Thursday, October 27, 2022

Sewer-Dwelling Zombies


I was working at a movie theater when C.H.U.D. came out back in 1984. It was playing at our sister theater down the street, so a group of us ushers went to see it, because who could resist a film about “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers?”

I know, many of you reading are saying, “I could!” That’s not the point. We couldn’t. Or at least didn’t. And we all thought it wasn’t very good.

But while researching for Zombie Month, I was reminded of something I’d forgotten about the film. One of the leads, Daniel Stern, plays the Reverend A.J. Shepherd, manager of a soup kitchen (and yes, “Reverend Shepherd” does seem rather redundant). For your sake, I did a rewatch after nearly, but not quite, four decades.

This was the only feature film that Doulas Cheek ever directed (though he did a TV documentary on the Apostles Peter and Paul, which we here at Movie Churches are interested in now).  The screenplay was written by Parnell Hall (though rumor has it that Daniel Stern assisted). The story takes place in New York City, where people are vanishing.  A police officer, Captain Bosch (Christopher Curry), interviews Shepherd -- who apparently was not always the director of a mission.

Bosch greets him with “So, you’re a Reverend now? What kind of scam is this?”

Shepherd says that he has been with the Mission for some time, and says, “This is my family, my flock, my congregation. My regulars.” Shepherd tells Bosch that a number of his people have vanished as well, particularly those who live in the tunnels and sewers below NYC. (Incidentally, NYC isn’t the only place the homeless live underground. I recently read a very interesting book, Dark Days, Bright Nights: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains by Matthew O’Brien).

Shepherd explains that some of those who live underground come to the surface for soup from the Mission, and those people have seemed scared. He tells Captain Bosch that they’ve started looking for weapons, for guns and knives. The Reverend asks Bosch why the police are finally paying attention to the plight of the homeless. 

Bosch tells him his wife is missing and Shepherd expresses sympathy.

Government agencies try to cover up the whole situation, but Shepherd threatens to make it quite public if people aren’t helped. Bosch and Shepherd work together to solve the mystery. Soon, they encounter the strange zombie creatures they call C.H.U.D. (Later we find out that those initials stand for something even more sinister than Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. But not nearly as cool.)

The Reverend explores underground and helps his people. Eventually, he's threatened by a government official who tries to run over his friends with a truck, and Shepherd shoots the man. Usually killing someone damages our rating for clergy, but this is self-defense and defense of his flock.

As someone who works in a Mission, I appreciate Shepherd’s dedication to his work and his people, but he doesn’t use the most important tools of ministry: prayer and God's Word. Still, we’ll give him a Three Steeple Rating (out of Four).

Oh, and as for the film itself? Four decades later, C.H.U.D. is still not very good.

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