I’ve always been fascinated with New York’s massive labyrinthine subterranean network: Seemingly endless layers of sewers, access tunnels, and subways, some of them over a hundred years old, and the people – real or fictional – who populate it. Ghostbusters II and the Ninja Turtles planted that seed, but it was reading the X-Men comics featuring the Morlocks, mutants living under the streets of New York, that really got me interested. So whenever a film or other work plays up that angle, I’m automatically interested, and there have been some great ones: Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic, Marc Singer’s subterranean homeless documentary Dark Days, Futurama’s Old New York, and the subject of today’s analysis: C.H.U.D.: Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.
Something weird is going on in the grimy, filthy streets of 1984 New York. Or below them, to be more specific. The cops are getting a number of missing persons cases. Many involve the homeless, who seem to be the hardest hit. Repopulating the streets with hobos and trying to sort out undocumented persons hardly seems a priority for the police, but when his own wife goes missing, Captain Bosch (Christopher Curry) realizes he can no longer turn a blind eye.
Also taking interest in the bizarre phenomenon are photographer George Cooper and soup kitchen operator A.J. Shepherd, played by John Heard and Daniel Stern (who would appear together again in The Milagro Beanfield War and, more importantly, two Home Alone films). Cooper did a celebrated photojournal on the subterranean homeless a few years back, and still has some ties to that community. A.J. has not only noticed many of his regular patrons gone missing, but learns that the government has been probing the sewers for weeks. Moreover, there’s a general sense of unease coming over the homeless community. While exploring the tunnels beneath his own neighborhood, he finds equipment including a Geiger counter, suggesting that something radioactive or toxic is going on.
This is a film where the environments just ooze with character. As highlighted on one of the disc’s featurettes, the film uses a ton of New York locations, back before it got a giant makeover. Everything looks filthy and strewn with trash, not to mention a lot of the film is taken at night with inky pitch-black backdrops. The underground sequences are a mix of sets and locations, used to great effect. The movie looks fantastically grimy.
Not to be outdone, the monster effects (all practical, of course) are likewise spectacular and gross. Whereas the X-Men’s underground mutants take their name from H.G. Wells’ Morlocks of The Time Machine, CHUD borrows the concept wholesale – CHUDs are mutant monsters, once human, who snatch and prey upon people.
Rather humorously, CHUD has very nearly the same plot as my last Arrow Heads feature, Slugs, albeit on a much larger scale. Our heroes are met with bureaucratic red tape and outright opposition when trying to go up the chain and reason with uncooperative law enforcement and government officials, uncovering a vast conspiracy, and end up in the sewers fighting the creatures. Things get messy. Blood is spilled – both red and green. A woman decapitates a CHUD with a sword. A truck explodes when its front wheel drives into an open manhole. John Goodman eats a cheeseburger. Look, can we just agree you should watch this?
C.H.U.D. has emerged into Blu-ray from the subterranean depths of Arrow Video.
This is one of those titles that gets jokingly pitched as a candidate for the Criterion Collection, and Criterion themselves famously announced it as an April Fools gag in 2011. So it’s not without some irony that now, thanks to Arrow Video, the film is actually getting Criterion-level treatment.
The package follow standard Arrow design with a 14mm clear case, with a reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Dan Mumford on one side and the classic poster/DVD design on the other. A 22-page booklet is also included, the highlight of which is a 5-page essay by film journalist Michael Gingold.
This release is a Limited Edition, and includes an exclusive second disc with the rarely seen theatrical cut of the film. The alternate “Integral Cut” is the version most folks are familiar with, as the theatrical cut been scuttled on most if not all home video releases.
Integral Cut from a new 2K film transfer (96:25)
Original Theatrical Cut [Exclusive] (86:29)
The theatrical cut is not merely a shorter version of the exact film, but arranged a bit differently, repurposing one scene in particular to ending on a much different tone. It will not be present in a subsequent Arrow Blu-ray re-release, so I strongly advise fans to pick this up while they can.
Special Features and Extras
A Dirty Look (19:11)
An interview with production designer William Bilowit, discussing his role on the film and thoughts on the shooting locations and that era of New York City.
Dweller Designs (12:09)
An interview with special make-up effects and creature creator John Caglione, Jr., who professes his love for monsters and how that channeled into a career in makeup effects, working for NBC TV and eventually moving into films. It’s accompanied by some cool BTS photographs.
Notes from Above Ground: The NYC Locations of C.H.U.D. (9:10)
Hosted by journalist Michael Gingold and filmmaker Ted Geoghegan. These location featurettes are becoming kind of common on Blu-rays and I love them, especially when the locations are in New York.
Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (5:32)
Photos and making of materials, most notably developmental sketches showing the different CHUD designs that were considered.
Extended Shower Scene (1:24)
To answer your question, yes, this sequence includes a very brief shot of nudity that was excised from the film.
Original Theatrical Trailer (1:36)
Isolated score & commentary track featuring an interview with composers Martin Cooper and David A. Hughes
Audio commentary by director Douglas Cheek, writer Shepard Abbott, and actors John Heard, Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry
Get it at Amazon:
C.H.U.D. – Limited Edition – [Blu-ray]