I’ll plead guilty in admitting that I’ve never understood why “C.H.U.D.” is considered a horror classic. The title is great, as it completely lays the cards out on the table for the audience. The concept is golden, as underground mutants that eat random people in the big city is ripe for a great monster movie. But when you get down to the actual movie itself, it’s a romance drama, mixed with a political thriller, with man eating underground mutants that kind of sort of appear in the finale for a bit here and there. You go in to it expecting a creepy monster film, but what you get is “The China Syndrome.”
Photographer George Cooper (John Heard) is documenting the lives of subterranean homeless people, a population that has mysteriously dwindled. After receiving information from a reporter, George becomes aware of a conspiracy theory about cannibalistic monsters (or Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) lurking in the sewers. He teams up with the reporter, a policeman (Christopher Curry) and a priest (Daniel Stern) to battle both the cannibals and the corrupt government official that accidentally created them.
“C.H.U.D.” would probably work better if it were an English film, as the English work so much better with material about horror set in the city. It would also be a good excuse to explain why the movie meanders back and forth so much. For what it’s worth “C.H.U.D.” sparks some inherent moments of terror, and garners a great concept. The moments featuring a team of scientists entering the depths of a sewer finding remnants of victims of the C.H.U.D.s is a great scene. I also loved how the movie builds on the mythos of subterranean city dwelling monsters. But for all the one or two great scenes, “C.H.U.D.” spends so much of its time following characters that aren’t very interesting all the while the inherent sense of urgency toward the monster attacks is severely lacking.
Douglas Cheek’s horror film could rely on the sense of mounting terror and running out of time until the levee breaks unleashing these beasts, but the pacing is so sluggish and the characters absolutely lifeless. “C.H.U.D.” never seems to know if it wants to be, even in the climax. It is a psychological science fiction thriller about science gone wrong with a natural gas explosion and a sickness that turns the homeless in to cannibalistic monsters? Or is it a monster movie about man eating mutants wreaking havoc on unsuspecting yuppies? It’s too campy to take seriously, and too serious to have a good chuckle with, so it feels just aimless.
By the time the movie does unveil the signature C.H.U.D.s, the tension and suspense is deflated amounting to a long stalk and thrash sequence with the somewhat goofy monsters. I respect “C.H.U.D.” for its legacy and eccentric cast (John Goodman has a small role and two “Home Alone” stars Daniel Stern, and John Heard take dramatic turns), but it wastes its great concept, and chance to really turn the C.H.U.D. in to so much more than a memorable acronym.