3 out of 5
Directed by: Douglas Cheek
Setting aside its notoriety as punchline material, there’s a pretty solid – if conflicted – B-movie stumbling around in C.H.U.D., given near Larry Cohen panache by once-in-a-decade director Douglas Cheek. C.H.U.D. would be a lesser Cohen flick, though: it’s not quite committed to a mood, and isn’t either good enough or bad enough to kick it up to a higher echelon. However, there’s a surprising amount of character and plotting work done at its edges (though quite boffed in the middle), and some quality creature shots, plus a greasy, sweaty atmosphere that it sticks to throughout, selling its subterranean settings and underground denizens well enough.
A cold open of a passerby and doggie getting mauled by something emerging from the sewer sets the tone… kinda. The extreme angles and campiness suggest self-awareness, but then C.H.U.D. dives into an oddly complex layout of a photographer’s (John Heard) study of the homeless, the runner of a soup kitchen (Daniel Stern) reporting his concerns of his recently gone-missing patrons, and a police chief’s (Christopher Curry) troubles with the mayor and other higher ups when trying to escalate these missing persons. This is all scripted rather well and acted with straight faces; these are surprisingly “real” characters with real feeling jobs and behaviors. When trying to swill these pieces together, though, Parnell Hall’s screenplay stutters. If it seems like the explanations for the disappearances and the resultant actions taken seem suddenly less logical and more standard B-movie than what’s preceded, well… yes; C.H.U.D. is trying to save some info for its last act, but the film isn’t quite successful at stretching out monster glimpses and information trickles to that point. Cheek flip-flops between glory shots and trying to build tension, in that order, meaning it’s a series of C.H.U.D.’s clearly on screen, then trying to revert to shadowy mystery; it’s choppy, and undersells some fun creature design. Things somewhat crawl along until the movie can arrange for our principles to get locked in the sewers with the creepos and an impending gas explosion, at which point we’re allowed to rev back up and show off some budget and those remaining scraggles of script.
C.H.U.D. was much better than my expectations had built up, but it’s interesting how close it was to being better than that, thanks to the caliber of its actors and occasional script sparkle. As it stands, it’s mostly entertaining fare, with at least one great creature shot and a selection of amusingly puzzling decisions and / or interesting beats.