CHUD Films: An Anatomy

For those film fans with high standards who do not know what CHUDs are … the term may have originated with C.H.U.D., directed by Douglas Cheek and released in 1984: the stars of the film are Cannibalistic Underground Humanoid Dwellers. They have spawned numerous offspring, although only one film that I know of raises the issue of conjugal habitation. In the original film, the poor dears are mole people, the underground homeless inhabitants of the sub-metropolis, who are victims of stored radioactive waste in the tunnels of Manhattan. I hate to spoil anything for first-time viewers–stop reading now!–by reminding everyone that this film has an ecological/political dimension and a surprise ending, because CHUD also stands for Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal, the secret program of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose storage of waste has led to the radioactive contamination of the NYC underground.

CHUDs, the people, not the films, are linear descendents of H.G. Wells’s Morlocks from The Time Machine, the de-evolutionary brothers of the flighty above-ground dwellers, the Eloi, both future offspring of homo sapiens. The Time Traveller–we never learn his name–eventually discovers that the Morlocks are clearly the workers, running factories (what poet William Blake might have called “dark satanic mills’) while the Eloi pass the time in frivolous pursuits with the consciousness of social butterflies. The implied social contract originates in the widening separation of the “two classes” (capitalist and proletariat) and involves the manufacture of goods by the Morlocks for the Eloi in exchange for a night time harvest of an Eloi or three for the Morlocks’ next meal.

Therefore the first CHUD film was technically George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960) with a robust Rod Taylor as The Time Traveller (H.G. Wells is his name in the film credits) and a kittenish (hamsterish?) Yvette Mimieux as his pet Eloi. Although the film–and its re-make directed by Simon wells in 2002—tends to avoid most of the interesting de-evolutionary science of Wells’s novel not to mention obvious cannibalism, the Morlocks remain our proto-CHUDs.

As I am absurdly hooked on subway and other metropolis films that take us underground, I have some favorite CHUD films. Creep (dir. Christopher Smith, 2004), set in the London Tube system, features Franka Potente of Run, Lola, Run as a woman who falls into the clutches of a berserk ex-patient of some long-ago unsavory medical laboratory whose rooms are part of the Tube labyrinth (somehow … I think that’s what it all means). Somewhat similar in scope but certainly no less gamey is Raw Meat (in the U.K. known as Death Line, directed by Gary Sherman, 1972), in which a young woman seems to be destined to replace the expired female companion of the last of the descendents of tunnel workers trapped and left to die in the original Tube excavations in 1892.  Conjugal indeed.

Moving from London to New York, Mimic (1997), directed by Guillermo del Toro (known for Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy) breaks the usual pattern by having a genetic-splice species of human-size mantid-roaches who are able to use their carapace to mimic the appearance of men in overcoats on a subway platform. It looks more convincing than it sounds. It’s also way scarier than it sounds.

There are others. My Mom’s advice, always stay close to the center of the platform, was better than she realized.

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