Today’s feature is the bizarre cult classic “C.H.U.D.,” which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller.
“C.H.U.D.” apparently had four different writers over the course of a number of rewrites: actors Christopher Curry and Daniel Stern were ultimately uncredited (“We wrote 50 percent of this fucking movie” – Daniel Stern), while Shepard Abbott and Parnell Hall, who did the rewrites, wound up with their names on the film. Interestingly, none of the four writers have any other film writing credits to their names.
The director on “C.H.U.D.” was Douglas Cheek, who has primarily worked as an editor on documentaries such as “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” and “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.”
The editor for “C.H.U.D.” was Claire Simpson, who cut such acclaimed films as “Wall Street,” “Platoon,” and “The Fan” over her career.
The makeup effects team for “C.H.U.D.” included David E. Smith (“Pulp Fiction,” “Day of the Dead,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), Kevin Haney (“Cocoon,” “Death Becomes Her,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), Ed French (“The Stuff,” “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), George Engel (“In the Mouth of Madness”), Doug Drexler (“Drive Angry,” “Battlestar Galactica”), Joe Cuervo (“Bad Lieutenant,” “Amityville II,” “Oz,” “Sesame Street”), John Caglione Jr. (“State of Play,” “The Smurfs”), and Mike Maddi (“The Stuff,” “The Blob,” “Saturday Night Live”).
The special effects for “C.H.U.D.” were done by the duo of Steven Kirshoff (“The Stepford Wives,” “Hackers,” “Crocodile Dundee II,” “The Departed”) and Matt Vogel (“Maniac Cop 2,” “King of New York”).
The musical score for “C.H.U.D.” was written by David A. Hughes, who also did music for the films “Fat Slags,” “Proteus,” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.”
The cast for “C.H.U.D.” included John Heard (“Home Alone,” “Cat People”), Daniel Stern (“Home Alone,” “Leviathan”), Christopher Curry (“Starship Troopers,” “Red Dragon”), Kim Greist (“Brazil,” “Manhunter”), Michael O’Hare (“Babylon 5,” “The Ambulance”), Eddie Jones (“Q,” “A League of Their Own,” “Sneakers”), Sam McMurray (“Baby Geniuses,” “Raising Arizona”), Graham Beckel (“Pearl Harbor,” “True Believer”), Frankie Faison (“The Wire,” “Mother Night”), Bill Raymond (“The Wire,” “Michael Clayton”), and one of the first film appearances of John Goodman (“The Big Lebowski,” “Barton Fink,” “King Ralph,” “Matinee,” “Red State”).
The plot of “C.H.U.D.” follows three intertwined characters who are each investigating a series of mysterious disappearances among the homeless of New York City. Slowly, they each begin to uncover a dark secret beneath the streets of Manhattan: a population of monsters being covered up by the government.
The famed Criterion Collection did an April Fool’s Day joke back in 2011 that “C.H.U.D.” would be added to their distinguished list of films. Of course, the staff of the notable film news website CHUD.com, which was inspired by the movie, were excited about the possibility. Shockingly, the inclusion of “Armageddon” in the Criterion Collection isn’t a joke.
“C.H.U.D.” ultimately spawned one sequel, the notorious horror-comedy “C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud”
The term “CHUD” was apparently dreamed up by one of the writers while he was drunk, and wound up being the inspiration for the entire film. However, the acronym has two meanings in the film: “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal” and, more famously, “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.”
The reception to “C.H.U.D.” was generally poor, though it has certainly lived on as a cult classic. It currently has a 5.5 score on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 17% (critics) and 32% (audience).
The budget for “C.H.U.D.” was roughly 1.25 million, and it wound up grossing about 4.6 million in its domestic theatrical release, making it a financial success for a low budget picture.
The DVD commentary for “CHUD” is one of the most simultaneously contentious and and easy-going tracks I have ever listened to. John Heard, Christopher Curry, Daniel Stern, and Douglas Cheek laugh uproariously throughout, while also complaining about not getting paid for their work, how awful the re-writes and effects were, and how much they dislike the ultimate theatrical cut of the movie, and how drunk they were during any given scene. For fans of the film, it is totally worth checking out.
“C.H.U.D.” unsurprisingly features a load of hammy performances, particularly from Daniel Stern and John Heard. That said, none of them are so over-the-top as to be particularly memorable, especially for b-movie performances.
Personally, I really like the design of the CHUDs. The glowing eyes in particular are really key, making them stand out among other movie monsters. Considering how low the budget was, they had to do something to make them stand out, and the eyes worked for that. Apparently, the CHUD suits accounted for a tenth of the budget of the flick in total. Without those distinctive eyes, it wouldn’t have counted for much.
The explanation/origin behind the CHUDs is interesting, and plays into the popular disdain for authority and anxieties over the government’s role in pollution. There is also a clear message about the invisibility of the homeless to people in power, which is pretty deep for a film about sewer monsters.
One of the biggest criticisms I have seen of “CHUD” is how slow the pacing is, which is something I find totally valid. The film is very atmospheric, and there isn’t a whole lot of payoff until the very end. I think it could have been edited in such a way as to make it a bit tighter, but as it stands, it is pretty dull.
Outside of the eponymous CHUDs, the most memorable aspect of the film is the near-iconic grimy portrayal of 1980s New York City, which rivals other b-movies like “Maniac Cop” and “Q.” It openly conflicts with the idealized portrayals of the city in major pictures, and provides a look at the underbelly of the city during an era when it was at its worst.
I consider another film I have covered, Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train,” to be a sort of spiritual successor to “CHUD.” I think it manages to take a lot of the same plot points and characters, update them, and then nail the desired dark tone a bit better. If people out there are big fans of “CHUD,” then I consider “The Midnight Meat Train” a must-watch.
“CHUD” may be one of the great b-movie classics of the 1980s, but it is still a pretty slow flick for casual audiences to sit through. Despite some nice highlights, I consider this to be a bit of a deep cut for bad movie fans, in spite of how much cultural recognition it has. I would personally pick up “Maniac Cop” or “Maniac Cop 2” over “CHUD” any day, but I still love the charm of the ambiance and the monsters here.