Cult Culture: C.H.U.D.

Well, it was a beautiful weekend. Finally, winter has broken! Sunny days, warmer weather, women running down the street with ripped blouses, screaming for help. I had no choice but to draw my curtains, put on my Doctor Who screensaver, open up the first of ten Celebration Ales and throw C.H.U.D. into the machine. Roll tape! Uh… DiscCannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. That’s right. C.H.U.D. is the 1984 weird horror flick from director Douglas Cheek and screenwriter Parnell Hall (who writes crossword books). Uh…they’re a…uh…master team with…

Starring such Hollywood luminaries as Daniel Stern (Raaahhh!) and John Heard (Wooo!), you just can’t go wrong. Right? Oh my God!

An outcast photojournalist, a tough cop with a heart of gold and a crazed man of the streets who wants to help the unfortunate find themselves investigating a string of brutal, gruesome murders that seem to be centered on the New York City sewer system. What could be wrong? Could an evil corporate empire be dumping vast amounts of toxic waste in the sewers, thereby polluting the tunnel-people population and turning them into green, slimy, mindless cannibals bent on the rape and destruction of scantily clad pregnant women?

Maybe. Maybe…

Don’t get me wrong. C.H.U.D. is the poor man’s Repo Man. It’s mid-80’s social commentary that tackles such things as the injustice of Reaganomics, the cruelty of the urban machine in the years before New York’s great clean-up, and how the upper and middle classes treat the poor. It’s a cry against corporate corruption and abuse.

C.H.U.D. is also a great tale of The Film’s Journey. Salvaged from the junk heap at Random House and flushed down the drain to Bonime Associates, the screenplay was presented without “coverage” (the cold-hearted synopsis written by an intern which is the only thing a production company actually looks at) and sloppily written. It was on the trash heap from day one. But then some clever young man realized that it was ripped from the headlines stuff – subterranean dwellers, things in the sewers that eat you, corporate corruption. It was like Tuesday morning at the Times office. The man who gave C.H.U.D. a second chance was Andrew Bonime, whose various production companies over the last 30 years have successfully produced…well, C.H.U.D. You can read about his wife’s recipes at (cough).

So how did Bonime go about fixing the script? We’ll use his own words, because they’re both comical and full of shit:

“As a producer, I had always tried to work very closely with writers. I was always in awe of their ability to face the blank page (or “screen”, today) and to write words that paint the pictures and characters that make a movie. I consider it my job to be the inspirational and directional force that gets writers to dig down deep and deliver their best possible work – in much the same manner as a director does with actors.”

Hot interpretation: He took Shepard Abbott’s script, paid him off and hired screenwriter Parnell Hall to make it readable. That’s the way it works, but Bonime’s defense about taking this action goes on for about a page and repeats his love for the writer at the beginning and end of each paragraph. Really, buddy, we know. We all know the truth.

With the script tied up, Bonime and crew had to con themselves a million dollar budget from their “Wall Street friends.” God, I love the 80’s. And all that “I love the writer” bullshit paid off because it later turned out that Shepard Abbot was good friends with John Heard and Daniel Stern. Back then, Stern had somehow managed to be a serious actor. He’d just come off of Blue Thunder, which is the movie that inspired the far superior TV series Airwolf. He’d also been in the landmark, breakaway indie film Diner (which had helped put indie films back on the map after the 30 year holocaust started by John Wayne and other anti-communists in Hollywood).

Filmed on location in New York City, urban adventurers keep an eye peeled – many of the underground scenes were shot in the long-since sealed vaults beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Rumor has it you can still find your way down there. Another easy way to save money, besides illegal filming in abandoned bridge vaults, is to never show the creatures in full light. Oh, you get hints here and there, and some final over the top shots but, for the first hour, it’s a…hand in the shadows! Glowing eyes! Monster POV!

So the underground bums versus corporate America, evil cops, and all of us. Fight, fight for the home team! Will justice be served? Yes. Will the noble heroes sacrifice themselves for the greater good? Yes (but I’m sure they’ll be okay). Does evil lose and good triumph? No, because an unauthorized sequel was made in 89 and Andrew Bonime has become strangely obsessed with a 16 year long project to make “C.H.U.D. for Los Angeles”. Hmmm…

Either way, we get blood-splattered naked women, shower room freak outs, tiny dogs hung and skinned, toxic waste, explosive gas, lousy acting, rotting bodies, and cannibalism. Rock on, New York!

Watch out for: Porn star Kelly Nichols, diner massacre, dead sewer people, half-eaten faces, the hands of a gov’ment man.

The DVD is worth it for the commentary track. Cheek, Abbott, Heard, Stern and unknown Christopher Curry all do a great job at looking back on the making of the film. In fact, just watch the commentary and then return this one to the video store, kids.

Nacho’s Celebration Ale Rating: “No! I’m not going to blow up the whole city! Just a little part of Soho…”


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