C.H.U.D., The Goonies, The Man With Two Brains, and The Right Stuff VHS tapes
Us opens in 1986, giving a glimpse into the life of young Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) as she sits in her family's living room watching TV. As the stage is set, the audience is given a quick look at the VHS tapes on the surrounding shelves. If you think these are just random props with no real meaning to the overall story Jordan Peele is telling, you've got another thing coming.
Featured in this tiny videotape collection are some seemingly unrelated titles: The Man With Two Brains, C.H.U.D., The Goonies, and The Right Stuff. There are elements within each of these flicks that help to inform the emotional and aesthetic ethos of Us. With "The Tethered" living in the subterranean tunnels that exist just beneath unsuspecting Americans everywhere, it's easy to see the inspiration taken from the 1984 cult horror film C.H.U.D. -- a title which literally stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.
The Goonies, which came out in 1985, is referenced multiple times in the film -- we'll touch on its second shout-out a bit later -- and the presence of the VHS here has a similar theme to that of C.H.U.D., minus the cannibals. In the opening text that appears on-screen before Us's title card, Peele references the many mysterious tunnels that exist under America. There's an exploratory fascination in that excerpt that echoes throughout Richard Donner's Goonies. Searching for treasure and running from criminals, Mikey (Sean Astin), Mouth (Corey Feldman), Data (Jonathan Ke Quan), and the rest of the crew had quite the adventure, but thankfully never had to do battle with their evil twins.
Steve Martin's bumbling, yet talented brain surgeon in The Man With Two Brains falls in love with another woman's brain, and while the 1983 comedy relies heavily on campiness to get its story across, the notion of a man having emotional ties to someone else's organ -- one that is literally untethered from the body it belongs to -- acts as a proverbial flipside to the coin Peele examines in Us. In his movie, an underworld of doppelgangers exist, each one of them sharing one soul with their above-ground counterparts.
The Right Stuff, perhaps the most subversive inclusion here, follows the inception of NASA to the heydey of the space race. As the Us story begins in 1986, it's interesting to think of the moment when America sent schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, along with a crew of seven, up into space, which ultimately ended in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. By the mid-'80s, America's collective fascination in expanding our physical and intellectual reach beyond the stars horrifically crashed and burned, leaving a big chunk of the American dream in ruins.