The year of my birth was an auspicious year for horror and science fiction filmmaking. Monsters and bizarre aliens were HUGE and nothing quite captured the feel of cult horror quite the way a group of cannibalistic sewer people did in C.H.U.D. I introduced my teenage son to this classic 80s creature feature and really took a moment to appreciate it myself through his young eyes. It was a pre-90s sitcom appearance by John Heard, pre-Home Alone Daniel Stern, and pre-everything John Goodman with his cop cameo. Crawl down the drain with me as we take a look at what made C.H.U.D. the quintessential monster movie of the 80s.
Depending on who you ask in the film, C.H.U.D. can stand for a number of things from Contamination Hazard – Urban Disposal to the more apropos Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. The movie revolves around a group of individuals who, on their own seem unlikely to ever meet. An upscale photographer George Cooper (John Heard), soup kitchen operator A.J. “Reverend” Sheppard (Daniel Stern), and police captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) all find themselves brought together by the same situation: people are going missing and the police are being forced to turn a blind eye. The missing are the city’s homeless, in particular those who live in the underground catacombs of subway tunnels and sewer connections. With the missing all being “undesirables” city officials are ordering Bosch to ignore the reports. Meanwhile, George is brought in by a vagrant he photographed for a story years back while Sheppard is trying to get Bosch to help him find his missing flock.
Meanwhile, the government is trying to keep quiet the fact that for the last several years they’ve been using the massive expanse of sewer and vacant subway pipes to store toxic, hazardous, nuclear waste. Contaminants that have all kinds of great side effects like hair loss, illness, death, oh, and mutation into giant murderous mole people have been building up under the city for years and, as our trio of heroes begin to uncover the truth, the C.H.U.D.s are getting braver.
The story works on a lot of level. As a classic monster movie plot with protagonists trying to stop the abominable creation of some science experiment gone wrong, it’s flawless. As a narrative about pollution, government corruption, and the continued struggle of the homeless across the nation, it’s an equally powerful tale. As for the scary movie bits, well, it’s a slow burn in the classic style that gives us a chance to get to know our cast of characters while simultaneously hinting at the horrors that lie beneath the surface before the first big reveal.
The C.H.U.D.s themselves are hellish looking creatures who very much look like rejects from the Ninja Turtles rogues gallery. With slimy green skin, tattered clothes, and features that blend together the most unsettling parts of human and rat biology -especially in the face- they are absolutely shocking at first sight. Now, this is the age before CGI and what we end up with is a largely prosthetic and rubber suit cast of creatures who are shot at angles and in partial darkness to try and give them the most realistic effect imaginable. In my opinion, it works out great.
C.H.U.D. has since become synonymous with any group of underground dwelling mutant human monsters and the name or likeness has appeared in horror culture in films and television repeatedly over the last 34 years. As for the unfortunate sequel, C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the CHUD, well, some things are best left buried.