With a title that literally serves as an acronym for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, "C.H.U.D." probably wants to be a whole lot crazier than it actually is. That is perhaps the film's biggest crime; it has a set-up that could be used to spread the word of thoughtful and intelligent horror movie-making but at the same time it could be a textbook example of shlock cinema of the 80's, but instead if fails to meet either of those standards, which are both higher and lower than they initially seem. I will say what I say every time a cult horror film doesn't work out for me: I fail to understand how for some people, one or two bizarre scenes amount to a good time. This film feels so restrained and so distant; as if it wants to break free and simply be wild as it should be. Nevertheless, it is what it is; and while I'm not exactly sure what "it" is, I do know it's not a good movie.
Here's the premise (you're gonna love this, probably more than the movie itself): Manhattan's homeless population are retreating to the sewers and coming into contact with toxic waste which in turn transforms them into mutant beasts with sharp, demon-like claws and eyes with a bright yellow glow. These creatures are first noticed when the unaffected homeless start requesting guns and the like. The police get involved; particularly Captain Bosch (Christopher Curry), who goes underground to investigate the disappearances of homeless people with the man who runs the city's homeless shelter, known as "The Reverend" (Daniel Stern). A down-on-his-luck photographer (John Heard) is also involved in uncovering the dark secrets that lurk just below them.
The film was obviously conceived as a response to New York's underground homeless population at the time (which was the upper end of the 80's). I've always felt that good horror movies serve as parables for real-life issues and concerns and events, but "C.H.U.D." is far from the best of horror films. It is a watchable attempt, but a failed one nevertheless. And by failed, I mean near-miserably failed. It's bland, it's stupid, and it's mostly unimaginative; but no disrespect to those who admire it. If you enjoy your trash simple and lame, this is bound to be your cup of tea. Me, I'm a little more tasteful when it comes to my tasteless entertainment. No matter how much of your brain you leave behind, "C.H.U.D." appears to either be demanding that you use more or it or less.
It doesn't seem like a very big-budget production to me (the monsters are pretty goofy looking when you finally do get a good look at them, and they should have remained in the shadows the entire time, because the mere presence of the glowing, yellow eyes is kind of ominous on its own), but I know from experience with other films and other directors that if a filmmaker is truly inspired and creative, they can turn rags into riches. This film in particular really confuses me. It doesn't feel professional, yet I'm told the studio still interfered with the script and such, even forcing an extensive re-write, which a lot of the people on board were unhappy with. I don't know what to think about that. The original script probably would have produced a better movie overall, but at the same time it would take more than just that (like, you know, kicking Douglas Cheek out of the director's chair) to make the damned thing work.
I conclude that "C.H.U.D." does kind of suck, thanks to low production values and an uninteresting plot that consistently juggles urban horror story with big-city cop drama with perplexingly disorganized results. I'm giving it a few points because as I mentioned earlier, it's not completely unwatchable; and it's got a few good scenes (like a bloody shower sequence and some nice shots that truly highlight the film's NY backdrop) that assist it when needed. The actors aren't necessarily God-awful and everyone seems at least somewhat dedicated to trying to make this one work out. But this is a bad, boring, and near-horrible movie; there's no mistaking that. I know that some people like it, probably for purely nostalgic reasons (which I can totally understand), but even from a movie with such a ridiculous premise going for it, I expected a lot more. But a lot more what? More insanity, more creativity, more passion, more entertainment value. The film isn't devoid of heart, but it is unfortunately completely devoid of any intrigue.