Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Back to School Horrors: Monster on the Campus

As colleges welcome their students back for the new school year, and don’t get me started on real-world issues, we’re featuring a few campus-set horror movies that deserve more love.

Director Jack Arnold’s is revered for his work on the all-time classic Universal monster movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon and its sequel, Revenge of the Creature. He also directed famous genre films like It Came from Outer Space, This Island Earth, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, not to mention one of the equally all-time classic MST3K shorts, “The Chicken of Tomorrow” (“in a deadly battle against the Chicken of Today.") Later in his career, he primarily directed for TV. His last credit, in 1984, is for his 8th episode of The Love Boat, one in which teenage Vicki gets drunk and Captain Stubing has a heart-to-heart with her about his alcoholism. Quintessential!

He also directed an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries called “Campus Terror,” which was the tagline on the poster for our first Back to School Special, 1958’s Monster on the Campus, a film that has received significantly less attention than many of his other works, but which totally agrees: We Are Devo.

Unlike so many later horror films, the focus here is on adults, not on the students. The college setting would seem ideal for young audiences, who were flocking to the new science fiction and horror films, to relate to, but this one doesn’t offer them much in the way of audience identification. The academic environment is more important thematically, as a forum to explore evolution and its counterpart, devolution. The campus, a site of education, progress, and general intellectual advancement, can be potentially threatening as well as enlightening. Study can lead, indirectly, expose people to something dangerous, and here those dangers are extrapolated to outright physical ones.The protagonist, a professor at Dunsfield University, is introduced making a sexist joke, just to remind us what we’re dealing with in the time period. This is Dr. Donald Blake – yes, the name of Marvel’s original Thor alter ego, and Jane Foster’s ex-boyfriend in the film version! He has a coelacanth shipped to him as a scientific specimen, which was exposed to – what else? – gamma rays! So that makes me wonder if Stan Lee or somebody saw this movie and it stuck in their unconscious.

Like The Vampire, which came out the previous year, this is a contemporary scientific twist on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, although its science is more than shaky. The radiation causes anyone exposed to the fish, or even the water it came in, to quickly revert to a lower stage of evolution. Although the effects wear off fairly quickly, when a dog turns into a large-fanged wolf, or a man to a Neanderthal, their behavior becomes immediately violent. Progress took millions of years, but it only takes moments to devolve back to an earlier stage of brutal instinct.This idea is reinforced by Dr. Blake’s speechifying and his general attitude toward life. His fiancée Madeline argues that “Humanity still has a future,” but the professor is dour about its chances, believing that unless it can learn to control its primitive instincts, “the race is doomed.”

More on this theme: “Man can use his knowledge to destroy all spiritual values and reduce the race to bestiality. Or he can use his knowledge to increase his understanding to a point far beyond anything now imaginable.” Also, “Man’s only one generation from savagery” and “Civilization isn’t inherited, it’s learned.” And “The past is still with us … It’s the savage in modern man that science must meet and defeat if humanity is to survive.” He’s pretty gloomy for a guy with a good job and an attractive, supportive fiancée well-placed to help his career.

Some scholars, like Patrick Gonder, see a message about segregation and integration in the film, that the devolved throwback represents a white supremacist fear of black Americans, often coded at the time in the language of the primitive. This is certainly a possibility, and an interesting angle. It’s clear that white men at the time believed they had things to fear from black advancement, even as they continued in their positions of power. Gonder's excellent essay is online here, so check it out.

Dr. Blake is deeply worried about the survival of humanity’s baser instincts, pontificating about this at length, but it’s his experimentation, his efforts to understand the primitive state in order to rise above it, that unleashes these forces. Without his fear of devolution, this extreme form of devolution wouldn’t have happened, and a lot of people would still be alive. This seems to reflect a popular distrust of science and what it might lead to, especially with something like evolution. The Scopes trial took place decades earlier, well before any college students of 1958 were born, but anxieties about evolution and its teaching have never left American life. 


The students’ perspective on all this is largely unexamined, but when Blake dismisses class to work on the fish, the students are mostly happy about it, some of them going off to a movie instead. In the background, though, you can hear one of them complain, “Don’t you want to get an education?” Academia is maybe most strongly represented by Madeline’s father, an administrator hoping that the prehistoric fish will bring in publicity and alumni donations. He says, “An institution’s like a living organism. The moment it stops growing, it starts degenerating. So, anything that promotes growth is all to the good.” So the language of science, even of evolution and devolution, is put in the service of capitalism. Later, even after mysterious deaths start happening on campus, his real tipping point is when Dr. Blake makes a lengthy and expensive phone call to Madagascar, at “$5 a minute!” which is unusually realistic.

I have to note that Dr. Blake goes to a cabin in the woods to record his story on an old-school tape recorder, which is very Evil Dead.

It’s all over the Internet that this movie premiered December 17, 1958, in Bismarck, North Dakota, a real WTF? I could not find a citation, and the same sentence with this factoid is repeated in tons of places, so I couldn’t track down the original source. It did play there at the Bismarck Theatre in December 1958, as a double feature with The Blood of the Vampire, which was originall released in October 1958. After Interlibrary loaning microfilm reels of the Bismarck newspaper and scrolling through them, though, I feel fairly certain of one thing: if Monster on the Campus did indeed premier in Bismarck, nobody in Bismarck knew that at the time.

It's only mentioned in the regular columns about the films currently playing in town, and even there, only in passing, barely footnotes to material about bigger pictures like the thriller Cry Terror! and Disney's Tonka. The Bismarck Tribune stated on 12/12/58 that "Wednesday through Saturday a double feature shocker will show at the Bismarck. Blood of the Vampire is one half of the feature, Monster on the Campus the other ... Both movies have their crazed monster created in the medical laboratory." They were mentioned again on 12/19/58: "A dim-witted, one-eyed hunchback ... runs wild in Blood of the Vampire. In Monster on the Campus, a test tube horror takes its toll. Of course pretty girls have to be the victims in each show." 

I did not cross-reference with our own library's microfilm to see if Monster on the Campus played any local theaters at the same time, or any other cities, because I was already microfilmed out. All I can say is that the Bismarck showing has no indication that it's a premiere, or that it's anything but part of a regular B-movie package. Of course, who know? As Dr. Blake says, rather metafictionally about the plot of his movie, it's "as improbable as life itself!"

Monday, August 23, 2021

I Know What You Did Last Summer: Hollywood Lets Everyone Off the Hook

Spoilers for the book and the movie, so beware!

Hollywood is not a single entity. Individual works and filmmakers are sometimes willing to explore complexities and ambiguities, but in general, the mainstream movie industry tends to simplify issues, dodge hard ethical questions, and let its protagonists off the hood for lasting consequences and moral judgments. It’s safer to have a clear-cut sense of right and wrong, ultimately freeing film protagonists, especially, from meaningful moral judgment. A classic example of this phenomenon is the case of I Know What You Did Last Summer.

In Lois Duncan’s 1973 YA novel, a group of teens is threatened with exposure, and worse, a year after their part in a deadly hit-and-run accident. The novel’s potency comes from the fact that the protagonists are being punished for their real moral failings, relatable ones that invite us to question what we’d have done in the same situation. Even the most likeable characters, especially Everygirl Julie (played in the film by Jennifer Love Hewitt), are in the wrong, and have suffered no meaningful consequences for their actions, which motivates a grieving family member to take murderous vengeance. 

The 1997 film adaptation ups the violence; none of the hit-and-run drivers actually die in the book, much less random characters in their periphery, whereas the film has a bloody body count. But while the film’s stakes are more extreme, it also lets its characters off the hook, morally speaking, softening their accountability and then removing it completely. Despite the film’s violence, the novel is darker by remaining more ambiguous. There are various points on which the novel is changed in order to soften the moral responsibility of the characters.

1. In Duncan's version, realistically, everyone’s drinking. The movie strains to show that this was a more innocent accident. Julie’s boyfriend Ray has remained a sober designated driver, and prevents their friend Barry from drinking under the influence. Barry, however, drops a liquor bottle on Ray, causing him to smell like alcohol. This is all more than a little convoluted. In the novel, all of the friends are buzzed, and fate, in the form of a coin toss, determines which of them drives. The “good” couple is happy to let Barry drive drunk, so they can make out in the backseat. Ray, who lost the coin flip, acknowledges that Barry “just happened to be the one who was driving” (50), and Barry points out to the moralizing Julie that “you were awfully anxious to get into the back seat tonight … You knew I was a little high. It didn’t bother you then” (51). 

2. In the aftermath of the accident, no one in the book is shown suffering due to their actions. The retribution against them is partly fueled by the fact that none of them have faced any real negative consequences. Julie and Ray, the pair with more moral qualms, have broken up, and Julie’s gotten a little more serious about life, but Helen and Barry are still together, and everyone’s school and career goals are on track. The person threatening them, a family member of the person they hit, sees that “Our whole family is wrecked, and what about you four, the ones responsible? … All your lives are going along peaches and cream” (182). In the film, though, all of them have suffered indirect punishments. The romantic relationships have all fallen apart, career aspirations have failed, and Julie is a pale, guilt-ridden wreck of a person. In the book, she has some pangs of conscience, sending anonymous condolences, but that’s about it. They all felt bad about it, but time passed, there was nothing to be done, and they went on with their lives, which infuriates their grief-ridden persecutor. 

3. Most significantly, in the novel, the accident really was a hit and run, not the result of someone stepping in front of their car. They hit a child, not a grown man. They do drive away, not stop and agonize about what to do. While they telephone for an ambulance, they don’t go back, leaving the child alone. The actions in the film are more extreme, since they toss the victim’s supposedly dead body in the ocean, and at the last minute realize he was still alive, so in this case, their actions would be real murder. Not surprisingly, though, he doesn’t die, and they are able to honestly say “We never killed anyone.” Then, of course, it turns out they hit a vicious murderer, who then goes around killing people unrelated to the incident, apparently just to mess with them. This places a focus on the sinister fisherman as much worse than they were, so that actually killing him would have meant other innocent people would still be alive. 

In the book, however, it's clear that they did do something wrong, legally and morally, and were on the path to getting away with it, forgetting about it in time, and suffering no repercussions. It’s almost a fluke that they are held accountable in any way. Of course, Julie and her friends don’t deserve to die, but they shouldn’t experience no consequences, either. On the last page, Julie muses, “We can never erase it … What we did last summer is done. We can’t undo it, ever. But we can face it. That will be something” (198). And it’s a lot more than the film version can bring itself to do.  

Side notes:

The film has its charms, like the post-Roseanne, pre-Big Bang Theory Johnny Galecki hilariously failing to be a tough guy. Hewitt’s line-reading of the on-the-nose dialogue “The secret is killing us” is so earnest it edges into its own kind of camp. And then ther's Freddie Prinze, Jr., who I thought was so bland in this, thanklessly playing the blandest character, little knowing some day he would voice my all-time favorite Jedi Knight, even overtaking Obi-Wan Kenobi in my heart, as Kanan Jarrus in the animated Star Wars: Rebels. There’s great scenery, too, which always makes me fleetingly want to move to the movie’s version of North Carolina, and it’s great to hear L7’s version of “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” on the soundtrack. 

Overall, though, the changes to the story, and the softening of its whole thematic center, creates a lot of unnecessary plot complications. Like, they find out the fisherman’s name. He lives in the area, and had been in the news due to his daughter’s death. Don’t he and Ray both “work the boats” in the same small town? Does he have friends, or neighbors, or people who buy his fish? What do they think happened to him? Or do they think he’s dead? There’s an attempt here to graft the “unstoppable slasher killer” mystique on something too grounded in reality to make that work. His ability to move dead bodies in broad daylight, and at a workplace full of people  in the next room, brings it into the satiric territory of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, with its scenes of the killer planning how to pull off these impossible things. 

Plus, for all the whole plot is motivated by the group’s fear of legal repercussions, there don’t seem to be any! The authorities don't even notice the killing spree going on the middle of the annual “Croaker Festival,” and in the end, they don't question Julie and Ray's half-truths about the events, allowing them to go on with their lives ... the same thing that motivated the novel's original threat!

Finally, I can't resist commenting on the problem this shares with much 1990s horror. Everyone’s too pretty. Pretty people are nice, but when everyone has a movie star sheen, it can add to that glossy, Hollywoodized feel, separating a story from relatability. It's particularly noticeable here with Helen’s frumpy sister Elsa, who in the book has a “heavy, doughish face” (79) and “plump shoulders” (158), and is shown as a complete contrast to TV personality Helen, who’s pretty enough to be “beauty queen material” (11). In the film, Elsa is played by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, an actual beauty queen (1990’s Miss Teen USA). That kind of says it all on this subject!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Reprint from The Haunted Cinema: Us and Them

Like so many things in my life, this essay started as a joke. When I first watched Jordan Peele’s thought-provoking 2019 horror film Us in the theater, I proposed a double feature with Gordon Douglas’s 1954 giant ant epic Them! Later, on re-watching, I found that, while in many ways as different as different can be, these favorites have some striking commonalities, placing the origin of their horrors in relation to threats internal and external. Us and Them! both involve people living their normal lives, who encounter incomprehensible and horrific threats which will potentially affect the entire world. Each begins with a little girl, about the same age, who is traumatized to the point of muteness by an uncanny event.

Them! has its climax in the 700 miles of storm sewer tunnels under Los Angeles. Us opens with mention of “thousands of miles of tunnels” under the United States, and the concluding confrontation takes place in one of these tunnels under Santa Cruz, California. In each case, the protagonists must venture into a hidden, interior space, an act with a built-in psychological symbolism. 

In Them!, there are authority figures who seem to have things under control, and are the focus of much of the action in fighting the ant invasion. But at the same time, scientists, working for the U.S. military, caused the problem in the first place, so the government is working heroically to solve a problem it created. By contrast, in Us , there are no authorities who can do anything to help. Faced with violent and inexplicable doppelgangers, the family calls 911 early on, and are told the police will be there in 14 minutes, but they never show up. Later, when they find the lines are busy, it’s clearly because there are “too many twins,” and their first call took place at the start of the larger event that will prevent them from getting help.

Among the recurring subjects of horror is the question of whether the threatening elements come from the outside, as an external intrusion, or inside, from the dark side of a person or their community. Many works that are particularly evocative complicate this question. For example in Halloween, Michael Myers seems like an external force of evil that randomly comes upon the teenage babysitters, but he originally sprang firmly from within a nuclear family, killing his sister in their own comfortable home. 

One fairly common way of looking at the insides and outsides of horror is through the lens of the “other.” In The Birth of the American Horror Film, Gary D. Rhodes defines this frequently discussed phenomenon as “any race or group of people who were different than healthy white Protestants. With notions of difference came those of white superiority.” Of these others, he says “They are not Us, and so perhaps They should be exhibited for Us to examine” (256, capitalization in the original). All of which raises the question of what’s “other,” in relation to what, and what is just plain old “us.” 

In opposition to “us,” the human race, the threat of “Them!” is a distinctly alien part of the natural world, all animal instinct with no human feeling or reason. Us, by contrast, is more psychologically oriented, and the complications of inside and outside form an intrinsic part of its premise.

It’s easy to look at Them! as the epitome of an Atom Age big bug movie, but despite the limited, non-realistic special effects, there is nothing campy or cheesy about it. Much of the film is a straight-forward procedural, first with a local investigation, then the FBI and the Department of Agriculture, all of which creates an environment of plausibility around the events. 

When the father-daughter team of scientists arrives, the elder Dr. Medford immediately starts talking about the atomic bomb. He acts as a prophetic voice throughout the film, with many excellent lines: “We may be witnesses to a biblical prophecy come true … the Beasts shall reign over the Earth,” and “we’ve only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.” 

This continues to what becomes a somber ending. With the immediate danger past, there is speculation about all the nuclear explosions that have taken place since the first one, which caused this terrible mutation. Dr. Medford says that “when man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world, and what we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.” 

The connection to the Atomic Age lies in more than the origin of the monstrous insects: when reporters catch wind that something’s going on, their question is “Has the Cold War gotten hot?” 

While killer ants are clearly a “Them!”, a threat that comes solidly from without, they also come symbolically from beneath (in this case, under the desert sand), formed from within the nation by the actions of its highest authorities. The veneer of reassuring resolution ultimately leaves open the possibility of related future nightmares. 

In Us, there’s an ambiguity about the identity of the others, who call themselves the Tethered, which has irritated some viewers but plays into the film’s themes. Many reviewers have referred to the sinister doppelgangers as clones, but there’s no real evidence for that, and much of the backstory wouldn’t make sense if they were. The character who explains things, Lupita Nyong’o’s Red, doesn’t really know what’s happening, or exactly how it works, but whatever the mechanics, somehow these shadow selves, dark reflections of living people, were given physical form. An abstraction familiar from Jungian psychology was somehow made corporeal, by what appears to be the government, “so they could use them to control the ones above. Like puppets.” 

This is reminiscent of the dead souls being enslaved in Phantasm, or the subplot from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, in which a shadowy government agency captures souls for use by the military, which then have to be controlled and pacified like troubled children. 

Arguably, from a psychological perspective, people can and do develop complicated relationships with parts of themselves that they ignore or reject, so the idea that they are “alienated” from themselves doesn’t sound odd to us at all, and this is part of what plays into the film’s themes. Even more, the existence of these others reflects everyone who loses so others can win, representing every form of underclass that suffers away from everyday notice. The conspiracy element illustrates how our unconscious impulses, and the darker sides of our nature, which are here literally unable to express themselves, can be used to manipulate behavior. This can be seen in advertising or political rhetoric that influences people in ways they’re unconscious of, particularly by appealing to their “dark” or shadow sides. 

In the film’s prologue, the events are set in motion when a little girl enters a “Vision Quest”-themed Hall of Mirrors, where the sign reads “Find Yourself.” She is inextricably drawn to her shadow self who, we eventually learn, captures her and takes her place in a version of the changeling myth. Here, though, the two remain connected, so that what happens to one affects the other, and the better things are for the above-ground persona, the worse they are for the underground one (part of what makes this some kind of shadow self and not a clone). 

But it isn’t that one is the “real” version, and the other a copy or a fake, or that one girl is innocent and the other is a villain. Neither deserves to be imprisoned, especially since they’re legitimately the same person, just somehow manifested into two, with the one kept hidden, unable to communicate, and the other unconscious of the other’s existence. They can be exchanged, and either can fill either role. In this reality, separate as they are, there is no “other.” There’s only us.

Given his obvious interest in exploring American race relations through the context of horror film, it doesn’t seem coincidental that Peele would use tropes of “otherness” in Us. In the study On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, author Stephen T. Asma discusses how “the myth of the black monster has had a prosperous career in the twentieth century” (233). He makes a lengthy exploration of the philosophies and psychology behind “the demonizing or monstering of other groups” (234), and ends up quoting a biologist who states that “Us-versus-them thinking comes very naturally to us” (239). 

With the likeable Wilsons as our focus for audience identification, the idea of African-Americans as demonized “others” is almost completely brushed aside. The film casually presents the Wilsons as the norm, the average nuclear family, who still identify with touchstones of black culture: in one detail, the nostalgic music from the parents’ youth is a hip-hop classic. But the remembrance of this racial history complicates the fact that the family itself, as successful Americans, is implicated in the suffering of a deeper, invisible underclass. They aren’t “others” because they’re “us,” the same as their richer, crasser white neighbors are, at the same time as those mirror image others exist as a part of themselves. 

Yeah, it’s twisty stuff. 

It’s too simplistic to treat these films, which were almost randomly selected, as singularly representative of their times. But on some level, they do seem to reflect changes in the way their themes are thought about. 

Them! has an archetypally sincere depiction of competent authority, that runs alongside a matter-of-fact view of military complicity in the crisis would be unusual in a contemporary film. By contrast, in something like 2018’s Rampage, the giant monsters are similarly created by science, but it’s motivated by the greed of over-the-top evil villains. 

The more cerebral storyline of Us feels very modern. In previous decades, science fiction on the page could be speculative and open-ended, but what appeared on the screen tended to be less ambiguous. The film’s basic situation could have come from an alien invasion film, or the original Twilight Zone, but it’s hard to imagine it becoming so focused on the complications of personal identity and responsibility. 

Early on in Us, daughter Zora talks about fluoride in the water, which, in a bit of foreshadowing, “the government uses to control our minds.” When her family responds with silence, she adds, “I forgot. Nobody cares about the end of the world.” At the film’s conclusion, Nygong’o’s character tells her son that “everything’s gonna be like it was before.” This promise is reminiscent of the theoretically conclusive ending of a more traditional kind of horror film, in which the heroes defeat the menace, as happens in Them! Unfortunately, the way it was before was a nightmare for the Tethered, and continuing on the same path would only spawn more monsters, just as continued nuclear testing could theoretically breed more terrifying mutants, however much we want to bury this knowledge in our unconscious minds.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

For the Love of C.H.U.D.

C.H.U.D. (1984)

There are several movies that, if I hear them mentioned, I can't help bursting out with my affection for them. I just can't let it go unsaid. The Gamera movies are like that, Carnival of Souls is like that, and, probably most amusingly, C.H.U.D. is like that. Any hint of its existence and I am guaranteed to exclaim "I love C.H.U.D.!" And why not? It's true. I do love C.H.U.D.

My history with the film is sort of roundabout. Even though I'm the correct vintage, I never saw it back in 1984. I was pretty poor in the '80s, so I missed a lot of movies in the theater, and then I didn't have a TV for years. Filling in the gaps in my movie watching, I picked it up, more or less randomly, at some DVD sale in the early 2000s. On the bus, I read the poster blurb about how "They're not staying down there, anymore" and said, "I could write an essay about this as a Reagan-era artifact and I HAVEN'T EVEN SEEN IT YET!"  Luckily, it turned out to be a good Reagan-era artifact in the vein of They Live, with a distinct critique of the government and the socioeconomic status quo, so I can enjoy that aspect along with its crazy monster effects.

The film has a peculiar relationship to the sociological studies of underground homeless communities in New York City. One of the most famous was the book The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York, by Jennifer Toth, although its inaccuracies in geography and information about the actual subway system have led many to question its validity. In particular, see the detailed essay "Fantasy in The Mole People" by subway expert Joseph Brennan. Another well-known example is the documentary Dark Days, directed by Marc Singer, a photographer who befriended various homeless New Yorkers and was welcomed into their world, just like the photographer played by John Heard in C.H.U.D. 

In the back of my mind, just based on the general knowledge, I vaguely assumed that C.H.U.D. had been inspired by some of these works. However, Toth's book came out in 1995, an expansion of reporting she did in 1990, and Singer's film wasn't released until 2000, based on material he gathered in the 1990s. Another photographer, Teun Voeten, did similar work in the early '90s, leading to a 2010 book called Tunnel People. Another documentary, Voices in the Tunnels, came out in 2008.

So C.H.U.D. predates all of these! 

According to the American Film Institute's information, the screenplay was partly inspired by a New York Times article from November 29, 1977. Written by Dena Kleiman, the headline reads "Hobo Colony Lives Mole‐Like in an Inferno of Pipes Under Park Avenue." The article calls it "a shelter from the street that offers space, privacy and sanctuary from harassment by authorities," and that the residents "prefer their freedom and privacy to the world of regulations and limitations on their movement." This ties in with attitudes displayed by various C.H.U.D. characters, who are similarly in retreat from a society that treats them with disdain and disrespect. This theme is, of course, reinforced by the presence of Daniel Stern's street reverend, who runs a soup kitchen and only reluctantly deals with the authorities. 

And they have good reasons not to trust those authorities, since while the homeless population is victimized by a society and an economy with no place for them, they are doubly harmed by the actions of greedy business interests, that dump toxic waste in the spaces they've retreated to. Financial greed and government corruption are directly complicit in what happens to the people underground, and responsible for those killed by the monsters they've been turned into. The only reason police officer Harry Bosch is trusted by anyone is because he actually lives in the neighborhood, and so has a personal stake in what's going on. 

Making use of the problems of unhoused people for a monster movie can be seen, fairly, as inherently exploitative. At least this film is sympathetic to the counter-cultural Reverend and his regulars, even when they're unwashed or mentally ill, and that isn't something one always sees in mainstream media.

Similarly, while one might wish that Heard's character, so kind to elderly street people, would be less of a jerk to his partner (Brazil's Kim Greist),  she also comes off in a positive light. A fashion model who's joined him in moving to a gritty inner city apartment, she has doubts about NYC's suitability as a place to raise a child, but she doesn't come off as uptight, or a nag, or any of the stereotypes so ubiquitous in films of the era: just as a person with legitimate concerns. She expresses both vulnerability and strength, whether she's facing monstrous creatures coming up from her basement, or the concern that, despite their commitment, she and Heard might not be compatible.

There's a lot of evocative nighttime alleyway photography, which in many ways is all I really want from a movie. This is aided by Martin Cooper and David Hughes' eerie synth score, which was mysteriously hard to find for a long time, but recently released by the good people at Waxwork Records.

C.H.U.D.'s always been a little under the radar; not forgotten, certainly, having a place in the '80s horror pantheon, but it's never gotten the attention of the slashers, or anything like The Lost Boys. That seems appropriate, somehow, for a movie that centers on a literal underground, and how the evils that befall a society's forgotten people will eventually bite everyone. Classic Reagan era!