Sunday, September 21, 2008

C.H.U.D. (1984)

Anyway you cut it, the homeless always manage to get a raw deal. First of all, the vast majority of them are already insane. There's this one guy who wanders around downtown Boston, never seeming to settle on one particular spot for his panhandling, asking every single passerby in a scratchily menacing voice "do you have any spare change?" The guy doesn't even carry a fucking cup. Most people, upon seeing him, cross the street or run the other way seriously believing their life to be in danger. During the five years or so that I've seen this guy, I've never seen anyone hand him a dime. I feel sorry for him (not sorry enough to empty out my pockets of course). Walk through the Boston Common at any point during the day and you're bound to hear this one lady sitting on a bench screaming at no one in particular to "get the fuck away from me you cocksucker!" I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the guy that rides his bike throughout the city blaring his impromptu "siren" to terrify tourists and locals alike. These are all harmless people, I'm sure. Harmless and loopy. Can they function in everyday society? Not at all. Yet here they are, living on the street because of massive budget cuts during the 1980s. Is the homeless problem ever mentioned in political debate? Not that I can recall. Politicians are pretty much like me (and the vast majority of you all) in this regard. Cross the street and look the other way I guess.

New York City took care of this problem a couple decades ago by dumping hazardous waste in the underground as part of the C.H.U.D. (Contamination Hazardous Urban Disposal) program. Not only could they discreetly dispose of radioactive materials, but they could also kill a bunch of homeless in the process. Two birds with a single stone. What they didn't count on (and because these high ranking beaurocrats are not the types to watch movies) was the homelss mutating into Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (coincidentally, also C.H.U.D.). Nah, I'm just kidding. This is also a movie. Didn't really happen. Not sure what happened to all the homeless in New York. I think they probably just moved to Jersey and purchased homes or something.

This is one of the better horror pictures of the 80s that features several elements that don't even seem like horror. First of all, the characters are all great. John Heard (the father from Home Alone) is memorable as George Cooper, a freelance photographer who has recently been documenting the homeless. He's a simple guy who just wants to take some photos and snuggle up to his pregnant girlfriend, Kim Greist (Brazil). Heard is sort of the anti-leading man. He's a charismatic guy with some solid looks, but a pudgy body. Not exactly an action hero. He's an everyman with a sense of humor. Daniel Stern (also, Home Alone) shows up as the paranoid hippy that runs the soup kitchen. He's the guy that first notices the dwindling number of homeless and, of course, assumes it must be some kind of government conspiracy. He's pretty much right as these kind of nuts tend to be in pictures like this. Christopher Curry (the "hey, looks like rain" guy from Starship Troopers) plays the cop with the great name, Captain Bosch. For once, we have a good cop who can sniff the corruption a mile away. It also helps that his wife was taken by one of those C.H.U.D.s while walking their dog. He's got some scores to settle.

This picture just feels authentic. The performances are all natural, the sets aren't sets at all; subways, sewers, streets, apartments (all real). It's also scathing in its portrayal of the government's treatment of the homeless. It's too bad that some of the most daring pictures from the Reagan era came from a genre that nobody in power would ever watch (if they did, they'd probably be too dense to understand the connection anyway). George Martin plays Wilson, a government offical (or "Government garbage man" as Bosch so aptly labels him) hellbent on preserving his secrets. His problems continually escalate throughout the picture. This is the kind of asshole that would be ok with news of mutated monsters running around being leaked to the press. However, if the true definition of C.H.U.D. was leaked, heads would roll. After a C.H.U.D. is discovered, he brushes it off as a freak accident. Kill the C.H.U.D., autopsy the body, case closed. After a SWAT team is slaughtered attempting to capture a C.H.U.D. in the underground (on camera) he blames Bosch for the failure and then decides to divert gas into the city's sewers to finish off the job. The mayor isn't too thrilled and says so, "are you crazy? You'll blow up the whole city!" Wilson's matter-of-fact response: "Only part of it."

The C.H.U.D. effects are great even if they do have a couple of glowsticks for eyes. If you've seen Conan fight the wizard behind the mirrors than you've pretty much seen a C.H.U.D. (except these guys have glowing eyes and the ability to elongate their necks). I take exception to Wikipedia's characterizing the effects in this thing as "kitsch". Fuck them (or the guy with no life that posted the description). The last half of the picture involves Heard and Stern running around the sewers trying to get out before the C.H.U.D.s get them (or Wilson and his cronies manage to blow them all to hell). This is one of those pictures that I can't find fault with. It's got gore, scares, social satire, great performances, a couple of boobs, and an early appearence by John Goodman. He may only be in the picture for a minute, but it's clear he's going to become something big. The camera loves him, he's funny, and when the C.H.U.D. is through with him there's nothing left but some blood and maybe a bit of the hamburger he was waffling down.

Feel free to skip C.H.U.D. II: Bud The Chud. I tried watching that thing free on demand a few months back. Not one single C.H.U.D. in the whole god damned picture. Also, it takes place in a small town without a single homeless person. A simple fucking attempt to cash in on a name. I want my time back.


elmo said...

I think this one is too solid for its own good. The concept begs for "fiasco" rather than movie.

brian said...

If it's a "fiasco" you're looking for, let me recommend C.H.U.D. II.

Beepy said...

Jeez, and I always thought C.H.U.D. was a movie about a gang of rascally kids who discover a big secret, become involved with criminals and end up in Where Are They Now retrospectives on VH1. You know, kind of a rip off Goonies.

Orla said...

You write very well.