Prime Video came through tonight with the flick de jour. I feel like I went into this with preconceived notions but sitting here as the credits just rolled, I can’t really think of what they are. I don’t know if a part of me thought that this movie would be one of those really cheesy 80’s horror movies or if this was going to be more like House and completely subvert whatever expectations I had for the film. It’s not like CHUD comes up in a lot of really topical conversations in 2023. I think the frames of reference I had for it were always somewhat of a jokey nature. Honestly I think off the top of my head the most memorable notation for this film was from a throwaway joke in an episode of “The Critic”, the animated program on FOX back in the 90’s. So I guess at best, that’s at least partially the lens by which I view this film initially. I can say I didn’t just put it on my list as a joke. I think it had just enough name recognition that I felt like it was time to sit down and actually watch this one, for better or for worse.
I won’t leave you in suspense. I quite enjoyed this movie a good bit more than I know I anticipated. I know I didn’t really have any expectations in particular for this film but I’d say just my general senses about a movie were more than met with this movie. I think my first reaction was how 80’s it looked but at the same time it had this presence about it that really worked for me. Many times when you turn on a movie that you can visibly date with ease it sort of sets this tone. It feels like you’re initially sitting in this room with blank walls and then all of a sudden you have this era that fills in the room around you. An 80’s movie sets you in whatever your brain facilitates as like a quintessential 80’s basement. So this movie comes on and I’m instantly transported to this place that matches the timeframe in which this movie takes place. And I enjoyed that. I think there’s even a part about it that the quality of the movie made me feel like I was watching this movie on VHS. Not that it was poor quality but I think sometimes I can get caught up in the technical standards of the day and there was just something simple but elegant about how we used to watch movies. All of this seemed to happen in an instant and sent me on this course to enjoy a deliciously 80’s movie. And I loved all of it.
Now going into this movie I did know at some point I’d be dealing with some cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. The thing is, I have NO idea what is a cannibalistic humanoid underground dweller. I was merely along for the ride. Additionally, I had no idea what kind of story was going to be put together to get me to these things. But there was an instant grab for me. I know that the vast majority of this movie is all around a little silly. It’s got some of that 80’s cop drama where anyone with a badge has to overact no matter what scene they are in. It’s got that fascination with radioactive material. That’s always been a staple when you need to drum up some sort of monster in a hurry. Just fill the sewers with some kind of green ooze and you’re good to go. Toss in some of those cheesy 80’s practical effects and we’ve got a real film going here. In the words of Carl Weathers, “Baby, we got a stew goin.” I do have to mention one interesting little notation that I did not see anywhere in the IMDb trivia or even when I specifically searched for it online did it pop up. One of the primary “messages” if there is on in this movie is sort of a jumbled mess that seems to center itself on the idea of the misunderstood value of all people, especially the poor and destitute. While there is a rash of missing homeless from Preacher AJ’s soup kitchen, none of them seem to matter much until the more prominent wife of police Captain Bosch also goes missing and an investigation comes to pass. Over the course of the movie we find some of the underground dwellers who have survived the radioactive catastrophe and staved off both infection and elimination are people that one of our protagonists, George Cooper, comes to meet after escorting an aptly titled “Bag Woman” who had been arrested by the police for attempting to steal their gun. Released into George’s custody, the two are tailed by a plain clothes detective, at least for a while, before he gives up when the two fully crossover into the unknown depths of the underground world. Once their trek leads them to the domesticated hovel of Mrs. Monroe, aka “Bag Lady”, George is introduced to two of her associates, Victor and Hugo. It seems a bit too convenient for these names to be randomly selected and not be some literary allusion to the classic writer, Victor Hugo, author of “Les Miserables”. While I’m only loosely familiar with the story as it was never one that jumped out at me as one I just HAD to see, I do know that similar themes of class struggle are present. Now C.H.U.D. is far from a complimentary work as one is a cherished piece of classic literature and the other is a movie about mutants from the 80’s. But I did really enjoy that not so subtle nod to a work much greater than this one. It kind of classed the picture up a bit in my opinion.
The other thing I have to tackle as one of my favorite parts of this film was the fact that it put Daniel Stern and John Heard on the big screen together. Now I know there’s probably plenty of films out there that have any number of combinations of Home Alone alumni in roles sharing the screen with each other. This, however, was a happy accident. I had no idea these two actors were in this film together and seeing Peter McCallister and Marv Murchins united several years before was a wonderful little bonus to this film. Honestly there were a number of familiar faces that jumped out that were most enjoyable. A very young John Goodman and Jay Thomas as New York City beat cops in the diner in the third act of the film was another fun little surprise. Even Sam McMurray, an actor you’ll always recognize from a half a dozen thing but you’ll never know his name is in the film. And while there was plenty of ridiculous overacting in so many scenes, I did find it to all be sort of endearing like it just kind of worked. I don’t think I would have wanted a lot of really spectacular actors putting in great work and elevating the film. To be fair, I do think that this movie is a lot better than it means to be. It’s not great in the sense that it’s a legitimately well made film with really compelling dialogue and character growth. But the effort that is made for a goofy 1984 science fiction horror flick is actually surprisingly good in my estimation. There’s plenty to laugh at and it’s ripe for parody so know that an angle such as that definitely fits as well. But I will say that as soon as the credits rolled on this movie, I began my search for a physical copy to call my own. This was easily one of the best movies that I’ve watched so far in this journey through horror in October. One I certainly did not expect to have while scouring the underbelly of New York for mutated killers desperate to breach the surface and wreak havoc on the big apple.
So I think you know which way I’m leaning when it comes to a recommendation. I’m all for it. I might not swing from the rafters or pull a full Sound of Music and sing it from the mountaintops. But with the proper context, this is a totally fun watch. To me it is up there with cult classics like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. There are definitely much better horror movies that deliver far more compelling scares. There are more dramatic films that deliver terror through tension building and masterful scores. There’s all sorts of scary movies out there aimed to do all kinds of different things. But to me, C.H.U.D. finds this middle ground that is fun. There’s a handful of jump scares that might catch you off guard. There’s some overacting that will give you a laugh. But all the elements of this movie put together in a big pot and left to cook on low for several hours has created quite the radioactive stew in my opinion. And it’s one that I can’t help but recommend. A part of me wants to rate this movie a 7 out of 10. I know it’s not THAT good but to me it kind of was. I don’t totally know why but something about this film really just hit the right notes and I enjoyed it considerably. It’s funny to think of how vicious a thrashing I gave to Barbarian and then to turn around and praise C.H.U.D. so highly feels a bit wrong. They’re different films. I watched them with different frames of mind and in different moods. I do hold out hope that I can watch Barbarian again sometime and enjoy it differently. But as it stands for me right now, C.H.U.D. does actually stand out above the rest as evidenced by my hasty purchase of the film. It needed to be added to my collection as quickly as I could. So if you have Amazon Prime Video you can treat yourself to a wonderful film about life in the 80’s filled with mystery and intrigue and a number of familiar faces. There’s fun for everyone in this film and if you open yourself up at least just a little bit, you’ll probably have a grand time with this movie as I did. So until the next time kids, I’ll catch you on the flip side.