There is no better representative of video store culture of the 1980’s than Douglas Cheeks’ C.H.U.D.
This cult classic had all of the right ingredients to become a hit on the video market including a mysterious acronym, memorable tagline (“They’re not staying down there, anymore!”), and frightening vhs box artwork that would make any one looking for a fun Friday night stop dead in their tracks.
Thankfully, the fine people at Arrow Video have decided to give this well-loved horror-exploitation gem from 1984 a first class restoration and package in the form of their two disc special edition blu-ray release (available on November 22nd).
The basic plot of the film revolves around homeless people in New York City and in particular, those who live in the forgotten underground catacombs beneath the city. Unfortunately for them, it seems that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been sweeping some toxic waste “under the rug” with some disastrous results for both the homeless population and the citizens of NYC who now have to contend with some hungry “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”.
In terms of the transfers, the quality on both the original Theatrical Cut and the Integral Cut are superb and one heck of an upgrade over your dusty old vhs copy (or the 2011 dvd release for that matter). Each are in 1080p and the Integral Cut comes from a new 2K transfer of the film. The vibrancy of the colors and sets, especially any of the scenes that take place in low lighting or darkness are unlike any version I have have seen.
Aside from the technical aspects, the film has aged very well. The cast is loaded with NYC actors who were performing on the stage at the time the film was shot and who would go on to have successful careers in the business including John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, and Kim Greist. These were not the typical stars of an 80’s horror film, which mainly consisted of young, untrained actors in their twenties, and their performances demonstrate this. The concept and cover art may have seemed a bit hokey, but no one told these actors. The film also includes two uncredited performances from John Goodman and Jay Thomas as beat cops, which further demonstrates the “wealth of riches” available to the New York crew.
The story is also surprisingly modern and seems to fit in well with John Carpenter’s work from this time period. All of the elements of social activism and big government and big business teaming up to strip mine the country are evident in the film and director Douglass Cheek’s does some subtle social commentary that does not detract from the “creature feature” aspect of the production. I was surprised how much I still enjoyed the film and also discovered the subtext that I missed when I originally watched the film as a pre-teen.
The bonus features also share a great deal of insight into the film and the location. Both production designer William Bilowit and special make-up effects man and creature creator John Caglione Jr. have their own segments (“A Dirty Look” and “Dweller Designs” respectively) and go into many previously untold stories. Since this is the first “special edition” release, these stories, like the C.H.U.D.’s themselves, have never seen the “light of day”. Bilowit’s recollection of the sets and gritty SoHo shooting locations bring the city alive as an integral part of the charm of the film. Caglione fully explains the designs of the creatures (which still look excellent by today’s standards) and his personal career trajectory as an apprentice to legendary horror make-up artist Dick Smith.
Another featurette “Notes from Above Ground: The NYC Locations of C.H.U.D.” is hosted by Rue Morgue’s Michael Gingold and filmmaker Ted Geoghegan as they take viewers to all of the surprisingly unchanged locations that appear in the film. Any fan would easily be able to use their “road map” as a guide to the locations the next time they visit the big city. The first edition of the blu-ray will also feature a fully illustrated booklet with an essay by Gingold as well.
Whether you are a hardcore fan of the film (the type that also remembers the other meaning of C.H.U.D being “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal”) or if this cult classic is a new discovery for you, it is not one to miss.