“We don’t have to listen to the lunatic ravings of this deranged hippy!” Or at least that’s what the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency proclaims when confronted with the evidence of C.H.U.D.s stalking the homeless in the sewers of New York City. But this being another “message” monster movie, you can bet your sweet bippy that you should always listen to the deranged hippy, especially if he’s committed enough to his cause to run his own private one-man soup kitchen. But if you just absolutely don’t want to listen to the hippy, then at least lend an ear to his pal, the impassioned photographer who exhibits images of the homeless in order to raise awareness. And if you can’t bear to listen to him either, then maybe you’ll pay attention to their friend, the only cop who gives a damn in all of the Big Apple. Of course, the cop only started caring about all of the missing street people after a C.H.U.D. ate his wife and dog, but still, let’s give credit where credit is due.
That’s right, unlike your standard “message” monster movie, C.H.U.D. gives you not just one, or even two, but three, count’em three, crusaders for your viewing pleasure! Okay, four of you count the earnest journalist, but he’s eaten by C.H.U.D.s pretty quick, so I think we can safely leave him out. But even with only three guys running around crying out for justice, that’s a heckuva lot of screen time given over to pontificating talking heads. And that’s usually the main criticism you’ll find leveled at C.H.U.D., not that it’s bad, but just that it could use a bit more, well… C.H.U.D.
But other than that, C.H.U.D. is a pretty nifty piece of B-movie making. The acting is above average for this sort of thing (Daniel Stern actually makes for a pretty good deranged hippy when all is said and done), the look of the film is slick and polished (NYC is perfectly portrayed in all its pre-cleanup grimy glory), and the C.H.U.D.s, during the few times they actually show their twisted slime-covered faces, are fairly decent rubber suit creations (okay, so a monster with glowing eyes would be functionally blind, but who cares, they still look cool). And you know what, at the end of the day, the “message” that the homeless are not something we should ignore isn’t really all that bad of one to have to listen to.
In fact, it’s pretty much the same message we get in this week’s first reading from the book of Isaiah, “Thus says the LORD: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” That’s about as fairly a straight forward Old Testament declaration of the corporal works of mercy, which the Catechism tells us “consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.”, as you’re going to find. Reflecting on a similar passage in James 2:14-17, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted considers the practical importance of engaging in such activities. “At some periods in history, the corporal works of mercy have been seen as less important than the spiritual ones because they focus primarily on our material and physical needs, as opposed to those that are spiritual. It is obvious that St. Matthew and St. James would strongly argue against this exclusion of material needs. In fact, the bodily needs of others are perceived more readily than the spiritual. Any loving response to persons with these needs will inevitably lead to a concern for the whole person and to the practice of spiritual works of mercy as well.” And as the reading from Isaiah states, there are some blessings to be gained from engaging in service to others: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
But if there are spiritual benefits to be gained from carrying out the corporal works of mercy, doesn’t this kind of imply there might be personal consequences to not performing them? Well, according to C.H.U.D. there is! And even though we can probably rule out the possibility of man-eating radioactive mutants as a repercussion (at least 98 to 99 percent of the time anyway), the movie is correct. As Bishop Jorge Luis Lona notes, “The rejection of God is not only conveyed by our evil actions, but also by sins of omission, which always suppress the good works we were called to do. What counts are the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. It’s not only giving; it’s giving of ourselves. Giving for the good of the body and soul of one who is in need.” So while it’s true we can never work our way into Heaven (calm down, protestants), by ignoring the corporal works of mercy, it’s quite possible we could be earning ourselves a spot in the other place.