31 Nights of Horror (#8) | 2017
On this episode of The Nightly Chill:
Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we look at 80s cult-classic monster movie, C.H.U.D.!
NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.
When a strange series of disappearances and attacks being plaguing a small corner of New York City, it’ll take the unlikely team of a photographer, a lone police officer, and the manager of a local homeless shelter to get to the bottom of this mystery in C.H.U.D.
C.H.U.D., from director Douglas Cheek, is a relatively well-known cult hit from 1984. But for many whose local video store didn’t have the best collection of horror on VHS–or perhaps you simply didn’t grow up in a time when video stores were still a thing–it might be likely that C.H.U.D., which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, is flying low on your radar. If it manages even so much a blip, that is.
And if I were to guess as to why C.H.U.D. has remained a notable if under-watched bit of 80s horror, it might be because the movie itself is fairly uninterested in standing out too much.
A MIXED BAG OF CRAZY
For example, the movie is neither outright scary nor outright comical. The violence and gore and combined screen time of the titular monsters is fairly limited. Despite being an R-rated movie, C.H.U.D. is fairly light on swears, violence, or much of anything else.
But what the movie does excel at is giving us a fairly basic but compelling story and mystery along with relatable, interesting characters.
The late John Heard is perfect in the role of the well-meaning yet somewhat pretentious photographer, George–a man who has no qualms with taking a commercial gig to pay the bills… but who also won’t stop complaining about the vapid cynicism of commercial marketing while he does it.
Daniel Stern shines in his somewhat mellow, subdued take on the sincerely selfless manager of a local homeless shelter, AJ Shepherd, who is more commonly known by his nickname “The Reverend.”
For many, Stern is more likely to conjure up images of his roles as Marv from the Home Alone movies or any of his other more animated performances. But while The Reverend is an integral part of the film, his personality is very humble and reserved. And with such a role–and in such a movie–subtlety and nuance can easily be mistaken for, quite simply and quite often, flat.
Fortunately, Stern uses this as a chance to highlight his ability to get a lot of mileage out of even the most low-key role.
And veteran actor Christopher Curry rounds out our leads in the role of Captain Bosch, a police officer who suspects his wife is among the missing. Curry nails the balancing act of, frightened, desperate husband and professional stoicism. His Bosch is a man doing all he can to maintain his composure in light of a horrifying situation. And never does he comes across as a loose canon waging a one-man war, which is far too often the go-to take on such roles.
BENEATH THE SURFACE
That said, these more nuanced, layered choices in what is, at it’s heart, a monster movie might be the movie’s own undoing.
Nothing about C.H.U.D. outside its promise of some freaky looking monsters screams “horror movie.” Despite us the audience knowing full well that monsters are clearly living under the streets of New York, the movie is more focused on having its characters slowly unravel the mystery of it all. And this emphasis on the human side of the equation means that there’s little time for monsters or scares. It’s a horror movie doing what so few horror movies ever risk attempting: it tells a real story.
But, again, this emphasis on story and characters comes at a cost. And that cost is the heavy reduction of what most people might expect or want from a horror movie. It’s not really scary. It’s not really violent. And the monsters are smartly kept to key scenes, which also means the amount of special effects is also minimized.
So if you’re looking for a more traditional or typical horror movie, CHUD is not going to be for you.
But if you are looking for a fun, enjoyable movie that also happens to be about dangers creatures lurking underground, then you definitely need to take the time to CHILL with C.H.U.D.