C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. (1988) 0
Let’s turn back the clock for a moment to the summer of 1989. My brother and I are out at the now-extinct Blair’s Video down the street from our house, looking for a movie to rent. Both of us are avid fans of the original C.H.U.D., so when one of us notices the tape bearing the logo “C.H.U.D. II,” we snap it up without even bothering to read what’s on the back of the box. About half an hour later, we discover what a terrible mistake that was. Even back then, I was a pretty hardcore devotee of truly awful movies, and there haven’t been a whole lot of films that have defeated me over the years. C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. defeated me. In fact, to put it that way might even be to understate the case. Better to say that C.H.U.D. II slung me over its knee and spanked me like a little bitch. It was only about twenty minutes before I got up and hit the “eject” button on the VCR; my brother had wandered off to do something more enjoyable well before that. Neither one of us ever gave the slightest consideration to watching the rest of the movie, either. It’s been a long time since that day, however, and I’ve spent what is probably an inordinate percentage of that time toughening myself against the very worst that a filmmaker can dish out. Ed Cahn and Ted V. Mikels hold no terrors for me any longer. I’ve acquired a grudging admiration for Larry Buchanan, and have grown to love Al Adamson and Jesus Franco. I made it all the way through to the “MCMXCVI” at the end of Uncle Sam’s closing credits, survived all 100 minutes of Women in Cell Block 7, and went the full fifteen rounds against Zombie 3. In other words, the time has come at last for a rematch with Bud the C.H.U.D. Bring it on, fucker.
The movie begins in the worst cheap-ass sequel tradition, by telling us essentially that none of that stuff we saw (and presumably liked) in the last film actually happened. Colonel Masters of the US Army (Robert Vaughn, from Battle Beyond the Stars and Raptors) has just learned that his pet project, the C.H.U.D. program, has been cancelled. The idea here was to develop a chemical process to drastically enhance the strength, toughness, and overall military performance of the average enlisted man, but the high command has pulled the plug on the endeavor because of the side effects of the drugs— the C.H.U.D.-treated soldiers are nearly invulnerable shitkickers, alright, but they're also completely uncontrollable cannibals. This, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is not quite the same thing as having the homeless population of New York turn into man-eating monsters as the result of an EPA-NRC waste-disposal fuck-up. At present, there is but a single C.H.U.D. left, the former Private Bud Oliver (Gerrit Graham, of Child's Play 2 and The Phantom of the Paradise), and he is scheduled for destruction at the earliest opportunity. Our first look at Oliver introduces another way in which the filmmakers have abandoned whatever elements of C.H.U.D. might have made their audience want to come back for more. By the magic of the Incredible Shrinking Special Effects Budget, and despite what you might gather from the poster art, the beautifully hideous monsters of the preceding film have been replaced by pedestrian Romero-style zombies, whose only point of commonality with the original C.H.U.D. character design is their snaggly, putrid teeth. And as we are about to see, the new Bargain C.H.U.D.s are much harder to kill than their predecessors. Bud Oliver comes out from under the sedatives that have been keeping him placid between experiments and attacks his handlers. Bullets don’t harm him, and he’s much too strong to shoot up with more drugs unless he’s already restrained, so the only way Masters and his men can stop him is by freezing him solid with some sort of cryogenic foam that the C.H.U.D. project has developed expressly for that purpose. Masters then orders his underlings to ship the frozen Private Oliver away to a Centers for Disease Control facility in a small town on the other side of the country, where he might just evade the destruction decree long enough for the colonel to convince his bosses to reopen the program.
That small town, in case you couldn’t guess, is where the rest of this movie will take place. Among its inhabitants are a trio of teenagers by the names of Steve (Cellar Dweller’s Brian Robbins), Kevin (Bill Calvert), and Katie (Tricia Lee Fisher). All three are in the same high school science class, and all three are in attendance on the day when Steve lands himself and Kevin in detention by setting their biology experiment on fire. While serving out their detention sentence by cleaning up the science lab storeroom, the two boys stumble upon the cadaver their class is going to be working with the next day. (Yeah, like any high school in America would go through the expense and hassle of getting a fresh cadaver for its biology classes…) Through an extremely contrived slapstick mishap, Steve manages to knock the gurney carrying the cadaver out the loading dock at the back of the storeroom (yeah, like any high school in America has a dedicated loading dock for the science lab...), and thence down the steeply sloping road through the center of town. With the stiff irretrievably lost, Steve gets the big lightbulb to steal (excuse me— “borrow”) a replacement. Kevin’s contribution is to suggest a potential source for such a thing.
So do Kevin and Steve (with Katie driving the getaway car) procure their substitute corpse from the local mortuary? The hospital in the next town over? The Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky? No, of course not. They go to the Centers for Disease Control, at which they conveniently arrive after the frozen Bud Oliver has been brought in, but before the center’s staff have found a permanent place to store him. That means the last of the C.H.U.D.s ends up being the kids’ pick for the new science class cadaver. But before they bring Bud to the school, they’re going to need to unfreeze him, and what a good idea that is. Steve’s first guess is that something in his mother’s bubble bath, combined with the electrical sparks resulting from accidentally dropping her hair drier into the tub with the thawing C.H.U.D., is responsible for bringing the dead “man” back to life. He and Kevin lock Private Oliver in the basement, and rush off to the local greasy spoon to meet with Katie to discuss their amazing discovery. Meanwhile, Bud gets loose, and starts working his way through the neighborhood, spreading C.H.U.D.-ism as he goes. And meanwhile, Colonel Masters is comparing notes with the CDC’s security staff in an effort to determine exactly who it was that ran off with his pet zombie.
The shit hits the fan the next morning. Colonel Masters comes calling at Steve’s house, and informs his parents that he, Kevin, and Katie are in a tremendous amount of highly classified trouble. Bud the C.H.U.D. creates an entire C.H.U.D. army consisting of virtually every adult in town. The military snaps up our heroes and takes them to the CDC for interrogation. And as if all that weren’t enough, it’s Halloween and there’s a dance at the high school!
Alright, would somebody please explain to me what the deal is with making ostensibly comic sequels to dead-serious horror movies? Leaving aside the point that I can think of only one that was in any way funny (The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn), I find the entire concept completely baffling. Think about it. Let’s say your studio has made a movie that brought in a fair amount of cash— enough, anyway, that a sequel seems like a pretty good risk. No matter what genre the film in question was in, I would think you’d want to make sure the sequel preserved as much of the feel of the original as possible. Butts in the theater seats, after all, are the key to your success, and a sequel can generally count on a nearly guaranteed built-in fan base. Why alienate that base by making a sequel that has nothing to do with its predecessor, and in fact strives for exactly the opposite emotional charge? This kind of thing rarely happens in other genres. You’ll never see a sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation in which the Griswold kids go to summer camp and get carved up by a pathological killer— at least not one that plays the murders straight! Nor is there ever going to be a sequel to The Piano set in outer space and revolving around a gang of escapees from a brutal prison planet, or a sequel to 8 Mile in which the MC battles have been replaced by full-on Broadway-style musical numbers. And yet the makers of horror movies have been cranking out comedy sequels off and on ever since 1916, when Paul Wegener followed up Monster of Fate with The Golem and the Chorus Girl.
Turning more specifically to C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D., it looks like what happened here is that somebody saw The Return of the Living Dead, Part II and said, “Damn! Why didn't we think of that?” It exhibits the same predilection for oafish slapstick and short shelf-life satire as that film, but does so with even less competence. For example, not only is there a brief parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, two of the C.H.U.D.s actually start into the “tastes great vs. less filling” argument from the contemporary Bud Light commercials before walking into a bar to attack its patrons. Was it not sufficiently obvious that that joke would already be played out by the time this movie saw release?! And don’t even get me started on the “funny” theme song, which plays repeatedly throughout the film, usually in such a way that the actions of the characters are choreographed to its simple, repetitive beat. As bad as the rest of the generic 80’s-pop soundtrack (most of it provided by a way-past-their-prime Wall of Voodoo) is, none of it comes close to matching the butt-rock misery of the eponymous “Bud the C.H.U.D.” In the face of this movie, there’s nothing that those of us who enjoyed the first C.H.U.D. can do except direct a little prayer of thanks to whatever gods there may be for the minor mercy that no C.H.U.D. III was ever contemplated.