Rabid, C.H.U.D. and More: Jim Hemphill’s Home Video Picks for Friday, November 25, 2016
My “Recommended on a Friday” column is taking a holiday break, but in its place we’re spinning off Jim Hemphill’s picks into their own weekly series of posts. Here, Hemphill goes genre in his recommendations for Thanksgiving weekend. — SM
Christmas comes early this week for horror fans with the release of one unadulterated masterpiece (David Cronenberg’s Rabid) and a trio of cult favorites (the two C.H.U.D. movies and Brian Yuzna’s underrated Return of the Living Dead 3). All four films, in different ways, embody virtues that are much rarer now than they were when the movies were released: an auteurist ability to bend genre to one’s own preoccupations and obsessions in the case of the Cronenberg picture, the elevation of practical effects to an art form in Dead 3, and conceptual inventiveness on a shoestring in the two C.H.U.D. films. Viewed today, Rabid comes across like some kind of miracle: an exploitation flick anchored by a porn star (Marilyn Chambers of Behind the Green Door) that is also haunting and deeply personal, one of the first of Cronenberg’s disease-oriented horror films. Chambers undergoes a skin graft operation that turns her into a vampire who feeds off of her victims via a phallus that emerges under her armpit; she gradually turns virtually all of Montreal into a city of bloodsuckers, and Cronenberg paints an unsettlingly convincing portrait of urban apocalypse while also milking his imagery’s subconscious associations for all they’re worth. The movie looks forward not only to Cronenberg’s later work but to urban zombie films like 28 Days Later – and the other three new releases I’m recommending – and Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray represents its welcome return to circulation after being out of print for several years.
Both Return of the Living Dead 3 and C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud are part of the new “Vestron Video Collector’s Series,” a collection of titles (previous releases include the Waxwork movies and Blood Diner) from the ’80s and ’90s that have largely been forgotten by all but the most devoted horror enthusiasts, but which deserve serious consideration. Return of the Living Dead 3 in particular is an overlooked gem, a very funny, genuinely scary, and consistently inventive horror-comedy on a par with some of the best of Sam Raimi and Stuart Gordon’s early work. The story cleverly combines the zombie premise of the original Return with a cross between Frankenstein and Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, turning what could have been a run-of-the-mill monster flick into a gory romantic comedy that works on multiple levels. It’s highly stylized yet weirdly touching at times, with remarkable special effects makeup from beginning to end — it makes one of the most persuasive cases for practical effects over digital that I’ve ever seen.
Like Dead‘s Brian Yuzna, C.H.U.D. II director David Irving takes the freedom that comes with working in a pre-sold franchise and runs with it, using his premise — teenagers come across a reanimated corpse from a government experiment and inadvertently let it loose — to make a giddily audacious teen comedy. Anchored by Brian De Palma favorite Gerrit Graham’s brilliant performance as “Bud the Chud,” C.H.U.D. II goes for broke with a series of unpredictable plot twists and bold tonal shifts — at one point the movie even stops in its tracks for a surprisingly well choreographed musical number. Both of these Vestron editions come packed with commentary tracks and special features, as does a new Arrow Video release of the original C.H.U.D., Douglas Cheek’s 1984 classic about “cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers” snatching New Yorkers from their headquarters in the city’s tunnels and sewers. The two C.H.U.D. movies don’t really have much in common — the cannibals in the sequel aren’t even underground — except for the fact that both are essential viewing for horror buffs, and have never looked or sounded better than on these Blu-rays.