Cohesive Hunk of Unwashed Dreck
Sewers were the only thing worse than surface level, crime-laced New York in the ‘80s. Movies went underground. They used the streets of the city for its rundown, graffiti-laced appearance, and produced a surge of sewer monsters. Thank Alligator, The Boogens, Transmutation, and yes, C.H.U.D. for scraping together an oozing ‘80s sub-genre. Sewersploitation; Septic-horror; Drainage Terror; Gutter Junk; take your pick.
Crude (C.R.U.D.E.?) as C.H.U.D. is, it hit at the right time. No other decade hosts this seething slop as well. With nearly 2,000 murders in the first year of the decade alone, New York’s natural grit and real world despair led to C.H.U.D. Mindless, gruesome, corny, but also flush with levity. It’s not much a film, the story a rather meandering slog with sloppy loose ends and ceaselessly repetitive jaunts under manhole covers.
Location shots of New York now fail in their nostalgia – who wants to see the city in such disarray, so hopeless anymore? If anything, C.H.U.D. has a reason for the condition: Blatant mistrust of a Reagan-led government which leaves rotting nuclear waste under the city slums via a grand cover-up. Pure escapist fantasy, but with homeless zombie monsters standing in for the real murderers.
Fitted with glowing eyes and distorted hands, these creatures lurch through the film’s underbelly (literally and figuratively), only striking on occasion, even less so on camera. C.H.U.D. spends time with an eclectic roster of human characters: A freelance photographer, his pointlessly pregnant girlfriend, a suspecting soup kitchen owner, and desperate police detective. Later comes a body count cameo by John Goodman, which 32 years later, seems surreal.
Every bit of C.H.U.D. feels rotten…
Every bit of C.H.U.D. feels rotten…
Surreal sums up C.H.U.D. too. Laced with loopy performances and Z-grade comedy, most of the film seems to exist for the sake of the on-set crew. Sleazy, but not all-in on the concept. Just hopelessly low-grade and low-budget. Every bit of C.H.U.D. feels rotten, from the odorous underground populated by stereotypical movie bums and the disheveled police station. Apartments sit right on the sewer line with ready made basement access. Production designer William Bilowit brings the worst of New York’s exterior indoors.
Clamoring for a finish, C.H.U.D. finds a release in eliminating the heartless government agent, making sure he explodes to the delight of the audience and characters. The finish doesn’t even consider the lackadaisical consequence or satisfaction of seeing the sewer monsters set aflame. That’s partly because C.H.U.D. didn’t have the budget for fireworks, and also, the monsters were never the genuine threat anyway – it was just New York as it was. C.H.U.D. is poor, helpless, and violent, an in-the-moment period piece with a slice of hokey whimsy to dull the reality.
A few years back, Criterion teased a C.H.U.D. Blu-ray as an April Fools joke. Although there was a wait, Arrow does Criterion-level work with their actual Blu-ray release, no joke this time. Opening on the shot of a wet street and manhole cover, texture and resolved grain instantly dominate. Contrast drawn from street light reflections and night cast a perfect, appealing image despite the mood.
While spots of C.H.U.D. remain a little rough, most of the print stays free of debris or scratches. At the worst, a line run downs the print early as John Heard picks up the phone. That’s quick to pass. Stray dirt comes and goes. Errant scratches show up once in a while. Otherwise, the source print performs as needed.
Slight tweaks to saturation bring on a lightly elevated color palette. The warmth of the beach exterior as Captain Bosch finds his wife feels wholly digital. Otherwise, saturation stays true to the era, with dense primaries pulling their weight. Excellent flesh tones only help. New York drenches itself in a vivid blue moonlight, moody and alluring.
Excusing the lower budget cinematography, fidelity shines. Close-ups resolve unexpected levels of facial detail. Underground, even in low light, the slimy sewer textures slide onto individually defined bricks. Gorgeous grain structure fluctuates while Arrow’s high-end AVC encode keeps the material clear.
The uncompressed PCM mono track struggles to do much with C.H.U.D. Echo-y dialog happens by default considering the locations, giving the film a rather arid quality. Dry fidelity preserves the audio as-is and likely, as-was.
An unmistakably ‘80s score at least holds together. Luckily, those shrill notes stay pure with clean bass where needed.
With a two-disc set, Arrow includes the extended edition and “theatrikal cut” according to the approved check disc sent for review. Each version has its own disc, with the extended cut holding all of the extras. Two commentaries come first, one with composers Martin Cooper and David Hughes (sandwiched between an isolated score). The second is a wild one with cast and crew. Actors Daniel Stern, John Heard, and Christopher Curry join director Douglas Cheek and writer Shepard Abbott for a talkative party inside the recording booth.
Next up are crew featurettes/interviews, beginning with production designer William Bilowitt (19:11). Make-up man John Cagilone Jr. comes next (12:07), followed with a modern location tour courtesy of Ted Geoghegan and Michael Gingold. An extension of the shower scene comes in SD. A five-minute behind-the-scenes gallery loaded, but sent my Blu-ray into a fit trying to play it.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Slimy and campy, C.H.U.D. has lackluster energy, but its overall tone and seedy location work turn into a memorable low budget chiller.
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