It was a fine day to be outside in North Carolina on October 12, 2019. The weather was perfect for frolicking, tomfoolery, and immature skylarking. I, however, had other plans. I would be spending the afternoon and evening at the Carolina Theatre in Durham for the annual Splatterflix Film Series, a 3-day horror film festival. This was the first day and I was ready to sit back and enjoy the delightfully bloody carnage. First was Toshiharu Ikeda’s wild Evil Dead Trap (1988); next, Juan Piquer Simon’s immortal Pieces (1983), followed by Tommy Lee Wallace’s amazing and underrated Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982), and finishing the night off with Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery (1981), one of his most uncompromising works. I was in a bit of a quandary, however. Between EDT and Pieces, I had a gap. The choice was between George P. Cosmatos’ underwater monster flick Leviathan (1989) and Dan O’Bannon’s classic Return of the Living Dead (1985). What to do? I initially figured, “I’ve seen Dead a million times. Leviathan I saw once, many years ago. Or was that Deep Star Six?” I was all set to go see Leviathan, then at the last minute, I went for Dead. Fuck me! I had forgotten how great that movie is. It’s relentless and an absolute blast. Sharing more than a few plot points, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989) is just like Return of the Living Dead, only terrible. Did I say terrible? I meant AWESOME! Possessing a delightfully anarchic and even satirical sense of humor, C.H.U.D. II never takes itself seriously, unlike it’s in-name-only original C.H.U.D. (1984), a minor horror with a more restrained, adult tone. Even the poster for Bud the Chud features the familiar beasties with the glowing eyes emerging from a manhole cover. It’s an absolute, flat-out lie. Never happens.
The iconic Vestron Pictures logo assembles itself like a red-eyed Transformer, ominous synth music blares, and the title is literally eaten. Oh. Hell. Yes. Dr. Kellaway (Clive Revill, the original voice of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back) is walking an injection of yellow liquid through a military hospital in an impressive and very long tracking shot. Although the Steadicam operator seems to be having a little trouble with his rig in the elevator, it’s a decent opening title sequence, even if the fonts look very movie-of-the-week. There’s even an Airplane!-style intercom system complaining about some random doctor. He passes by an MP (Tony Edwards, that limo driver from Hot Shots! Part Deux) who sounds like he’s “not going to fall for a banana in the tail pipe” and goes to inject the titular Bud (Gerritt Graham, the long-faced character actor from very early DePalma movies and TerrorVision). When you needed a creeper, you hired Gerritt Graham. Even comatose, he’s weird-looking. Unfortunately, Bud has “a lot of spunk” as Colonel Masters (Oscar nominee/law office pitchman Robert Vaughn, having an absolute blast here) puts it, so he attacks Kellaway. His makeup looks like a combination of David Naughton’s nightmare look in An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Bub’s from Day of the Dead (1985).
The bare minimum connection to the first C.H.U.D. is explained away by the military’s desire to use the enzymes from the original C.H.U.D.s to make super soldiers. Basically, what every military outfit wants to do in a sci-fi movie with monsters, only this time they got way farther. The program is being shut down and the gung-ho colonel is pissed. Surrounded by silly-looking green props, he argues the merits of the disastrous C.H.U.D. program with Dr. Berlin (Priscilla Pointer – Carrie, Dream Warriors, Blue Velvet, and the mother of director David Irving) until they see that Bud’s escaped. In a much more realistically-lit hospital hallway than Halloween 3, they first find a cat in a closet for absolutely no reason, then Bud, whom they freeze with very powerful freeze guns.
They’re literally freeze guns because they blast cold air until the target is a CHUD-sicle. Col. Masters and his worm of an assistant Graves (Larry Cedar, The Hidden, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas “Goddamnit! You got my pen!”) head off to the secret Winterhaven Center for Disease Control in a small American town. Turns out it’s not so secret after all.
We’re introduced to slacker extraordinaire Steve (Brian Robbins) and his awful mullet. Robbins was a teen TV star, now a prolific producer, but his main distinction is having directed Eddie Murphy in three, count ‘em, THREE of his worst late period comedies: Meet Dave, A Thousand Words, and the execrable Norbit. His career reminds me of Shawn Levy’s, but without making any hit movies. I hate that I like Real Steel, but I like Real Steel.
Steve’s a cocksure fuck-up whose nerdy lackey Kevin (Bill Calvert) does whatever he says. Even though it’s Steve who sets his high school science lab on fire and Kevin does his best to put out the flames, they’re both inexplicably given detention and have to deal with the school’s lab frogs. They come across the cadaver their teacher is going to use for a demonstration. Lucky! They never brought dead bodies to MY school! Of course, Steve has to mess around and the body goes careening down the road on a gurney. It’s a wacky scene and instead of fessing up, Steve decides the best idea is to just steal another body.
At the Center, we’re treated to the first of several badly ADR’d lines of dialogue as some officers go in for what looks like a peck on the cheek and some disembodied voice asks, “How’s Mr. Oliver?” How Steve and Kevin got in there, I have no idea. They grab Bud’s body and get him to their friend Katie’s car (Tricia Leigh Fisher, Carrie Fisher’s half-sister and one of those non-starter ingénue stars from the 80’s - Pretty Smart, 1987).
They sneak Bud into Steve’s house, where his hilariously oblivious parents (Mel Brooks/Robert Altman regular Jack Riley and TV actress Sandra Kerns) watch a program about penguins. Steve’s little sister sees Bud but he tells her she’s having a nightmare. He questions whether he’ll be terrible as an adult, but I’d check his ID because he was 25 when he made this movie. In the bathroom, he grabs a dryer for some reason, then drops it in the tub where Bud is floating in the water. The electricity brings Bud back to life. For a minute, I thought the movie was going to be like Encino Man. Two dorks resurrect a monster who’ll get them into wacky hijinks and they’ll become cool. Nope, Bud is essentially a bloodthirsty zombie as opposed to a genuine cannibal, and anyone he bites turns into a C.H.U.D. as well.
Unbelievably, the boys leave Bud in the house to figure out what to do and grab a bite at Bossy Burgers. What the hell is going on? They just leave this re-animated corpse to fend for himself? Plus, the parents call their daughter down for dinner but she seems to have already gone to bed. It makes absolutely no sense. Gerritt Graham’s pantomime-like performance is impressive and it turns out these C.H.U.D.s can talk. They don’t say much, but like their Return of the Living Dead brain-obsessed counterparts, they’re interested in only one thing: Meat. For Bud, he has one other obsession: Katie.
The movie is light on gore and it doesn’t even appear that these C.H.U.D.s do much more than bite people to change them over. I was initially pissed when Bud appears to eat the family dog, but then it gets CHUD-ified and its actually kind of amazing. This poodle’s got crazy sharp teeth. A scientist explains the disease of 'Chudism' to Col. Masters and informs him it cannot be stopped. Way later, they actually use the word ‘zombies,’ so at least they’re self-aware and don’t avoid saying ‘zombie’ like a certain TV program. The trio of idiots have lost Bud and search for about five minutes before calling it a night. Oh, and they hear on the radio that their car was spotted, so now the government knows who they are.
Bud happens upon a woman doing aerobics. He tries to mimic her moves, but has no better luck than her. She berates the woman on television, calling her a “Neo-Nazi anorexic leotard slut.” She needs her smokes and a pizza, but it also turns out she’s thirsty. She comes on to Bud, who comes off as the strong silent type, but after she gets a gander at his choppers, he takes a bite out of (sex) crime and she’s now ready to ‘get physical.’
The next morning, Jasper the poodle fucks up the mailman big time while the family eats breakfast. David Irving has a light touch, but he does know how to shoot comedy. Vaughn visits the house and warns Steve’s mother that her son is in big trouble, smacking Graves in the face with his riding crop for good measure. Bud snacks on a barber and follows Katie and the boys until he feels peckish again and grabs a full-size fish out of a fountain. Like, it’s a small mouth bass or even a trout. In a pavilion fountain. We get a little cameo from writer/comedian Rich Hall, Vaughn bitches about the youth of America being spoiled and the three idiots once again go to Bossy Burgers for a snack. Kevin and Katie (ugh, couples name) aren’t actually that dumb, but Steve is the alpha and less than concerned about Bud or their inevitable arrest.
The newly-created C.H.U.D.s, who can drive now, stop by Bossy’s for their own happy meal of “meat” and decimate the entire burger joint. Vaughn, Graves, and driver Sam (Judd Omen, Mickey from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) need sustenance as well. Sam goes inside while Vaughn complains about their “illegal neuro-toxic experiments” and the “mutations.” The restaurant patrons attack Sam but luckily Col. Masters keeps a rocket launcher in his trunk and they blow the fuck outta Bossy Burger in a gigantic explosion. They drive off but unlike many Bothans, many C.H.U.D.s survive.
Steve, Katie, and Kevin follow Bud in a truck and end up in a barn, where Bud tries to get friendly with Katie. There’s a scuffle and it turns out C.H.U.D.s have nards because Katie gives Bud a swift kick to the groin. Bud runs off and Vaughn and his crew show up to blast the rest of them with fire and ice. So many amazing Robert Vaughn lines in this scene. “This C.H.U.D.’s for you,” a great line that was similarly used in the earlier My Best Friend is a Vampire (1987). “This guy is fucking fantastic!” To Steve, “You know what happens to pretty boys in prison?” Finally, his inspirational monologue, which includes, “You! New men! These are C.H.U.D.s. Very hungry people. With bad complexions. And a brain that doesn’t know when to stop. Any questions?” Academy Award nominee Robert Vaughn, ladies and gentlemen. He even destroys Bud’s truck with one bullet. Badass.
I’m glad they capture the kids. For a minute I thought they’d get away during the monologue. They’re taken to a holding area with classic blinking lights on a huge computer console. It’s Halloween, so Bud and his new friends blend in pretty well. Always nice to see little kids swearing as one youngster shouts “Bitchin’ costumes!” They infect a group of trick-or-treaters who take out TV legends Norman Fell and June Lockhart. Nowadays, there’s absolutely no way kids would be allowed into somebody’s house for candy, but…simpler times. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Robert Englund, which I thought was him but didn’t rewind. I confirmed it later but all he does is cross the street. Bit of a waste. Bud and his crew head to a big Halloween party to get some treats. There’s a nice touch with the poodle leading the way and Bud even checks to make sure his fellow C.H.U.D. look their best.
Sam sees the poodle and speaks like no human has ever spoken to a dog before. Like seriously, I’m glad the dog bites him. Vaughn lets Graves know that if they can’t contain the C.H.U.D.s, there’s always Plan B, which turns out to be napalming the whole kit n’ kaboodle. Steve, meanwhile, continues to not give a fuck. Vaughn heads out and it’s clear Sam is going to eat him. The remaining group is attacked and the kids make it out while Graves tries to shoot the C.H.U.D.’s with a flame thrower. Hey! There were flame throwers in the first C.H.U.D. too! It’s all connected! Don’t you see?
They steal a van with some freezing equipment and head for the dance, passing a marquee advertising John Huston’s The Dead (1987). Why? ‘Cause…they’re dead? The C.H.U.D. makeup, speaking of which, is simple, mainly just a greyish complexion, but the teeth look great. Very sharp-looking. The C.H.U.D.s have arrived at the dance, confused by these 80’s kids getting funky. They get hassled at the front desk by the ticket taker, who asks if they’re from Midvale High, which immediately brings that famous The Far Side cartoon to mind. The Halloween dance scene practically screams out to turn into a musical number and it almost does. I wouldn’t put it past this movie, which goes for a real kitchen sink approach. A strange underlying theme within the scene seems to be a metaphor for the youth of America rejecting their elders as the C.H.U.D.s try to eat them but are either rebuffed or outright ignored. I might be giving this movie too much credit, I admit.
Steve, Katie, and Kevin encounter their science teacher from earlier eating a frog. After an awkward fight, which includes a lit flame sticking out of the teacher’s forehead, they figure out that freezing the C.H.U.D. then electrifying them is the only way to destroy them since bullets have no effect. There’s a nifty effect where light shoots out of the frozen corpses before being obliterated. They hatch a plan to lure the rest into a pool. Katie dresses up like Lili Von Schtupp from Blazing Saddles (1974) and rushes in to the gym to get the C.H.U.D.’s attention. They fall into the pool and after some fumbling by our idiot heroes, they manage to throw the freeze tanks in. Thanks to some more neat effects, the C.H.U.D. are on ice. All except Bud, who stalks Katie and follows her up onto a diving board for some reason. She rejects him and he literally pulls his heart out to give her. It would actually be sweet if it weren’t also hilariously bizarre. Kevin blast-chills Bud and he falls, smashing into pieces. By the way, Kevin is in love with Katie, but it feels like a really unnecessary plot point. Steve got bit and they help him limp out. There are some random onlookers, one of whom is played by Evil Dead 2’s Sarah Berry, and the corpse on the gurney from the beginning of the movie slams into Steve’s parents' car.
The movie awkwardly fades out and Kevin is hunky now after ditching his prescription glasses and probably blind as a bat. He shows Katie a letter from Steve, who’s skipped town. He’s got the poodle with him and has obviously turned into a C.H.U.D. himself. He accepts a ride from an ADR’d robotic voice which simply asks “Ride?” It turns out to be top-billed Bianca Jagger in a tiny appearance while a CHUD-ified Robert Vaughn hides in the back, “undercover” apparently. Kipp Lennon’s cheesy “Bud the Chud” theme plays as the truck drives off into the distance. Post-credit scenes weren’t rare, but they weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are today. Right after the last words, Bud’s severed head bids us “good night.”
Prolific sci-fi/horror writer Ed Naha wrote the script under the pseudonym M. Kane Jeeves. Considering he’s a relatively respected author, I suppose it makes sense that he’d rather not be associated with something as gleefully bad as C.H.U.D. II. This was David Irving’s second-to-last feature in a career that mostly consisted of fairy tale adaptations. There isn’t much box office info to be found but I’d hazard this didn’t do too well on its release. That’s a shame because shoddy as it may be, it’s also a well-made horror-comedy with some inventive comedic set pieces, lively performances, particularly from Vaughn, and decent makeup effects (by MEL, who had also done Return of the Living Dead), mainly for the frozen C.H.U.D. scenes. If you don’t like your horror goofy, this C.H.U.D.’s probably not for you. I can go either way and had an enormous amount of fun with this one.
C.H.U.D. is the more respectable film, but this is an apples and oranges situation. Both movies work, but only one of them has actual Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. If you’re only willing to watch one movie with funny zombies, watch Return of the Living Dead. As Andy told Red, “Maybe you’re willing to go a little further. Remember when we’d wile away the days in Shawshank, talking about C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud?” It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Shawshank Redemption, but that’s in there, right?