(1984) dir. Douglas Cheek
Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.
Need I say more? Well, it’s funny but this movie with such a humorously exploitational-sounding title was a common point of reference for jokes for friends and myself in the 1980’s, but to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever seen it.
The film is a little surprising, actually. Though it has obviously some rather outlandish aspects: mutant homeless people with glowing eyes and dripping fangs, it’s actually a relatively earnest thriller, though on the low-budget side. And most interestingly it is well-cast and features several young actors who would go on to at least minor prominence, including John Heard, John Goodman, Jay Thomas, Sam McMurray, and most entertainingly Daniel Stern.
Daniel Stern plays the hippie-ish manager of a low-rent soup kitchen, and he’s actually quite good, very vibrant and fun in this character.
The film has an interesting bent on homelessness, a topic that seemed to grow in prominence in the 1980’s. Heard is a photographer who has befriended and photographed the homeless folks that live “underground”. This is in New York City, downtown or SoHo it seems, reminding me of several other films that I have watched that reflect the pre-Giulliani New York. It’s gritty and tough. Well, it turns out that there has been nuclear waste stored under the city, and the homeless underground dwellers develop into cannibalistic monsters with big claw-like hands.
Really, the film is less gore and exploitation than you might think. There is an earnest commitment to the narrative and the casting reflects in an inherent quality in the performances far beyond that of the average B-movie. This is truly B-movie material, but not so badly concocted or produced. In fact, really, the weakest aspect of the film is the special effects. For a B-movie, it’s totally fine. It’s goofy and funny and grotesque, but so far from real or scary that it somewhat undercuts the film’s othewise sincere nature.
It’s an odd one this film, in that sense. But it might be an interesting double feature with Street Trash (1987), another film about mutant homeless people. I also am considering my cultivated image of 1970’s to 1980’s New York City as another B-movie trope, location shooting, capturing the city in a snapshot of sorts, the real city in the background, the buildings, the perspectives. In C.H.U.D., there are a number of establishing shots that contextualize the locations and I think that this was also part of the film’s commentary at the time, the rough and tumble of the city, the down and outs. While not really a meaningful statement, the images and the story bring some of this to light.