Impulse Buy Theater - C.H.U.D.
This is likely to be an experience limited to my generation…those that grew up with video stores and rentals in their youth and saw them fall away…replaced by streaming services. You know the drill…younger you was walking down the aisle, be it the claustrophobic, almost closet-like walkways of the smaller ma-and-pop video stores (for all my hometown readers, all I need to say to set the scene is Showtime Video and you get what I mean!) to the more open aisles of video sections of grocery stores or regional/nationwide chains…and the cover art of one VHS tape either scared you or interested you…either way, it was a video that for one reason or another, you weren’t able to get your mitts on. That image and the film associated with it lay dormant in your mind…on the border of being forgotten…until something jarred it back into prominence in your memory…whether it was following a ‘rabbit hole’ on the internet via Wikipedia or YouTube or some other vast time-sink or by thumbing your way through the many offerings of the various streaming services available. And your inner 10-year-old says “yeah…let’s check that out”.
For me, one of those movies was C.H.U.D (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller). I certainly can’t tell you what it was about the film that creeped me out as a kid…although I do have to confess that since I had an overactive imagination it didn’t take much to achieve that feat. Hell, looking at the poster now, it bears more than a striking resemblance to the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie poster. Maybe it was what the acronym stood for? I dunno. Anyway, in looking over upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray releases, I saw that Arrow Video was in the process of releasing a special edition disc. Given the mixed results I’ve had with their discs (they’re no Shout! Factory…sadly) and the fact that they’re a bit pricey for said mixed results, I opted to track the film down on the Roku, and sure enough was able to find it. Was it worth it?
Yeah…and I can say that without any sort of qualifiers. In fact, after completing the film, I wondering why in the hell this one has slipped through the cracks? Then I looked at Rotten Tomatoes…17% huh? Well, guess this one’s getting slapped with the ol’ “In Defense of…” label. But it also reaffirms my very low opinion of the site. The biggest complaint I see is that reviewers felt the movie was “dull” or a “slog”. Sigh. Okay kids, let’s go back to Movies 101 here…in order to have characters you care about, the movie has to take the time to show or tell you why you should care. And we get that here…sure, it might take a little more time, since we’re following at least 3 main characters and plenty of secondaries…but I felt that the movie does a pretty good job of bouncing between all the principles as well as the titular monsters and the threat they pose…tying it all together neatly at the end. Said principles are a photographer/photojournalist that has highlighted the homeless problem in mid-80s New York City, a police captain with a missing wife in addition to a flood of missing persons reports coming in and the organizer of a local homeless shelter that is trying to call attention to the fact that the numbers of the people he serves is dwindling rather quickly. The film takes the time to give each of these characters at the very least a skeleton of a back story and yet at the same time, never lets you forget the looming threat of the unseen titular creatures. It’s a classic ‘hold…hold…hold…hold…and release’ which, depending on your tastes, will either work or it won’t. Personally, I felt it worked just fine.
All that being said, the film doesn’t really add much to the ol’ creature feature or monster film: people go missing, someone finds out about it, varying stages of disbelief from authority, the big reveal and then the fight and resolution. There’s some sprinkling of conspiracy theory for good measure, but even that was pretty typical. But just like comfort food…it doesn’t necessarily HAVE to bring anything new to the recipe…so long as it consists of great ingredients that yield a delicious meal…and I’d better stop that analogy now, lest it sound like I’m endorsing cannibalism. [We can dispel that right away and assign you to review Cannibal Holocaust. What…no bites? Wimp. – Ed.] Speaking of the creatures…the design of the C.H.U.D.s certainly justifies my childhood fear but from a more aged point of view, sure, they’re creepy but they fit right in with typical 80s monster aesthetics. The three main actors all carry the weight of their stories really well, with John Heard (the dad in Home Alone) as the photographer, Daniel Stern (hrm…also of Home Alone…wait a sec…) as the shelter organizer and Christopher Curry (he’s in Home Alone 3??? Yeah, I’m calling conspiracy here) as the police captain. For a bit of a bonus round, you can also spot a very young, but still portly, John Goodman in the movie too!
I found C.H.U.D. to be a very well done slow-burn creature feature. You’ve got to keep that slow-burn part in your mind if you’re going to enjoy the film, but with well-rounded characters that are very easy to care about, even if the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it still proves to be an enjoyable 90 minutes.
Going back and thinking about that Turtles poster though…man, talk about your missed crossover possibility!