A woman is out walking her dog on the streets of New York City at night when the manhole cover she is passing by flips up and something grabs her, dragging both her and her pet into the sewers... Meanwhile photographer George Cooper (John Heard) is trying to avoid a telephone call from his boss who wants him to cover a story about the homeless. He has done that before, but would prefer to spend time with his girlfriend Lauren (Kim Greist) who is a fashion model. They have recently moved into their new apartment, and before they head out for the shoot, Lauren goes into the basement to retrieve some of her stuff - but what are those strange noises from below?
Nope, the noises are not what she had for lunch, there's something underneath the streets of New York and they are the C.H.U.D., which I don't need to tell you stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. You have to take their presence as read for most of this film, however, as director Douglas Cheek seems particularly reluctant to let them appear for more than three seconds at a time, when they do appear at all, that is. A monster movie that doesn't wish to show its monsters? How can that be entertaining?
And the answer is, well, it isn't much. After a while, and a lot of earnest conversations, it dawns on you that the filmmakers are going for the atmosphere and suspense over the splashy effects, but the results might well leave you restless. For some reason C.H.U.D. has stuck in the minds of a generation of video-renters, probably because of its ubiquity in the video stores of the world during the eighties and nineties. Talk of remakes follow this film around, but in truth if you see the original there's little material here that would stand anything but a major rewrite.
Apart from Heard, our other star is Daniel Stern as A.J., a hippy-ish do-gooder who runs a soup kitchen for the homeless who is contacted by the police when they investigate the increasing number of missing persons, including the wife of the investigating officer, Bosch (Christopher Curry). It doesn't take a genius to work out what has been happening to them, but the characters are another matter, taking a hell of a long time to cotton on that there are flesh-eating beasts lurking out of sight in the shadows underground. But as I say, they are shy of publicity (although they do have fancy glowing eyes).
C.H.U.D. is one of those eighties horror movies which tackled social issues, this time a sort-of-allegory about how America treats its underclass and how that underclass might turn around and bite them soon, only here the disadvantaged really do bite. This means we get the authorities involved and predictably they are an unhelpful bunch, more concerned with covering up what transpires to be entirely their fault in that the toxic waste dumping under the city has created mutants. All very responsible to include such a theme, but it doesn't half drain the fun out of the film, though not as much as the near-endless scenes of characters yakking: for example it's very nice that George and Lauren are going to have a baby, but that is nothing to do with the rest of the film. What this needed was more monsters, less chatter. Music by David A. Hughes.