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Bonus Reviews: Space Sweepers, The Birds, and C.H.U.D.
Horror BUlletin Bonus Reviews #156
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at THREE fun films: “The Birds,” Hitchcock’s eco-thriller from 1963, “C.H.U.D.” from 1984 (You remember what that stands for, right?) and the totally not-horror-but-fun film, “Space Sweepers” from 2020.
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2020 Space Sweepers
• Directed by Sung-hee Jo
• Written by Sung-hee Jo
• Stars Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu
• Run Time: 2 Hours, 16 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a big, epic space adventure. Full of action, humor and violence. Don’t overthink the science or the physics. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
In 2092, the Earth is a dying mess, so the UTS Corporation has built an orbiting home for humanity. Only a chosen few can ascend to the utopia.
Tae-Ho goes to the lost and found and trades his gravity boots. He looks at a dead child in a drawer— one of the bodies found in orbit. It isn’t who he’s looking for. He then hops on a space elevator and goes up.
James Sullivan is 152 years old, the oldest living man, and the founder of UTS. He looks like a man in his 40s. He’s been working on establishing a Mars colony. They discuss all the space debris that is in orbit causing trouble.
There are ships devoted to cleaning up the space debris. The Victory is one of these, and we quickly get to meet the crew. Captain Hang is in charge, Tiger Park is the engineer, and there’s a quirky robot, Tae-ho is at the helm. They compete with other ships for the rich prizes.
They head to the UTS waste management satellite. Tae-ho needs to make more cash to keep funding his search for her. There’s a news report about a missing android that looks like a child but is really a devastating weapon of mass destruction.
They go out to examine the last piece of space wreckage they salvaged and find a child inside one of the storage compartments. It’s not just any child, it’s Dorothy, the android from the TV report. She reminds Tae-ho of his missing little girl.
They’re all terrified of the nuclear bomb-child, and she chases them around the ship. She’s just playing, but they’re afraid of her. She’s more than just a bomb; she brings a dead tree back to life. Tae-ho thinks they can sell the child instead of simply returning her to the police. They call the phone she had with her, and the voice on the other end offers two million. They don’t know it, but the voice on the other end is Sullivan. We see that Sullivan has some kind of strange medical condition.
They go to make the trade, but Dorothy wanders off in the middle of the transaction. There’s a battle, but our guys get away with the child. Unfortunately, the bank impounds their ship.
The robot tells Dorothy the story of Tae-Ho’s child, Su-Ni. It destroyed his career in the military. He eventually lost her when the space station was hit by debris. He couldn’t afford the search and rescue service, so he’s still looking for her out there.
The guys soon figure out that Dorothy isn’t a robot; she’s human. Dorothy had a terminal illness, until Dr. Kang injected her with nanobots. The nanobots started talking to other nanobots outside her body. That’s how she revived the dead tree. Maybe she can bring life back to Earth. Sullivan wants to make her disappear. Because the nanobots inside her are so tough, the process of killing Dorothy will pretty much kill what’s left of Earth and the population still living there. As well as most of the workers in orbit. Just the utopia will remain, ready to rebuild on Mars where Sullivan will be a king.
There’s another bunch of robot-goons that come for Dorothy, but the Victory launches and gets away thanks to Dorothy’s nanobots. Once again, they try to get Dorothy back to Dr. Kang. They hand over the girl but soon notice that it’s a trap: an EMP disables the ship. Soldiers break in and kill Kang and his team, but leave the Victory crew and Dorothy alive.
Sullivan struts in to brag. He admits to the plan they had guessed at anyway. He offers Tae-ho Four million for Dorothy. He orders his people to make them watch the death of Earth before they finally execute them.
Tae-ho takes his money to go find his daughter, but Captain Hang and Tiger are going to try to rescue Dorothy. He has a change of heart and goes with them. This leads to another space battle.
They fly inside The Factory, which has a huge bomb at the center. When the bomb goes off, Dorothy will be killed and The Factory will crash into the Earth, destroying it. They find Dorothy without much issue, but they need to stop the bomb.
Jang discovers that the bomb is unstoppable. Maybe they can fly Dorothy away fast enough that the explosion shock wave won’t hurt her nanobots. If her nanobots go, the illness that was killing her will come back. Tiger Park does battle with a cyborg and adds another hand to his collection.
They call the people on The Factory and in orbit and tell them what’s up. They all come to fight. They transmit Sullivan’s gloating to everyone, including the utopia people who are horrified at the plan they weren’t aware of. So he’s pretty much finished. But wait, Sullivan’s in the little fighter ship right behind them.
It was all a trick; they sent Dorothy with Pierre, and they took the bomb with them. It detonates, killing the crew of the Victory and Sullivan. The Factory, Earth, and Dorothy are all fine.
No, wait— there were nanobots that saved the Victory. The good guys are all fine. Dorothy and her magic nanobots let Tae-ho talk to Su-Ni one last time. Now they’re all one big happy family of space junk collectors.
The scenes with spaceships and space stations look great. Actually, all the visuals and sets are excellent. This is really good-looking. We watched the dubbed version, and the conversations get a little hard to follow in places, but it’s doable.
It’s clearly heavily influenced by Cowboy Bebop. The four main characters from Bebop map onto the crew of the Victory perfectly (not counting the robot). It’s like they wanted to do that story but couldn’t get the rights, so they did this instead with a lot of the same ideas. It’s got a lot of juvenile slapstick humor, but also some really seriously violent scenes as well, so it’s not a kids film.
There’s a lot of world building and backstory here, almost as if this was developed from some existing universe, say a manga or something, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
It’s a fun movie, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it. There’s Earth-sized plot holes here. The deus-ex machina at the end really devalues the whole thing.
Still, it’s really well done and looks fantastic. It might be a little violent for kids, but otherwise, I did like it.
The Birds (1963)
• Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
• Written by Daphne Du Maurier, Evan hunter
• Stars Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 59 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
There are interesting characters that you grow to care about as the strange behavior of birds are at first a minor curiosity in the background. Then with a slow build, the horror of the birds becomes the dominating focus of the movie. Some of the special effects using back screens are pretty obvious, but the birds are all practical effects of course - this was way before CGI. It still manages to be disturbing and unsettling after all these years knowing that it’s far fetched this could ever really happen. But it could.
Melanie Daniels walks through the streets of San Francisco and stops into a pet store, passing Alfred Hitchcock on the way out. She’s come to pick up her myna bird, but it’s not ready yet. Mitch Brenner comes into the store and thinks Melanie works there; he wants to buy lovebirds for his eleven-year-old sister. She likes him, so she plays along. Turns out, he knew who she was all along, and this was all a game for him. He recognized her from court, when she was accused of some kind of prank gone wrong. She gets a friend at the newspaper to look up his license plate and gets his address. She orders a pair of lovebirds, and it’s clear that she has a new prank in mind for Mitch…
She delivers the birds to Mitch’s apartment, but the neighbor says he’s up north at Bodega Bay for the whole weekend. She decides to drive like a maniac all the way up there to deliver the pair of birds to him. She checks in at the post office to find out his address. There’s only one road to their house on the other side of the bay, so she decides to take a boat instead. She drives to the schoolyard to ask about Mitch’s little sister’s name. The teacher, Ms. Hayworth tells her, and she seems a little jealous. Melanie continues to the house in her little motorboat.
She arrives undetected and goes right into the house. She drops off the birdcage and heads back to her boat. Mitch comes home, finds the birds, and gets in his car to meet Melanie on the other side of the lake. Before she gets there, a seagull bites her in the head. Mitch takes her to the nearby restaurant to patch up her bleeding. They meet Mitch’s mother, Lydia.
Melanie rents a room from Annie Hayworth, and they both notice all the migrating seagulls. So many of them! She goes to dinner at Mitch’s and overhears Mitch’s mother complaining that the chickens won’t eat their feed any more. The man on the phone says there seems to be something going on with all the chickens in town. Are they getting sick?
Mitch’s mother doesn’t approve of Melanie’s “modern” lifestyle, but Mitch does. They have a nice evening, and then Melanie goes back to Annie’s house. Annie explains that she used to have a thing with Mitch, but then nasty old Lydia ran her off. Annie is both rooting for Melanie and Mitch and jealous as well. A bird crashes into the door and dies.
The next morning, everyone is at Cathy’s birthday party. Melanie explains that she’s trying to reform from her wanton earlier days and trying to become more responsible. Suddenly, the birds start attacking the children at the party, so they all hide inside. That ain’t normal! That night, the lovebirds go berserk, and hundreds of birds come down the chimney, right into the house.
The next morning, Lydia goes over to a neighbor’s farm. They don’t answer the door, so she goes inside and finds the place a mess, just like her own house was last night. Then she finds the bodies with their eyes pecked right out. Lydia worries about Cathy at school, “They have such big windows there.” Melanie and Lydia bond a little bit over the trauma.
Melanie tells Lydia that she’ll go pick up Cathy from school. They’re almost done, so she waits outside and watches the birds massing nearby. She warns Annie inside, who tells the children where to run to. They lead the children outside, and the aerial bombardment begins with screeching birds and screaming children everywhere.
Melanie ends up in the restaurant and calls her father at the newspaper. The locals overhear the call, and they all discuss the attack. The old drunk yells, “it's the end of the world!” There’s a long discussion about the nature of birds and the nature of… nature. There are billions and billions of birds in the world, and the tension and suspense builds heavily as the locals all contribute to the hysteria.
They watch through the windows as some birds attack a guy at the gas station. The gas spills everywhere and soon there’s a big explosion. Soon, the whole town is under attack.
They return to the school and find Annie’s body, killed by the birds, but Cathy is hiding inside, still healthy. They get into Melanie’s convertible and drive away. They all head to Mitch’s house and board up all the windows and barricade the doors. They hear about the bird attacks on the radio, and it sounds fairly localized. There’s a long, quiet period where they all just… wait.
Then they attack. They start to peck through the door and somehow still manage to break the windows. There’s lots of screaming and terror and then, the birds leave. Everyone goes to sleep, but during the night, Melanie hears flapping upstairs. She goes to investigate and finds that they’ve come in through a hole in the roof. There’s lots of flailing and biting as she tries to get the door back open to get out. She makes enough noise that Mitch eventually comes and rescues her, but she’s in pretty bad shape.
Mitch decides they need to leave town, but he has to walk through a million birds to get to the car. He does it, but then the whole group has to walk through the flock to get to the car, and Melanie is clearly traumatized by it all. They get in the car and drive off to whatever the rest of the world looks like.
It’s a fairly bland and generic romance film for most of the first hour, with only a few shots of excessively-congregating birds here and there as we get to know the characters. Even after the weirdness starts, there’s a lot of interpersonal tension and angst.
Oddly, there’s no musical score in this film. There’s never any explanation for any of this, which just makes it more mysterious.
Some of the green-screen effects don’t hold up very well. There were literally thousands of real trained birds here, no CGI at all. The acting, especially the terrified women, is really good. They really look afraid and hysterical after the attacks.
I don’t know; unlike a zombie apocalypse, this would be awful but wouldn’t be quite as civilization ending. After the first couple of days, I can’t imagine how humans couldn’t fight back against a bunch of simple birds, no matter how many of them there are. Just wearing a hardhat and safety glasses would protect against most of it. Board up the windows, carry around tennis racquets, and get a lot more cats.
Again, the special effects are dated, but the overall tone of the film holds up pretty well. If you didn’t like birds before the film, you’ll like them less after.
• Directed by Douglas Cheek
• Written by Parnell Hall, Shepherd Abbott
• Stars John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 28 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This one holds up pretty well. Conspiracy theories and creepy settings, monsters and gore. The acting is consistently good. The creatures do look a little rubbery when seen clearly, but overall, it’s an entertaining flick. Serious and not at all funny like you might expect.
A woman walks her dog down the urban street. As she passes a manhole, something reaches out and pulls her in. The doggie too. Credits roll.
The next morning, we see a street sweeper pass by the same location by her lost shoe. We see lots and lots of homeless people roaming the area. George Cooper takes photos of all the weird people outside. He’s doing a story on “subterranean bums.” Lauren is his girlfriend, and she has to go into the basement storage for her jewelry. She hears something scratching at the plate on the basement floor.
Captain Bosch at the police station is buried in missing-persons cases. He calls the Chief and tells him he’s “not gonna be able to keep a lid on it anymore.” Bosch talks to AJ Shepherd, a guy who runs the local homeless shelter and who reported a missing person. He says several of his people have gone missing, and they all lived in the sewers. Most of his “underground people” have gone missing.
Cooper goes to the police station to bail out someone he’d been working with. Bosch has one of his guys follow them as they leave. The cop stops following when they go from the subway into the sewers beneath. They wind up in a big area way down underneath everything, populated by homeless people. He meets Victor, who wants a gun to shoot the “ugly ones.”
Bosch admits to AJ that other people, not just homeless, have gone missing recently. Bosch’s wife has disappeared; she was the one in the pre-credit sequence. AJ identifies Mrs. Cooper, Victor, and Hugo, the three people we just saw talking to Cooper. AJ then asks Bosch about the EPA probe in the sewers. Usually, their inspection goes on for a week, but this year it’s already been going on for four weeks; they deny the whole thing. AJ leads Bosch into the sewers. AJ has found radiation suits and geiger counters down there.
Cooper gets home to find that Lauren is pregnant. A man in a phone booth is attacked by a thing with glowing bug-eyes and huge claws. A reporter named Murphy confronts Cooper about his ties to the homeless. Bosch and AJ steal Cooper’s photos of Victor’s leg.
Bosch threatens the Chief with exposing the EPA cover-up. They have a meeting with the NRC representatives. Bosch and AJ show what they’ve found, but once they start talking about the monster, the discussion is over. Wilson, the NRC guy, finally comes clean that they’ve been moving nuclear waste through the city, and that’s what the geiger counter was there for. Bosch finds the NRC guy has a folder labeled C.H.U.D. Wilson says it stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller,” and they just found him dead.
The bigwigs put on radiation suits and look at the body they found. Wilson says it was a freak accident, and there couldn’t be any more of the creatures down there. Wilson and Bosch watch the monitors as a group of men armed with flame throwers go down into the sewers and soon die. Wilson wants to try gas next… maybe. Bosch thinks that’ll just drive the creatures up to the street.
Bosch updates AJ on what he’s seen. Cooper and Murphy want to talk to Bosch and get the photos back. AJ ends up getting locked in the sewers by Wilson’s goon. Cooper watches Murphy get dragged off by a CHUD. AJ watches as a group of CHUDs come out to feed.
Back at home, Lauren hears noises in the basement and goes down into the sub-cellar to check it out. She finds Bosch’s wife’s dog hanging down there. Bosch finds his wife’s head, but not the rest of her. CHUDs break into a diner and kill everyone inside, including a pair of cops.
Cooper finds Victor, who has halfway changed into a CHUD and shoots him with Murphy’s gun. Cooper and AJ meet up and try to get out of the sewers, but they find a bunch of packages marked “CHUD: Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal.” They’ve been dumping hazardous waste down there in the sewers for years. They call Bosch on the radio, and he tells them the way out.
Lauren barricades herself into her apartment as a CHUD tries to get in the front door. She manages to behead one of them with a sword. She gets out and drives to where everyone else is.
WIlson and Bosch argue. AJ and Cooper can’t get out of the sewer until Bosch moves the truck from sitting atop it. Wilson shoots Bosch in the back to keep him quiet, but Cooper and AJ get away. Wilson tries to run them down, but AJ shoots him. Cooper and Lauren get together, and AJ is now a hero. We don’t see anything happen to the CHUDs.
There’s a lot of paranoid conspiracy-theory stuff going on here that still mostly holds up today. The sewers and areas beneath the city look cool and are a great setting for the story. With a name like “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller,” you’d expect it to be funnier, but it’s all done fairly straight. I suspect the silly name is part of what kept this from being a more successful film.
The acting is mostly good, the sets are great, the creatures are ridiculous, but the real draw here is the coverup and politics behind it all. What exactly is a CHUD, anyway?
I liked this one a lot when it came out, and surprisingly, I still do.
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