Boy, I've really stepped in it this time. You all know me, I'm no stranger to the whole radioactive mutant cannibal genre, but today's film makes me pause and reconsider my career path. I remember strolling down the video store (Remember those, folks? Ah, nostalgia!) aisles as a kid and seeing the VHS box art, simultaneously drawn in by the art and amused by the strange title. For whatever reason, I passed on it for several years until I finally decided to give it a shot a few years back. What my youthful reluctance justified? Well, I guess there's only one way to find out. Grab your Geiger counters and hold your nose, kids, because we're about to descend into the foul world of 1984's creature feature C.H.U.D.
The film opens on a mostly deserted New York City street in the wee hours of the night. A woman is walking her dog when an unseen assailant drags her and the poor pooch into the sewer. We are then introduced to George and Lauren, a photographer and model respectively. During a photoshoot, George receives a call from a homeless woman he knows who needs bail for trying to steal a policeman's service weapon. George convinces her to take him down into the sewers where he meets a sick, injured man with a terrible bite wound on his leg.
Police Captain Bosch visits A.J., or "the Reverend," the owner of a local soup kitchen, asking if he knows anything about a recent rise in missing persons cases. At first, A.J. is reluctant to help until he learns Mrs. Bosch is among the missing. A.J. shows Bosch some of the strange items he's discovered in the New York Underground, including radiation detecting devices belonging to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After strong arming the police commissioner and a man from the NRC named Wilson, Wilson reluctantly reveals to the men the existence of C.H.U.D., or "cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers," mutants created by radioactive materials dumped in the New York underground. Bosch, A.J., and George must all race against the clock to save the city from both the C.H.U.D.s and the NRC's suicidal plan to eradicate the mutants.
Hoo boy! Where do I begin? The movie stars both John Heard and Daniel Stern of Home Alone fame, and I can't help but think Kevin McCallister would have sorted out the city's C.H.U.D. problem in short order with a few paint cans and Micro Machines. Frankly, I think the movie would have benefitted from a few character cuts, namely Heard's character, George. George and Lauren don't really do anything to move the story forward, and George's actions in the film could have just as easily (and more reasonably) been carried out by Stern's A.J.
Let's talk about the C.H.U.D.s themselves. They're... well... silly. When the film finally revealed them, I burst out into laughter.The wide-set headlight eyes were the icing on the cake. I will say, however, there's a scene where George encounters a homeless man mid-transformation into a C.H.U.D., and the effect was actually quite good. I think the effects team should have gone for a more subtle approach to the finished creatures.
Overall, C.H.U.D. is a popcorn-cramming B-movie, and if you're a fan of monster movies you can laugh at, give this one a watch. If you like your horror a little heavier on story and lighter on gory, skip this one. I'm not typically an advocate for remakes, but I do think with the right script and cast, C.H.U.D. could benefit from a 21st century facelift.