Thursday, February 24, 2011

C.H.U.D. (1984)

Transcendent and fresh, this New York-set monster flick has a bunch of C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) breaking out of the Manhattan subways and bringing murderous carnage to the streets. We see several characters learning about, and dealing with, the eminent threat in various ways; the stalwart police chief attempting to bring it to the mayor's attention, the empathetic soup-kitchen worker (named "The Reverend") investigating his missing homeless familiars, and the seen-it-all photographer, who just wants to settle down with his girlfriend. I suppose I must credit the three not-yet-famous actors for supplanting this movie with a surprising amount of integrity: John Heard as the photographer, Daniel Stern as the disheveled humanist, and Christopher Curry as the Dennis-Franz-mustached cop (ok, two not-yet-famous actors). Along with Kim Griest as Heard's girlfriend, they render the potentially cheesy material to something strong and, dare I say it, human. The monsters themselves are not, particularly, terrifying; while they are shot in minimal, terse bursts, they do not prove as menacing as the city government that attempts to cover up the phenomenon. There is clever social commentary in how the C.H.U.D. only exist because the NYC mayor dumped toxic waste under the city streets; gentrification much? These elements are more than just filler and backstory, but provide a bulk of the movies substance, making it more nuanced and intelligent than your average mid-80's monster flick. That being said, there are gnarly deaths, some kick-ass make-up (a decapitated head, in particular, is impressively convincing), and a pretty terrific, tense climax. In the end, however, the low-budget renderings of the C.H.U.D. themselves ruin too many individual moments, and keep the film from being a true classic of the genre.

Recommended for fans of New York-set monster movies (this one was actually shot there, and it shows) or socially-conscious horror films in general; by the end, it's obvious that the political negligence, rather than the monsters themselves, is the true villain of the piece, not just a sideshow backstory.

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