Monday, October 19, 2009

Film Review: C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Daniel Stern (HOME ALONE, LEVIATHAN), John Heard (CAT PEOPLE, CUTTER'S WAY, AFTER HOURS), Kim Griest (MANHUNTER, BRAZIL), Christopher Curry (RED DRAGON, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN), John Goodman.
Tag-line: "Ugly. Slobbering. Ferocious. Carnivorous."
Best one-liner: "Are you kidding? Your guy's got a camera. Mine's got a flamethrower."

C.H.U.D. (CANNIBALISTIC HUMANOID UNDERGROUND DWELLER) is kind of the bastard child of ALLIGATOR (1980) and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970), but it's never quite as good as either of them. In fact, I'm not sure what exactly has cemented C.H.U.D.'s cult status- it's a solid enough little subterranean mutant zombie flick, but it never quite brings enough spectacle, engagement, or unhinged wackitude to the table to really push things over the edge. The cast is solid enough: Daniel Stern (HOME ALONE, LEVIATHAN) is a smart-alecky soup kitchen cook:

John Heard (AFTER HOURS, CAT PEOPLE) is a modern-day Jacob Riis-style muckraking photog, Kim Griest (MANHUNTER, BRAZIL) is the model/girlfriend:

Christopher Curry (STARSHIP TROOPERS, F/X) is the system-fighting cop, and there's a bit part by a young n' smarmy John Goodman as C.H.U.D.-fodder.

The film's heart is definitely in the right place, and there's some nice anti-evil bureaucracy, pro-environment, pro-homeless sentiments interwoven throughout the film (director Douglas Cheek went on to work as an editor on several grassroots liberal documentaries in the past decade). The special effects are pretty limb-rippingly impressive and eye-glowingly memorable (even if they're severely underused),

and there are some fantastically atmospheric shots of manhole covers being ominously hoisted,

but as a whole, this thing never quite congeals into a successful narrative. Endlessly listening to people talk about the C.H.U.D.s just doesn't cut it.

That being said, there are a few choice moments, including my personal favorite, when Daniel Stern is being tailed by a representative of a nefarious government agency. Stern decides to make a phone call, stops at a booth, and inserts his quarter. The leering G-man d-bag rushes up, ejects the coin, snags it, and eats it. Touché.

Still, if you're REALLY hankerin' for a toxic hobo flick, I must instead recommend J. Michael Muro's 1987 masterpiece, STREET TRASH.

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)
28. SILENT RAGE (1982, Michael Miller)
27. BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
26. THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)
25. PELTS (2006, Dario Argento)
24. ANGEL HEART (1987, Alan Parker)
23. KILLER WORKOUT (1986, David A. Prior)
22. FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, Rachel Talalay)
21. THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, Robert Fuest)
20. FRANKENHOOKER (1990, Frank Henenlotter)
19. HELLRAISER (1987, Clive Barker)
18. GEEK MAGGOT BINGO (1983, Nick Zedd)
17. ALLIGATOR (1980, Lewis Teague)
16. LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971, Lucio Fulci)
15. THE CARD PLAYER (2004, Dario Argento)
14. SPASMO (1974, Umberto Lenzi)
13. C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)

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