Always Bet On C.H.U.D. (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

This is a good staple of any 80 horror fan's diet.  It's no Nightmare On Elm Street, it doesn't cut any edges or push any envelopes.  It's never quite exciting.  But it is a smart, entertaining little dish with a few cool creatures, scare sequences, gory bits, engaging acting and mystery.  It's not one of those films everybody should necessarily see, but I'm not sure you can call yourself an aficionado until you've gotten around to it at least once on video or cable.  It's C.H.U.D., and thanks to Arrow, this old school monster thriller is finally in HD.
If you've never seen the film, you may pride yourself on knowing that the titular acronym stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, but C.H.U.D. fans know it actually stands for something else.  I won't spoil it, go watch the movie.  But the "cannibalistic" phrase does originate in this film, and that's exactly the sort of creep our protagonists find lurking in the New York City sewer and subway systems.  John Heard is a photographer who notices his local homeless population is quietly depleting.  His investigation leads him to a soup kitchen run by Daniel (Home Alone) Stern, who absolutely steals this picture.  They team up to uncover the city's gruesome secrets, hopefully while there are still some people left to save.
What makes this movie for me is the smart script.  It reminds me of Larry Cohen's Q, except darker and more atmospheric, with a touch of John Sayles' Alligator, too.  The monsters sometimes look really cool, but other times they're rubbery and far from convincing.  If you're looking for fast thrills, be prepared for a lot of talking first; but they do sporadically remember to deliver the crowd pleasers.  The underground locations are cool, John Goodman and Jay Thomas turn up for some amusing pre-fame cameos (well, depending on which cut of the film you watch), and overall, it's a higher quality film than most of its peers.  C.H.U.D.'s probably not anybody's favorite film, but if you're just looking for something to watch, it's a safe bet.
C.H.U.D. debuted on DVD from Anchor Bay in 2001.  Even better, they restored the television and diner attack scenes missing from the theatrical version, but with the gore that's usually removed from the cut versions intact.  It was widescreen, had an audio commentary, and overall was pretty satisfying.  Eventually, though, it went out of print and was replaced by Image's Midnight Madness edition in 2011.  They featured Anchor Bay's extended cut as well, but lost the commentary; however it's worth noting that the transfer isn't identical (more on that in a minute).  And later this month, C.H.U.D. comes back once more, this time to blu-ray, thanks to Arrow releasing their brand new special edition in both just the US market [whoops! Minor error; see the comments].  It features the extended cut - or as they call it, the Integral Cut - and if you catch their initial limited edition run, they also include the theatrical cut on a second, bonus disc.  Let's compare everything.
2001 Anchor Bay DVD first, 2011 Image DVD second,
2016 Arrow theatrical blu third and 2016 Arrow extended blu fourth.
So, let's start with the film's aspect ratio, because interestingly, it changes with each release.  Anchor Bay went with a slightly pillar-boxed 1.75:1, which Image fixed up with a more typical 1.78:1, finding that little extra picture on the sides.  Arrow corrects this even further, giving the film the correct theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and no they didn't just slightly matte the 1.78, they actually found more information on the sides.  Apart from that, the DVDs look pretty similar, with the Anchor Bay disc being just a touch softer and more compressed.  Of course, Arrow's blu looks the sharpest and clearest of all, with very distinct grain; but it's not a wealth of new detail.  Their brand new scan, which they've clearly used for both versions on both of their discs, are 2k takes on a print.  So they're not pulling out much new information, but they are presenting it in the best possible way.  At the end of the day, though, I could see a lot of fans saying it's not a big enough upgrade to justify a replacement, and that the DVD is enough for them.

Both the DVDs offer the original mono audio in Dolby 2.0, and the blu has the same but in uncompressed LPCM.  Arrow also provides English HOH subtitles (to both versions), which the DVDs never had.
In terms of special features, Anchor Bay did a pretty impressive job wrangling up the film's two leading men, Heard and Stern, along with the film's director Douglas Cheek and writer Shepard Abbott.  It's a really good mix of being fun with some joking around, and yet informative; definitely worth the listen.  Apart from that, Anchor Bay just had the trailer, a stills gallery, an insert and an easter egg showing us a slightly extended look at the famous shower scene.  The Image DVD lost all of that, unfortunately, except for the trailer, and only replaced it with some bonus trailers.

Arrow, though, has teamed up with Red Shirt to turn this into a proper special edition.  First of all, they brought back all of Anchor Bay extras, including the easter egg and everything.  Then, like they recently did with the Waxwork movies, they've got secondary audio tracks starting with an interview with the film's composers, in this case Martin Cooper and David A. Hughes, and then the the film's isolated soundtrack for the second half.  For on camera interviews, we get the production designer William Bilowit and special effects artist John Caglione Jr.  But probably my favorite of the new extras is a featurette where they traipse around Manhattan, locating the film's original locations.  Arrow also includes a booklet with notes by famous Fangorian Michael Gingold (who also co-hosts the locations featurette), and reversible cover-art, so you can hide their tacky comic book style illustration with the original poster design.
C.H.U.D. may not be a masterpiece, but it's well known and respectable enough that it deserves the special edition Arrow has finally given it.  I mean, come on, that title is iconic within the genre.  And there's no question this is the best the film has ever looked, there's not even another HD contender, but the marginal image quality bump doesn't make this the highest priority upgrade.  The new features go some way towards justifying it, though; and I'm guessing it's safe to assume that if negative elements were available, Arrow would've used 'em; so we're not likely to see this film looking any better.  This is the definitive release, and it's pretty sweet.


  1. As always, great review. Good knowing that this edition is worth the money.

  2. Thanks for this - not a title I'm familiar with, but sold based on the strength of your review. A minor note though - as far as I'm aware the Arrow release is US only. Thanks for your continued work!

  3. Oops! You're right; I corrected it. Cheers. 8)

  4. Always liked this film, but thought the sequel was abysmal!