Some movies just creep into the collective conscious of a generation, bleeding from their televisions on late night cable, becoming a buzz word that came up time and time again while you were all geeking out on horror. Horror buffs born before the early 90s certainly know it’s name. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve heard it mentioned in conversation. The movie that doesn’t die – the movie known as C.H.U.D. Before it was the acronym for a site that launched the career of Devin Faraci, those four letters were one of the many basic tests of your horror knowledge. There was always one person, gleefully excited, who would ask you, “Do you know what it stands for?!” Like repeating the door code that gained you access into a speakeasy, you’d say it with a puffed chest of nerdy pride, “Cannibalistic. Humanoid. Underground. Dwellers.” If life were a video game, your respect meter would pop up over your head and fill up by 5 points because you knew your shit.
Somehow, considering the gross amount of information available to us now, knowing what C.H.U.D. stands for is still a testament to a horror fan’s expertise. Over 30 years later, when it just as easily could’ve disappeared into the bottomless pit of late night cable or VHS graveyards, it still holds strong as a touchstone cult classic for good reason, because although we often label B-Movies as schlocky or hokey, C.H.U.D. actually is quite an ambitious effort. There’s a multifaceted narrative that jumps between four characters: photographer George Cooper (John Heard), his model girlfriend Lauren (Kim Greist), police captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) and AJ The Reverend (Daniel Stern), who runs a homeless shelter. If a little voice just went off in your head saying, “wait, there’s two people from HOME ALONE in this movie!?” – congratulations, we are both nerds.
The plot kicks in when A.J. enlists the help of Bosch to investigate why the local homeless population has been disappearing underground. Naturally, the police force isn’t very concerned, but Bosch begins taking things more serious once his wife also goes missing. Meanwhile, George Cooper is also alerted to the growing number of disappearances, as he also has a trusted relationship with the vagrants after shooting an expose on the homeless problem in New York City. His model/girlfriend Lauren has also just found out she’s pregnant and, somehow, all their lives will intersect by the end of the film as we learn what the acronym truly stands for. As a whole, C.H.U.D. has a solid cast of great performers (something you don’t often see in what we consider B-Movies). John Heard was quite the hunky actor in his youth and starred in the underrated CAT PEOPLE remake two years prior. Kim Greist would go on to star in both MANHUNTER and BRAZIL, and Daniel Stern would become widely known for HOME ALONE and the voice of adult Kevin Arnold in “The Wonder Years”. Also, John Goodman fans, keep a lookout for the two minutes he shows up before getting eaten by cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.
What sets C.H.U.D. apart from most B-Horror may also be, to a degree, what less patient viewers find as its main weakness. There’s almost an overkill of plot at times (something the original theatrical cut in the limited edition exclusive version cleans up) and those wanting to see the dwellers will find that it takes a fair amount of time to get moving before we even see the creatures. The abundance of dialogue and character development definitely didn’t bother me, but did open up the opportunity for AJ to use the name “Bosch” more times than I ever need to hear again. Stars Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry rewrote a large portion of the script because of issues they had with Parnell Hall’s rewrite, so it almost seems unfair to fault the movie for trying to be more than just another throwaway creature film. After watching both version, I preferred the meatier one, much like a C.H.U.D. would, and hated how the Theatrical Cut moves the placement of the John Goodman diner scene to the end as a cliffhanger. It just doesn’t work.
We get a 2K transfer here, which is likely the best this film has ever looked. I have a strange nostalgic fondness for the excessive trash and grime of a pre-Giuliani New York. The grit of the city is just as much of a character as the city itself. In fact, one of the special features: “A Dirty Look” goes into the details of just that with production designer, William Bilowit. “Notes from Above Ground” is a tour featurette hosted by Michael Gingold and Ted Geoghegan (director of 2015’s Fulci-esque haunted house flick, WE ARE STILL HERE). Lastly, there’s the “Dweller Designs” interview with make-up effects/creature creator John Gaglione, Jr. (whose work in DICK TRACY is the only reason it was worth watching). Those who listen to the audio commentary featuring Heard, Stern, Curry, director Douglas Cheek and writer Shepard Abbott the most entertaining. They’re constantly making each other laugh like a drunken group of friends reminiscing about the old days and the playful camaraderie is the type of charm you only get when working on a small budgeted horror film.
So, if you’re a fan of C.H.U.D. or one of those who haven’t seen this cult classic that always manages to sneak up in horror fans’ conversation, Arrow’s 2 Disc Special Edition is a nice treat that you don’t have to brave the pre-Christmas crowds for. Where else can you see Jay Thomas and John Goodman get eaten by underground mutants, hear Daniel Stern say “Bosch” until your ears bleed, or be reminded of how filthy NYC once was all in the same package? For extra horror fan credibility, ask people what C.H.U.D. ends up actually standing for and whoever gets it right, becomes a reputable member of the club.