anything more than a man in a mask. This coupled with the fact that most of the Chud action takes place off-camera, left people dissatisfied when the big reveal came around. But even now, 20 years later, they are still a formidable bunch with a look that is hard to forget with their big, glowing eyes and rows of needle, sharp teeth. Very little on-screen violence is ever shown in the film, with the majority of the gore effects being after-effects of Chud attacks. Corpses, severed heads, eviscerated EPA crew members, Emmy Award winning make-up effect artist, Ed French, does a great job with these pieces.
Over the years, the film has enjoyed a cult status whose name alone is referenced along with other pop-culture favorites. Like Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Michael Myers; C.H.U.D. joins the ranks of horror icons whose names are recognizable to horror and non-horror fans alike and is also referenced by other movies and television programs. If you love ’80s horror, then you really cannot go wrong with this film. If not, you may still get some enjoyment from C.H.U.D., especially watching the parade of actors who starred in it before they became household, or semi-household, names. Aside from the main characters that went on to enjoy moderately successful careers, you also have John Goodman playing a cop in the last act as well as Jon Polito playing a news anchor. TV veterans such as Patricia Richardson makes an appearance as well as other television staples, Peter Michael Goetz, Ray Baker and Ivar Brogger. There isn”t a moment that goes by in C.H.U.D. in which you aren’t seeing someone you recognize either by name or by face.
The creators of C.H.U.D. had every intention of making a big-budget horror movie along the same vein as Alien, and never imagined that it would end up a in the same bin as other campy, monster movies that came from the ’80s. However, even with a few stumbling blocks, you can still see through the low-budget trappings and tell the people involved with this movie were taking this movie very seriously. They may not have ended up exactly with the product that they intended, but even after 20 years, the film they created is an enjoyable one and is still standing the test of time.