New World Pictures

C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)

The only name I recognized during C.H.U.D.’s opening titles—after the more obvious names in the cast—was casting director Bonnie Timmermann. Timmermann’s an A tier casting director; C.H.U.D. is a B movie with a lower A movie cast (I mean, John Heard and Daniel Stern are both capable of fine work and they would’ve been at near career highs at the time of this one). But it doesn’t seem to know it’s got a better cast than the material, which isn’t a surprise as the script is bad and the directing is bad. Also bad is the cinematography, by Peter Stein, though it’s not like director Cheek would’ve known what to do with better photography. C.H.U.D. manages to be shot on location in New York City, but look like it was shot in Toronto with some second unit establishing work done in New York. And then the sewer stuff is obviously sets and lots of them, but quantity over quality.

So it’s mostly director Cheek’s fault. Sure, Parnell Hall’s script has terrible dialogue, silly characters, contradictory exposition, and an absence of suspense but it still contains those elements. Better direction could’ve at least fixed the lack of suspense and made the silly characters amusing. But Cheek really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing at all. He sabotages his actors, usually with these terrible two shots, which doesn’t help de facto lead Christopher Curry (as a police captain whose wife has gone missing in the rash of recent disappearances). Curry’s… not great and seems out of his depth in a lead role, but at least he’s not hamming it up like Daniel Stern or sleepwalking like John Heard.

Heard’s a fashion photographer who wants to do important work, like photographing people experiencing homelessness but not for journalism’s sake, rather… his own self-aggrandizement? It’s confused and an example of the contradictory exposition. Though it seems like Heard’s decisions are mostly for girlfriend (or wife, it’s unclear) Kim Greist, who’s a callous fashion model and wants him to be famous for the serious photography while still doing all her photo shoots too. The film opens with Heard (who’s top-billed). He’s there to establish the people living underground in the old tunnels—so, C.H.U.D.’s extravagant underground tunnels and giant spaces don’t seem to have anything to do with the sewer or the subway. The film doesn’t acknowledge there are working tunnels under the city. It’s very weird. And inevitable. I spent at least ten minutes waiting for the big underground reveal scene as Curry and Stern—more on them in a moment—either find the legion of scientists doing secret work or at least a good shot of the subterranean mutants’ lair. But no. Same sets as before.

Heard doesn’t do much in the second act; he comes back for the third, but second is Stern and Curry. Less Heard (and Greist, who gives an exceptionally flat performance) isn’t a bad thing. Though Stern and Curry aren’t a good thing.

So Stern is a street preacher who runs a soup kitchen. He and Curry have history; Curry busted him for something five years before, which he drops as exposition. Curry’s too busy memorizing old cases to react to his wife being missing and presumed… eaten. Pretty soon Stern is able to convince Curry there’s something going on and so then they try to fight city hall only for city hall (a regretful looking Eddie Jones, who seems to understand the state of the production better than any other cast member) to tell him absurdly corrupt government official George Martin is in charge. Martin becomes the film’s heavy, which is… not why you want to watch a movie about underground mutants attacking the surface world.

The underground mutants don’t actually look bad either. They’re budget constrained but they might be effective if Cheek could direct. Some of it is definitely Stein’s photography. It’s like he’s trying to showcase the rubber in the costume instead of obscure it.

Lots of familiar faces in the supporting cast—including John Goodman at one point—but most of them are bad. Sam McMurray’s a beat cop who doesn’t care about the people dying, especially if they’re living on the street (or under it). He’s bad. Graham Beckel’s in it for a scene or two. He’s not good, but he’s not bad. Cordis Heard (sister of John) is really bad in a small part as one of Curry’s cops, but it’s obviously Cheek’s direction. C.H.U.D. would be instructional if only any of Cheek’s directorial decisions made sense because then future generations would know what not to do except they’re so weird and obviously not working, they seem hard to classify.

Ruth Maleczech and Bill Raymond are a pair of older siblings living underground who Heard knows; they’re both way too good for the movie, like they thought they were guest-starring on a good TV show or something. J.C. Quinn plays a freelance reporter trying to crack the story, which mostly consists of bad expository scenes with John Heard. He’s not good. But seems like he should be. Then isn’t.

Outside how Timmermann conned a set of solid, working actors into appearing in what should be a low budget exploitation film but isn’t, there’s nothing to C.H.U.D.. A C.H.U.D. is a dud pun doesn’t even work because there’s nothing to suggest it ever could work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Cheek; screenplay by Parnell Hall, based on a story by Shepard Abbott; director of photography, Peter Stein; edited by Claire Simpson; music by David A. Hughes; production designer, William Bilowit; costume designer, Jennifer Lax; produced by Andrew Bonime; released by New World Pictures.

Starring John Heard (George Cooper), Daniel Stern (A.J. Shepherd), Christopher Curry (Captain Bosch), Kim Greist (Lauren Daniels), George Martin (Wilson), J.C. Quinn (Murphy), Ruth Maleczech (Mrs. Monroe), Bill Raymond (Victor), Graham Beckel (Val), Cordis Heard (Officer Sanderson), Sam McMurray (Officer Crespi), and Eddie Jones (Chief O’Brien).


The Punisher (1989, Mark Goldblatt)

Back in the late 1980s, The Punisher was part of that period’s comic book movie wave. Most of these films had little to do with Batman’s success and most of them failed, both commercially and artistically. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course, succeeded financially. Watching this Punisher film (I have no interest in the new one) again–I’ve seen it multiple times, as the teenager looking for the action film where cars inexplicably blow up, and again as an adult, when it came out on DVD–I noticed just how much of it did succeed. The key to The Punisher is forgiveness. One has to forgive the bad opening credits (with tinted action shots from the film), the direction, and the music. Once those three factors are forgiven, and the viewer can accept the film as a 1980s action film, The Punisher can offer a lot… really. Well, at the least, it can offer quite a bit.

Director Mark Goldblatt edited a number of 1980s action films–The Terminator and Commando–and The Punisher is a well-edited action film. It’s Goldblatt’s direction. He doesn’t know how to frame a shot, doesn’t know how to move a camera, doesn’t know how to direct actors. His previous directing experience including second-unit work on Robocop and it shows in The Terminator. There are some very Robocop-influenced shots in the film… The lack of good framing hurts The Punisher the most (except the terrible score), since there’s only one bad principal performance–Nancy Everhard is way too spunky. The rest of the performances are good. Jeroen Krabbé is particularly excellent in the film–oh, another problem with the film, though it’s not really its fault–the costumes, bad 1980s jackets and such. Sorry. Krabbé wears a terrible denim jacket at the end and I couldn’t let it go. But anyway, he’s great as the crime boss. Louis Gossett Jr. is great as well, as the Punisher’s old partner. As for Dolph… Dolph’s pretty good. He’s not great (his accent breaks in at a few inopportune moments), but he’s got a few great scenes in the film, particularly when he’s working with kids and he and Gossett have a good scene together. He also manages to deliver the Punisher sound bites well.

There’s a certain amount of right-headedness working for the film. The wrong-headedness, which runs rampant of course, includes the Punisher running around with Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. It looks really silly. The film works because of the writing. Boaz Yakin has probably dropped the credit from his filmography (maybe not though, I mean, Dirty Dancing 2 is on there), but it’s a well-constructed script. The film moves fast (though it’s not particularly engaging for much of the middle), slowing down for the occasional action sequence, but Yakin gives the characters some meat, particularly Gossett’s. He lets Gossett tell a character-defining story, a device I always like. Given how much Garth Ennis’s relatively recent (three years?) handling of the Punisher character has changed my view of the character, its limits and its possibilities, Yakin does a great job. The film puts the Punisher alone a lot, something comic book movies have never been comfortable doing, and it works out. Lundgren does make some silly expressions, but the emphasis (and his performance) work out, overall.

There are fifteen more minutes of The Punisher out there (I always expected a special edition DVD to tie-in to the recent adaptation, but it never happened) and they might be what the film needs–more scenes without guns. The film’s a difficult proposition in the first place and the handling of it, given its era and the budget and the cast and crew, has a lot of problems. So its relative successes become prominent. They make it a memorable film, which is odd–remembering a Dolph Lundgren film because it works… to a degree.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Goldblatt; written by Boaz Yakin, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Ian Baker; edited by Tim Wellburn; music by Dennis Dreith; production designer, Norma Moriceau; produced by Robert Mark Kamen; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (Frank Castle), Louis Gossett Jr. (Jake Berkowitz), Jeroen Krabbé (Gianni Franco), Kim Miyori (Lady Tanaka), Bryan Marshall (Dino Moretti), Nancy Everhard (Sam Leary), Barry Otto (Shake), Brian Rooney (Tommy Franco) and Zoshka Mizak (Tanaka’s Daughter).


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