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When I was little I had a huge fascination with the video store. In particular, the horror tapes always intrigued me because they usually had the most detailed covers and I also wasn’t allowed to rent them. The horror section combined the temptation of a forbidden fruit with morbid curiosity of what lay beyond that mysterious and often gruesome artwork. Looking back, that box art was probably the reason I became a horror fan in the first place. I remember my seven-year old mind drawing up nightmarish images of a film’s content based only on the box art and maybe a few film snapshots on the back cover. Because of that, I found myself too afraid to even look at movies like Creature or Demon Wind. If my own imagination could create such a frightening story, the real movie must be unbearable.

As I got older and was able to rent these films on my own, I got to realize firsthand how no low-budget movie could ever compete with the imagination of a terrified little boy. Creature and Demon Wind both proved to be phenomenally disappointing. In a way, it’s kind of cathartic; like going back and facing my fears. I got to peek behind the curtain and see the true form of those childhood fears; or to put more appropriately, I got to find out that the creepy child-devouring clown was really just some lame rubber spider.

Anyway, the reason for this lengthy beginning is because it gives me the chance to put this next sentence into perspective. When I was a little kid, the film C.H.U.D. had absolutely terrified me and I hadn’t even seen it. That image of some shadowy monster peeking out from the sewer like some evil Ninja Turtle chilled me to my very core to the point where I wouldn’t walk too close to manhole covers for a brief period in my youth. I had forgotten about the movie over the years, but I saw that it was now available on Netflix instant so I decided to check it out. Verdict: Forest’s childhood imagination wins again!

Not to say that it isn’t an interesting little curiosity; it just isn’t that scary. The film is another in the line of “Bumsploitation” films that seemed to be popular in the mid-80s (films like Street Trash and Slime City are other notable examples). These films seemed to comment on the whole sociopolitical climate of the time; satirizing the yuppie/Reaganomics mentally that was popular. In these films, the bad guys always turn out to be greedy corporate types who wish to exploit the homeless and lower class, and C.H.U.D. is no exception. In this film, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has secretly been hiding radioactive waste in Manhattan’s sewers, leading to the accidental creation of mutated flesh-eating monsters called C.H.U.D.s (Cannibalistic, Humanoid Underground Dwellers). After several surface dwellers are killed, a police captain and a man who runs a homeless shelter venture into the sewers to investigate. There, they meet up with several homeless people who have formed a kind of tight-knit community and seem to know more about these monsters than anyone else.

Basically, the film is a serviceable but unremarkable monster movie. The most interesting thing about it is the fact that the title creatures almost become a non-entity by the end of the film. I don’t want to give too much away, but by the end of the film the biggest threat comes from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The C.H.U.D. monsters sort of become secondary villains in their own story. The other interesting thing about this film is secret underground homeless society, which actually exists in major cities. The idea that there is whole network of people living out their lives completely hidden underground is a fascinating reality. Seriously, there is a documentary about the real life homeless community living in New York City’s abandoned subway system. The movie is called Dark Day and everyone should check it out. It’s good!

Anyway, the most interesting things about C.H.U.D. are the bizarre future celebrity appearances. Daniel Stern (Home Alone) co-stars as the homeless shelter worker and John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) makes a memorable appearance as a cop in a diner, which get ambushed by the monsters.

Finally, I like that horror films that portray the day-to-day struggles of homeless people is kind of making a comeback in the form of films like Hobo with a Shotgun and Slime City Massacre. Perhaps this is a response to the turbulent economic times we currently find ourselves in. This leads me to believe that it might be time for someone to dig up this relic of the past. Maybe a reboot to the C.H.U.D. franchise would be welcome in this day and age. So far, I’ve heard nothing about a possible new film but we’ll always have the original. Just don’t expect the actual movie to be as scary as the box art.


★ ★