Like many of the "classic" horror flicks I tend to review, C.H.U.D. first crawled its way out of the manhole and into my life via videocassette. Even then, during that awkward span of existence known as my teenaged years, I couldn't help but shake the feeling there was something equally thorny about the film ‒ and it had absolutely nothing to do with the titular flesh-eating creatures within the picture itself. Rather, the peculiar odor C.H.U.D. emitted was of an entirely different variety of cumbersome: it was almost as if it was simultaneously trying to be something it ultimately wasn't ‒ an "A-list B-horror movie," if you will ‒ all the while trying to conceal the notion it was completely uncertain as to what it really was to begin with.
Its credited director, Douglas Cheek, never helmed another feature ‒ be it before or after ‒ and his presence as a parental figure amongst the movie's rather distinguished selection of actors is truly never apparent on-screen. In essence, C.H.U.D. is a "latchkey flick" ‒ his performers were basically left to their own devices like unattended children. (Which is rather amusing, considering the film's three lead male actors ‒ John Heard, Daniel Stern, and Christopher Curry ‒ all popped up in the Home Alone franchise.) To this effect, some actors give it their all (especially good ol' Daniel Stern), whilst others are only spared from accusations of phoning it in because director Douglas Cheek clearly had a monopoly on that one.
The story itself is a bit of a mess ‒ which can be attributed to a severe case of rewrites. The original story treatment by Shepard Abbott first wound up being reimagined by screenwriter Parnell Hall, which dissatisfied Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry so much, they decided to doctor up the script even more. In fact, if one takes a listen to the bonus audio commentary included in this Arrow Video release, storywriter Shep Abbott quips the very opening scene ‒ in which an attractive young woman (Laure Mattos, Daniel Stern's real life wife) out walking her dog one night on an eerily vacant New York City street, only to be pulled into a manhole by something with a beastly hand ‒ is the only part of his original treatment to wind up in the finished film.
Now then, with all of that out of the way, let's explore the film itself, shall we? Following the aforementioned opening, C.H.U.D. descends into what basically boils down to two separate films. First, we have young John Heard (who would find himself co-starring in another tale of unique underground life in the same general vicinity the following year, Martin Scorsese's After Hours, which makes for a wonderfully weird pairing) as a frustrated photographer who has kissed the glitzy glam shoots with his live-in girlfriend (Kim Griest, who encountered a different kind of cannibal in Michael Mann's Manhunter) goodbye and has now centered his attention on NYC's extensive homeless population ‒ who have started to disappear, though no one seems to be noticing.
Well, actually, someone is noticing, but they're off in what might as well be a completely different movie. And that's how Christopher Curry and Daniel Stern (whose character only came to exist after the pair re-wrote the script) enter into the picture. Curry is a local police precinct captain, whose concern for missing people is expedited by the disappearance of his wife ‒ who, as it turns out, is the woman killed in the pre-credit opening. From there, Curry connects with former con artist Stern, who is extremely worried about where the denizens of his increasingly empty soup kitchen have scurried off to. Teaming up, the cop and con soon discover many strange things are breeding underground ‒ including, but not limited to, a sub-race of mutants.
Or, "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers," as our story's main human villain ‒ played by cinema's B-list Richard Dreyfuss, the late George Martin ‒ calls them, giving viewers one of two selections as to the meaning of the movie's acronym. The other choice is "Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal," which opens the sewer door to C.H.U.D.'s social and political undertones (it was the Reagan Era, after all). Once all of the characters manage to appear, take a stance, and be heard ‒ even if we really don't know why some of them are there to begin with (a reporter character played by actor J.C. Quinn comes swiftly to mind) ‒ before uniting for the finale, wherein Heard and Stern literally run into each other for the first time.
Yet, despite its flaws, I can watch C.H.U.D. again every so often. It makes little sense in some spots (one can only assume several metaphoric moments were from earlier drafts, such as the pointless shower scene, wherein a character who has just learned she is pregnant sticks a wire hanger into a clogged drain only to be inexplicably doused in blood!), and everyone seems to have a different set of priorities in place, but it entertains just the same. Perhaps it's the many actors who would hit "A-list" status shortly thereafter (note the cameo by John Goodman and Jay Thomas), which give C.H.U.D. the façade (pronounced exactly à la John Heard's My Fellow Americans character) it's more than just another B-grade monster movie.
Or maybe it's because the cult favorite really is a good picture when compared to its bastardized sequel, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, wherein we got nothing more than a campy clone of The Return of the Living Dead, and which went on to become something of a cult hit in its own separate right. Of course, I'm obviously not alone in my appreciation of either C.H.U.D. film's "appeal" (can I call it that?), otherwise we would not have received Blu-ray releases of both titles this year, with C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud resurfacing (heh) after a lengthy absence from home video courtesy Lionsgate, and the original C.H.U.D. re-emerging from below thanks to the diligence of Arrow Video.
Previously released in digital home media form from Anchor Bay and Image Entertainment, Arrow Video brings us this, what could very well be the definitive release of a genuinely fun film. Arrow's US-only release brings us a two-disc set featuring the 96-minute Integral Cut (the most commonly seen version since DVD), and the 88-minute Theatrical Cut (last seen when LaserDisc was still a thing) each in beautiful, crisp 1080p transfers with superb LPCM Mono audio. The Theatrical Cut is minus a good deal of character development (especially where Christopher Curry's role is concerned), and places a pivotal massacre in the middle of the film at the end. (If you think the regular version of the movie doesn't make a lot of sense, wait until you see the Theatrical Cut!)
Disc Two is a barebones affair, while Disc One is where the meaty extras are to be found, featuring the previously mentioned audio commentary with actors John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, storywriter Shep Abbott, and director Douglas Cheek (which was ported over from the Anchor Bay DVD); as well as a new commentary/score track with composer Michael Felsher. Two newly-recorded interviews feature crewmembers William Bilowit (production designer) and John Caglione, Jr. (who designed the film's grisly-lookin' critters) are followed by a then-and-now locations featurette. A behind-the-scenes gallery, trailer, and an extended shower scene with body double boobs (culled from an analog source) and booklet wrap up this release.
Ultimately, C.H.U.D. is a silly, uneven, and sometimes baffling movie. But it's eclectic recipe ‒ to say nothing of its unique premise ‒ only add to its charm. (And seriously, watch C.H.U.D. on a double-bill with After Hours. I dare you.) Thus, Arrow Video's wonderful preservation of this strange underground hit comes Highly Recommended.