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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

C.H.U.D. & C.H.U.D. II Blu-ray Reviews (originally published 2016)

C.H.U.D. (1984)

In downtown Manhattan, a police captain’s hunt for his missing wife leads to the discovery of a series of mysterious disappearances in the area. Extending his search into the tunnels and sewers below the city streets, it soon becomes clear that something monstrous is lurking in that subterranean world – and it won’t stay there much longer…(from Arrow’s official synopsis)

Douglas Cheek’s C.H.U.D. has enjoyed an enduring pop culture legacy. However, while most average joes/janes of a certain age can identify the film’s iconic title – and even the acronym (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, for the record) – I doubt that many of them could relay its storyline. This leaves C.H.U.D. ripe for rediscovery. On its surface, Cheek’s film – written by mystery novelist Parnell Hall (his only screenplay) – is a relatively mediocre ‘80s genre entry, but, beneath its loads of exposition, the relatively juicy gore sequences, and the memorable performances from some of the decade’s greatest character actors, is a rather clever satire of government bureaucracy. The real ‘horror’ isn’t the monsters, but the impenetrable protocols of the city works, the incredible negligence of the government, and the public employees that fail their cannibalized constituents. One might even draw parallels between the fact that most of the C.H.U.D. victims are homeless people and then-president Ronald Reagan’s devastating mental health and affordable housing policies. While this less-than-obvious approach to comedic-horror occasionally bogs the picture down with excessive plotting (it’s obvious that it was written by a novelist, rather than a screenwriter), C.H.U.D. is still more emotionally invested in his characters than most exploitation movies of its era. Cheek’s direction has a raw, matter-of-fact quality that serves the blue collar vibe, as well as the deadpan and ‘authentic’ performances. Unfortunately, he often seems more comfortable exploring the casual drama of working-class people than he does delving into the kitchy monster-movie elements, making these two halves of the film feel disconnected from each other. It doesn’t quite work in the end, but C.H.U.D.’s ambition is still respectable enough for it to sit in the sly and sarcastic NYC-set creature feature pantheon, alongside Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980), Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982), Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), and, of course, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984).

C.H.U.D. has a healthy history on DVD, including an oft-reissued anamorphic disc from Anchor Bay and, later, Image Entertainment here in North America. Arrow’s Blu-ray (which is being released simultaneously in the US and UK) marks the first HD home video release (I don’t know if there was an HD streaming version). Better than that, it features both the ‘integral’ cut, which includes all of scenes from the network television broadcast as well as the shorter original theatrical cut, which had been previously unavailable on digital home video (this cut gets its own disc to prevent compression). The integral transfer was struck from a 2K scan of a low-contrast 35mm print, rather than an inter-positive, which might explain why the darkest sequences sometimes appear murkier than those of its DVD counterpart. Despite the drawback of some slightly crushy blacks, the new 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is a substantial upgrade. Details are sharp without any notable enhancement effects, edges are tight, grain levels appear accurate, and the non-crushed gradations are tidy. Color quality leans a bit cooler than the DVD, but not at the risk of vibrant reds, natural skin tones, and consistent blues.

The original mono sound, which was taken from the same 35mm print, is remastered and presented in uncompressed LPCM audio. Sound quality is relatively dynamic, though, of course, simplified for the single-channel environment. There isn’t a lot of environmental ambience, nor are there many incidental sound effects, but the more science-fictiony sounds of Geiger counters and growling monsters are rich and noisy. Volume levels are consistent, even when characters are whispering, and the sound floor is low without any notable noise-reduction issues. Martin Cooper and David A. Hughes’ sparsely-used music doesn’t buzz at high volume levels and features some decent bass response. Apparently, some dubbed lines that were missing from previous releases are still missing, though I admit that I’m not a big enough fan of the film to have noticed them.

Extras include:

  • Commentary with director Douglas Cheek, writer Shepard Abbott, and actors John Heard, Daniel Stern, and Christopher Curry – This track has been borrowed from Anchor Bay’s DVD. It is a joke and pause-filled group discussion that isn’t quite as fact-filled as some fans may prefer, but still manages to be a lot of fun.

  • Audio Interview and score track with the composers – Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher interviews Martin Cooper and David A. Hughes’ (aka: Cooper Hughes). His questions cover a wide range of topics, from musical inspiration to their opinions on the film and ongoing careers. The interview runs about 32 minutes and is followed by non-screen-specific cues from the score itself.

  • A Dirty Look (19:10, HD) – In the first brand-new interview, production designer William Bilowit talks about some of his earlier credits, working on C.H.U.D.’s authentic New York look, locations/sets, and the art of piling garbage.

  • Dweller Designs (12:07, HD) – A new interview with special make-up effects/creature creator John Caglione Jr., who discusses his early love of monster movies, learning make-up while working on NBC shows (like Saturday Night Live), designing the C.H.U.D.s, and the filming process.

  • Notes from Above Ground: The NYC Locations of C.H.U.D. (9:10, HD) – Fangoria writer Michael Gingold and We Are Still Here (2015) filmmaker Ted Geoghegan visit some of the filming locations.

  • Behind-the-Scenes Gallery slideshow (5:32)

  • Extended shower scene (1:24, SD) – A longer version of the show-stopping scene in which Kim Greist is splattered in blood from her shower drain.

  • Trailer

C.H.U.D. II: Bud the CHUD (1989)

Kevin, Steve, and Katie are an inseparable trio of friends doing some extracurricular snooping in the school science lab when, among the test tubes and beakers, they discover a corpse! But, before they can say “Abra Cadaver,” the body disappears, rolling down Route 51 strapped to a gurney. The kids need a spare stiff and fast. What they find is “Bud the Chud,” a half-dead decomposing humanoid, the result of a military experiment gone haywire. When Bud sets out on a killing spree, the kids, the Army, the police, and the FBI are hot on his trail, trying to save the entire town from becoming “Chudified!” (From Vestron’s official synopsis)

David K. Irving’s belated sequel, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the CHUD, is the Ken Wiederhorn’s Return of the Living Dead Part 2 of C.H.U.D. movies. This may seem like an abstract comparison, but my reasoning is sound. You see, both movies expand upon their predecessor’s comedic components without considering the balance that the horror offered that original formula. This is meant as a derogatory comparison, though Irving’s film isn’t nearly as flat-out bad or wildly unnecessary Wiederhorn’s. For all its faults, Bud the CHUD actually builds upon the ideas of the first movie with some relatively imaginative concepts, rather than recreating its most popular beats. Charles Band-regular writer Ed Naha (Dolls, 1987, and Trolls, 1986) has good, or at least fun, ideas for an ongoing C.H.U.D. franchise, similar to those of Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead III (1993). Specifically, both films involve bumbling government attempts to militarize a form of zombism, which implies that C.H.U.D.s were living dead people the whole time. It also has a lot in common with Les Mayfield’s Encino Man (1992), assuming we exchange cavemen for zombies. Unfortunately, the plot is an incidental set-up for jokes that are more on-par with obnoxious teen comedies than the gruesomely amusing original film (there are so many references to Budweiser beer advertising slogans). Irving directed a trilogy of musical fairy tales for Cannon Films in 1987 (Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Emperor’s New Clothes – all part of a 16-movie series) before being hired by Vestron to make their S.T.V. C.H.U.D. sequel. He brings a lot of those child-friendly, cartoonish aspects to this disappointingly gore and obscenity-free R-rated movie.

Bud the CHUD has never been as widely available as the first film, in part because it’s not as well-liked and in part because of rights issues. Stateside, Lionsgate made it available on anamorphically DVD exclusively as part of an 8-movie collection (with Waxwork, 976-Evil 2, Ghoulies III, The Unholy, Chopping Mall, Slaughter High, and Class Of 1999) and it did show up on MonstersHD in 1080i. This new 1080p, 1.78:1 (slightly reframed from the original 1.85:1) Blu-ray premiere is part of Lionsgate’s new Vestron Collector’s Series. The results are good – better than a DVD could manage, especially one that is crammed onto one disc with other movies – but there are some issues with DNR, minor edge haloes, and what appears to be telecine noise. This noise could be slightly DNR’d film grain (there is a pulsy quality to certain scenes), but its structure looks pretty fishy to me. The occasionally fuzzy details appear neater in motion than they do on this page. Gradations are neatly separated and the aforementioned haloes (likely a side-effect of someone trying to tighten up the wide-angle textures beyond what the scan produced) are pretty easily overlooked, though it does appear that Irving and cinematographer Arnie Sirlin intended the entire film to look soft. The colors skew to the cool side, except for the rich reds. Can’t have that excessive Coca-cola product placement looking faded!

Bud the CHUD is presented in uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound. The mix isn’t the best of its kind and features a number of phasing and volume consistency issues. However, since this was a mostly an STV release I assume that this is the result of the sound designers trying to best utilize a tube television’s smaller speakers. There are also lip-sync issues, but these seem to be the fault of ADR. Nicholas Pike’s music, including the hair metal title theme, is a highlight, because it features the most well thought-out stereo enhancements and remains clean at high volume levels.

Extras include:

  • Commentary with Director David Irving – The first exclusive Vestron/Lionsgate extra is a director’s commentary moderated by Michael Felsher (whose Blu-ray/DVD work seems to span all of the horror/exploitation boutique labels). Felsher goes a great job keeping Irving on-topic with interview questions about his larger career, casting, pre-production, direction, et cetera. There’s almost zero downtime in this full-bodied, info-packed track.

  • Bud Speaks! (16:18, HD) – In this new interview, actor Gerrit Graham (Bud) describes the casting process, developing his character, the minimal make-up work, and enjoying the physicality of the mostly dialogue-free role.

  • Katie's Kalamity (12:45, HD) – The next exclusive interview is with actress Tricia Leigh Fisher, who talks about her audition, her castmates, getting in trouble for spending an ‘on hold’ day at Magic Mountain, the dangers of the final special effects sequence, and acting while wearing an uncomfortable bathing suit.

  • This C.H.U.D.'s For You! (14:44, HD) – The final interview features make-up artist Allan Apone. He recalls working in ‘80s B-horror and describes his job on the film. It includes some behind-the-scenes video footage from the set and the make-up shop.

  • Still gallery

  • Video release trailer



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