C.H.U.D., 1984Regan Macaulay
When the film opens, a woman, Flora Bosch (Laure Mattos, real-life wife of co-star Daniel Stern), walks her Westie down a gritty New York street. As she passes a manhole, a creature drags her and the dog into the sewers.
George Cooper (John Heard), once famous fashion photographer, now watches and photographs the homeless (so, so many—and they’re absolutely EVERYWHERE) wandering and wallowing among the gross mess that is NY in the early 80s—particularly those known as “undergrounders” who live in the sewers and subway tunnels. They bring a tear to his eye…aw…more on this later with respect to an article in Vanity Fair about the movie Us, much influenced by C.H.U.D.
NYPD Captain Bosch’s wife was the woman in the opening scene of the film—Flora Bosch, so he is super motivated to figure out what’s up with all the missing people in his precinct. He interviews A.J. “The Reverend” Shepherd (Daniel Stern), who runs the local homeless shelter, who thinks the recent events are part of a massive government cover-up, natch. But he actually has the evidence to prove it—surprise, surprise. People in high places know more than they are letting on, including Wilson, who works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So, we’re definitely also covering 80s nuclear anxiety in this film.
A.J. and George eventually meet and discover that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is directly involved—it has been secretly hiding waste by-products of toxic waste (marked as contamination hazard urban disposal…aha! The real acronym!) beneath Manhattan in abandoned subway tunnels. When undergrounders have come into contact with the by-products, they’ve turned into the mutated creatures. To protect the secret, Wilson plans to seal the sewers, open up the gas lines and asphyxiate the C.H.U.D.s and witnesses in spite of the obvious danger to the city.
All fun and games aside, there’s a real empathy for the homeless here, particularly through the characters George and A.J. This influenced and was further explored by the more recent film, Us, by Jordan Peele. As I mentioned off the top, there’s an interesting article in Vanity Fair on the tie-in between Us and C.H.U.D. Here’s a snippet (spoilers for Us):
“…C.H.U.D., in which New York City’s homeless are dragged into sewers and consumed by humans mutated into monsters by nuclear waste, came out in 1984, the year Ronald Reagan was re-elected on the promise of “It’s morning again in America.” C.H.U.D. rejects that vision in its very premise, focusing on the homeless—many of them Vietnam veterans—at the same time that Reagan was [making homelessness worse (http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/) by cutting spending on housing and care for the mentally ill. Two years later came Hands Across America, in which even Reagan participated, a perfect gesture for the time: a show of empathy for the homeless that did more to comfort the comfortable than actually benefit those in need.
Hands Across America, as has been widely discussed, is essential to understanding Us. But homelessness is a key part of the film in other ways, from the man holding the Jeremiah 11:11 sign—the first victim of the Tethered uprising—to Red, the double for Lupita Nyong’o’s Adelaide who, as the film’s final twist revealed, was also robbed of her home. That twist marks another connection back to C.H.U.D., in which the film’s true villain is revealed to be a government functionary named Wilson. The name of the family at the center of Us? Wilson.
The presence of the C.H.U.D. videotape box in the very first scene of Us turns out to contain the two biggest secrets of the film: there are monsters living in tunnels under the earth, ready to kill human beings, and the movie’s protagonist, Adelaide Wilson, is, like her namesake, actually a villain…”
(Read the full article here: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/03/us-horror-movie-chud)