Thursday, October 22, 2020

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie

Beneath lower New York City, around Lafayette Street, lives a group of homeless people who fear for their lives. Some of them have been disappearing. People from above ground have been diappearing in the same neighborhood. The only people who seem to care are a detective, whose wife is among the missing, a photographer, and a man who runs a soup kitchen. People start claiming to see monsters, and someone connected to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants everything covered up. It turns out he's been dumping hazardous waste and nuclear waste beneath the streets of Manhattan and its begun to mutate some of the homeless population.

C.H.U.D. (1984) was the first movie I saw about New York City right about when I moved there, and it took place not far from where I spent most of my time. This is the first time I've seen it since. Aside from the nostalgic soft spot I had for it, I'm conflicted about how I feel about it now. It has a really good skeleton to build a good movie on, and has aspirations to be more than just a monster movie. It also has a really fine cast of actors (John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, and Kim Griest as the leads, with John Goddman in one of his early roles). The monsters are well done, the make-up effects are also good. But for all of that C.H.U.D. is still a near miss.

It's problems lie in four crucial areas: Script, direction, editing, and score. Without having read the actual screenplay, I don't know how much fault belongs to the writer vs the director and editor. The movie was based on two news items from the time period. One was about the colonies of homeless people living beneath the streets of Manhattan. The other concerned a proposal to drive hazardous waste through Manhattan to a storage facility. The two items were combined for the scenario presented in the movie. When horror, or science fiction excel, it is often by shining a spotlight on the societal problems of the day in a fantastic manner. Obviously C.H.U.D. wants to do something with the homeless situation the people no one notices when they are there, nor cares about when they disappear. It also wants to deal with environmental and pollution issues. It does, but doesn't really dig into either. The story problems are more structural. Scenes stop abruptly and awkwardly transition to other scenes. There is no follow up to many of the events presented on the screen, and some scenes (such as a shower scene ending in a literal blood bath) don't have any purpose, or logical connection to the rest of the film. This could easily be the fault of the editor or director as well. The direction is lackluster and unsuspenseful, and I'm guessing the editor probably didn't have all the footage they needed to put these scenes together in a fluid manner. Then finally, there's the score. Most of the time is unobtrusive 80s synth score music, but there a number of cues, particular stings for suspense scenes that are really distracting and feel like they are for an entirely different movie.

I'm pretty torn on this one. I feel like this could easily be remade into a really good movie rather than the frustratingly just okay one that it is.

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