Arriving the week before LionsGate's special edition of C.H.U.D. II: BUD THE CHUD comes the superior original C.H.U.D. at last on a limited edition Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video USA.
After his wife (Laure Mattos) mysteriously disappears one nights while walking the dog, police lieutenant Bosch (Christopher Curry, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) starts looking into the number of disappearances happening around his precinct, including the "undergrounders" who frequent the soup kitchen of "Reverend" A.J. Shepard (Daniel Stern, HOME ALONE). Shepard suspects government misdeeds underground after discovering a Geiger counter belonging to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but his and Bosch's inquiries are blocked by benignly sinister representative Wilson (George Martin, DEAD POET'S SOCIETY). Also drawn into the mystery is former commercial photographer George Cooper (John Heard, CAT PEOPLE) who has switched to serious photojournalism by studying the lives of the underground dwellers – including feisty Mrs. Monroe (Ruth Maleczech, MAC) and Victor (Bill Raymond, TWELVE MONKEYS) – many of whom have been stockpiling weapons to fight off what they call the "ugly fuckers." Shepard's and Cooper's investigations underground unfortunately coincide with the NRC's plans to address issue with their C.H.U.D. (Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal) program and they are trapped in the sewers, while George's model girlfriend Lauren (Kim Greist, MANHUNTER) must defend herself against something that has made its way into their apartment building through the basement access.
Grim and gritty while also blackly funny, C.H.U.D. was something quite apart from the studio make-up effects-heavy horror pics of the early eighties, more akin to Larry Cohen's Q: THE WINGED SERPENT in its quirkiness and the genius casting by Bonnie Timmerman drawing largely from New York's theater scene and including appearances by the likes of HOME IMPROVEMENT's Patricia Richardson and her husband Ray Baker (PHYSICAL EVIDENCE) in a scene left largely on the cutting room floor, Sam MacMurray (RAISING ARIZONA), Eddie Jones (THE BELIEVERS), Jon Polito (MILLER'S CROSSING), as well as ROSEANNE's John Goodman and MORK & MINDY's Jay Thomas as cops in the scene that precipitates the film's entire third act. The creature creations of John Caglione Jr. (MY DEMON LOVER) are memorable but do not always stand up to close scrutiny with some ropey mouth and eye movements (the human gore fares better), Greist is badly doubled in a shower scene, and the synth score is undistinguished; and yet, C.H.U.D. is eminently rewatchable on the basis of its lead performances and supporting character turns more so than the trajectory of its narrative.
Released theatrically and on home video by New World Pictures – in a version that restructured the third act of the film, removing the diner attack sequence and placing it at the end as a tired surprise ending (even though the attentive viewer will have noticed the climax taking place around a diner) – C.H.U.D. made its digital debut from Anchor Bay Entertainment in an integral cut with the diner attack in its proper place and other bits that were not included in the theatrical version. The principal extra was a rollicking commentary track with director Douglas Cheek, writer Abbott, and actors Heard, Stern, and Curry as well as an Easter Egg alternate version of Griest's shower scene. When Image Entertainment reissued the film and other Lakeshore/New World titles as part of their Midnight Madness DVD series in 2011, they dropped all of the extras. Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of this integral cut (96:25) was transferred from a 2K scan of the original camera negative. The image is sharper and more colorful while still retaining the film's gritty look with a fine layer of grain over even the brightest shots (a couple grabbed shots looking rougher through haste rather than care of the elements), and the LPCM 1.0 mono track delivers dialogue cleanly and the throbbing, pulsing underscore with a bit more depth. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.
Heard, Stearn, Curry, Cheek, and Abbot have fond memories of the film but not of the production, the changes imposed upon the production (notably the transformation of the CHUDs into demonic-looking monsters rather than undergrounders driven mad and feral by radiation), alternations made afterwards (although they are surprised to find some of the footage restored here), the film's distribution, and feeling cheated by the producers. They point out Stern's wife as the first victim, Heard's sister Cordis (CADDYSHACK) and brother-in-law in the squad room, and also reveal that Dana Delaney had auditioned for Griest's role. Besides the ported over commentary, Arrow has included an isolated score track that follows a new audio interview with composers Martin Cooper and David A. Hughes – credited as "Cooper Hughes" – whose beginnings were in the UK pop music scene of the seventies and eighties before coming together as part of the synth pop group Godot. After Vangelis won the Oscar for CHARIOTS OF FIRE, synthesized scores became more in demand, which was how Cooper and Hughes started getting film offers, starting with the Italian medieval fantasy HEARTS AND ARMOUR. They got the C.H.U.D. assignment when producer Andrew Bonime (THE BELL JAR) came to Warner's music department in search of another Vangelis-esque score, and the pair's demo tracks would end up being incorporated into the score. They do note that Bonime was acting on his own without collaboration from the director or other crew by the time they were brought onto the project (which explains why Cheek remarks he "never met him" upon seeing the Cooper Hughes credit). The interview runs through the first half-hour of the film with the score playing up through the last ten minutes of the film.
"A Dirty Look" (19:10) is an interview with production designer William Bilowit (HELL HIGH) who reveals that his first work in film was as a production assistant on the New York unit Romano Scavolini's NIGHTMARE which lead to CREEPSHOW, starting a string of non-union horror credits. Of C.H.U.D., he discusses the location scouting and determining what could be shot on location – including some long unused parts of the New York subway system and access tunnels under the Brooklyn Bridge – and which sets needed to be built for practical purposes (including a couple of tunnel branches and the apartment sets). In "Dweller Designs" (12:07), special make-up effects/creature creator Caglione discusses his beginnings with Dick Smith (THE EXORCIST) who recommended him to NBC's apprenticeship make-up program (during which he worked on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) along with films Smith recommended him for like Woody Allen's ZELIG. He also reveals that Bonime was more influential on the look of the CHUDs than Cheek, including the insistence that they look more like monsters than mutants (with Smith's son David and AMITYVILLE 3-D's Doug Drexler along with cinematographer Peter Stein collaborating on the shooting of the effects). He also expresses his preference for a mutated human look over the way they appear in the film. Ted Geoghegen and Michael Gingold takes us on a tour of the surviving locations in "Notes from Above Ground" (9:10), revealing just how little some of the places have changed. The extended shower scene (1:24), which was available as an Easter Egg on the Anchor Bay disc, is also included here from a workprint source in standard definition. Also included is a "Behind-the-Scenes Gallery" (5:32) and the film's theatrical trailer (1:36).
Presumably the limited part of the package is a second Blu-ray disc of the film's reconstructed theatrical version (86:29) with LPCM 1.0 mono audio and English SDH subtitles. It is an interesting extra if only to see how New World or the producers tampered with the film before release. Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford, and collector’s booklet featuring a new writing on the film by Michael Gingold. (Eric Cotenas)
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