C.H.U.D. is maybe one of the most undersold horror gems of the 1980s. While it often gets lumped in with its more lowbrow New York-sploitation cousins like Basket Case, Street Trash, and Slime City, it’s an entirely different animal. While many New York-centric movies of the era tended to revel in the sleaze and squalor of per-gentrification Manhattan, C.H.U.D. shines a light on the very real struggles of the people living on the streets and the ones in power who abuse and exploit them.
The film boasts an excellent cast, including Daniel Stern and John Heard pre-Home Alone. The special effects are amazing even all these years later and the movie is a master class in mounting dread. The end is a bit underwhelming, feeling like a rewrite done when the production ran out of money, but it’s a solid little flick with a lasting appeal. I mean, a lot of people are barely aware of the fact that this movie exists let alone have seen it and yet people know what C.H.U.D. stands for and what they look like in spite of the fact that they’re only in this movie.
I nearly disqualified this from the list with other fake sequels like Troll 2 and The Curse 2. But, even though it was clearly not written as a sequel to C.H.U.D. the film does have some connective tissue with the first.
We open on a clandestine military base. Experimental undead super soldier Bud Oliver (Gerrit Graham), the last C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, also Chemical Hazard Urban Disposal but that meaning isn’t important in this movie), is being put to undeath as the U.S. military shuts down the project which attempted to weaponize the creatures.
A jingoistic fascist general (Robert Vaughn) protests the termination of the project, citing the C.H.U.D.s’ potential as biological weapons. As if to emphasize Vaughn’s point, Bud kills his would-be executioner and escapes. Vaughn manages to recapture the creature and puts him in cryogenic stasis where he will remain until such time as he can have the C.H.U.D. program reinstated. To keep the body under the radar he sends it a military center for infectious disease in a small town in the middle of nowhere.
But, oh darn the luck, its seems that the store-brand versions of Growing Pains’ Mike Seaver and Revenge of the Nerds‘ Gilbert have gotten after-school detention. Oh no, they’ve inconveniently knocked the cadaver that the biology teacher is going to show the class tomorrow out the biology lab’s loading dock and down the comically gradual slope leading away from the school. The body is unharmed and they could probably catch it as it rolls away on its gurney but Not-Mike decides the get a new body to replace it so they don’t flunk biology. Does he go to the local mortuary where the teacher got the first body? Or maybe he goes to the morgue? Maybe he digs one up? Maybe he murders a vagrant and uses that body? Oh no, Not-Mike steals a body from a military center with “infectious disease” in its name. Then he brilliantly takes the body home, drags it up the stairs, plops it into the bubble bath which his mother has run, randomly decides to blow dry his face, and drops the blow dryer in the tub.
Having just reanimated a corpse, he just has Not-Gilbert help him drag it down to his basement bedroom and leave it behind an unlocked door as he goes out and gets dinner for an hour. Naturally, Bud escapes and begins attacking everyone in sight, turning them into more C.H.U.D.s. Oh Not-Mike, if only you had accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior like the real Mike Seaver did, then mayhap these whacky hijinks would not ensue!
For the longest time, Bud the C.H.U.D. was my gold standard for shitty horror movies. I’ve since discovered many movies more deserving of that title, but this is still my go-to example of a horror-comedy that’s neither scary nor funny. There are some creepy bits interspersed and there are a generous helping of actual laughs to be found in this movie. Most of the jokes that land are due to Gerit Graham, who is truly one of the most underrated comedic performers of the ’80s. There’s also a delightfully hammy Robert Vaughn and M#A#S#H’s Larry Linville in a small scene-stealing role. But most of the humor is eye rolling garbage involving pratfalls, chintzy “joke” dialogue, and awful puns (Robert Vaughn says at one point, apropos of nothing, “This C.H.U.D.’s for you.”)
The movie’s one shining jewel is its self-titled theme song. Bud the C.H.U.D. (the song) is such an amazing piece of goofy ’80s cheese that it speaks to my soul. Intellectually I know the song is terrible but I could listen to it for six hours on loop and still love it. This song is the sole justification of this movie.
Does It Hold Up?
HA! Not even slightly. C.H.U.D. and C.H.U.D. 2 are perfect demonstrations of the difference between a movie that is low-budget and a movie that is cheap. Say what you will about the first movie and its quality, but you can see every penny spent onscreen. There’s a clear passion involved in C.H.U.D. that obviously didn’t transfer over to C.H.U.D. 2. The sequel feels thrown together to capitalize on the moderate success of the first and on that note let’s talk about the bait and switch this movie does.
I didn’t post the original poster for this movie above, but it depicts C.H.U.D.s that look exactly like the ones in the previous film climbing out of a manhole cover. The only problem is that none of this film’s C.H.U.D.s look like that, in fact they don’t even dwell underground. The C.H.U.D.s in this movie are zombies, and Not-Gilbert even mistakenly refers to them as zombies at one point.
Now in fairness, the first movie did have human-looking C.H.U.D.s that were in the early stages of mutation. Also in fairness, one can argue that all of the C.H.U.D.s in this movie are also in the early stages. Robert Vaughn does specifically mention that the mutation is one of the reasons that the project was shut down and it’s not too much of a reach to assume that the military tinkering with the C.H.U.D. pathogen would’ve slowed or even changed the mutations entirely so the victims would remain more human. But here’s the thing. There is no way this movie didn’t start life as a rejected script for a Return of the Living Dead sequel. You can practically see the parts where they erased “Trioxin” and substituted “C.H.U.D. pathogen.” The zombies even hunger for brains still, they’ve just changed the iconic chant of “Brains!” to a more litigation-proof “Meat!” Even the film’s tone-deaf sense of humor is eerily similar to the eye-roll inducing humorous bits of 1988’s Return of the Living Dead Part 2.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy?
Just listen to the song a couple times and then go buy a copy of Night of the Creeps instead. It’s practically the same movie, except good.
Where Can I Find It?
If you really feel like you must own this mediocre turd then the newly revived Vestron Video has your back with a Blu-ray set to release on November 22nd. But you should just buy the first one coming out from Arrow video on November 15th.