In the early morning hours of August 31, 1984, a smartly-dressed woman walked her small dog down a deserted Manhattan street where she nonchalantly stepped near a manhole cover. Most remarkably, the manhole cover then flew open, a powerful hand grabbed the woman by her ankle, and a mystery attacker dragged both her and the pooch down below the asphalt.
Neither victim was ever seen again. Except that they were. Lots of times. Frequently on VHS cassette, and even more regularly on late night cable TV. That’s because the above scenario describes not an actual mid-’80s New York City event (although, crime rates what they were back then, it’s certainly credible), but the opening moments of the cult film C.H.U.D., which debuted in theaters thirty years ago today. Since then, C.H.U.D. references have turned up all over popular entertainment, from Tom Green leading a sewer search for them to Frylock dating a C.H.U.D. on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
There was also Robot Chicken combining C.H.U.D. with the ’70s cop show CHiPs as “CHuDs”. As Family Guy once pointed out regarding The Greatest American Hero, C.H.U.D. is a unique ’80s artifact that came-and-went quickly in its time, but has endured as pop culture curiosity–and remains remarkably well-remembered all these decades later. It’s a good bet, for example, that many readers who weren’t even alive in 1984 can instantly decode the titular acronym as standing for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.”
In the film, the C.H.U.D.s are who (or what) devoured the dog-walker in the first scene: former human beings that mutated from toxic waste dumped beneath gotham’s byways into glowing-eyed, green-skinned, fang-faced, flesh-famished monsters.
The story itself actually plays more like a mystery than a full-blooded fright flick and, frankly, it’s pretty dull. But the concept and the fun of invoking C.H.U.D. caught on instantly and has never let go, even resulting in a comedic 1989 sequel, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.
The first cultural Rosetta Stone to broadly acknowledge the public’s love of C.H.U.D. was no less than The Simpsons, where, in 1997, Homer recounts a terrible trip to New York that ends with him falling into a manhole and recalling, “And that’s when the C.H.U.D.s got me!” In later episodes, Homer brandishes a C.H.U.D. videotape, and the actual creatures appear during a bunjee jump into the bowels of the earth (they dwell one level below The Time Machine‘s Morlocks).
So here’s to thirty years of C.H.U.D.‘s Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwelling and all the decidedly above-ground goofiness and guffaws the movie has stirred up. Long may it lurk in sewage systems of our collective consciousness. Just watch your ankles–and watch this original trailer to really appreciate the importance of C.H.U.D.…