Andrew Bonime

If you've heard the commentary on Anchor Bay's DVD release of "C.H.U.D." (1984) from a few years ago, you no doubt heard the accusations leveled at the film's producer Andrew Bonime. After hearing the track, he started his own website in order to get out his side of the story. Read on to find out about his original vision for the film, tension between himself and Daniel Stern, and what the original "CHUDS" were supposed to look like.

The director's cut which was contractually given to Doug was awful.

On your site you go into detail about the long writing process of "C.H.U.D."... did you ever think about just picking it up and finishing it yourself? Have you ever had any aspirations to write?
No. Writing is a very scary proposition for me. I work with great writers (mostly), or writers who have the capability to be great, but who need to have their talent unlocked. I generally come up with the idea, work out the characters, including backstory, set the tone, develop the theme, and hammer out the details. Sometimes, I'll even come up with a line or two. But then I send the writer home to face the blank screen. That is lonely work. I once wrote a book (non fiction) called "Writing for New Media" and it was like having homework every night for a year.
Douglas Cheek and Chris Curry were hired as a stipulation to getting John Heard and Daniel Stern... now that it's all said and done, do you think the film would have worked without them?
Absolutely. I'm a big fan of material. If the story is good, all you need is a talented bunch of people to put it over. But it's all a matter of what you mean when you ask would it have "worked" without them. It would have worked, but it might not have sold as well. Signing known talent tells the distribution machinery that you're serious and that this is a film they should take a look at. It's like when the Salkinds paid Marlon Brando several million dollars for a few days work on the original "Superman". They didn't NEED Brando for that part. But by having him and paying him so much, they were telling the distribs that they were serious about making a quality film.


But in all honesty (that's what you want, right?) the FILM would have been better if we had actors who stuck to the script. The changes forced on us by Danny Stern and his acquiescent director made the film less intelligible and, in some places, incomprehensible. Parnell Hall is the real talent. He took a germ of an idea from the original writer and made it into a compelling mystery/action/adventure piece. Very little of this remains on the screen, however.
Who's your favorite character in CHUD?
This will surprise you: I think that Danny Stern created a quite interesting character (the Reverend, or "A.J") who gives the film an energy that it might not have had without him. He IS fun to watch. He was hell to work with, however. He used to show up on the set and give new script pages to everybody without consulting with me. The real problem was that he rarely understood how a changed line of dialogue on page 22 affects a plot payoff on page 78. There were two minor characters who gave terrific performances: The character of Val (Graham Beckel), the maniac who goes into a rant from Revelations in the Bible at the soup kitchen was so scary, I jumped back several feet when he did the take.

Also, George Martin, the evil NRC commissioner kind of made me laugh. We have loads of outtakes where he choked on the line "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers." George is a fine stage actor and he had trouble getting out those words. It reminds me a little of John Gielgud in Arthur. Jack Rollins, one of that film's producers, told me that Gielgud never got the humor and didn't realize he was being funny. Similarly, George didn't get the campiness of the line and had a lot of trouble saying it with a straight face

You went through many, more complicated CHUD designs before the final look was reached... are you happy with the way the creatures looked in the end? Is there anything you would have changed?
No! They suck! But it isn't the fault of anyone. Especially John Caglione who did the creatures. Oddly enough it wasn't the budget. It was a simple matter of time. If time precludes cable work or hydraulics (remember this was way before CG became feasible in a reasonably budgeted film), what you're left with is foam latex. I had amazing designs you can see at (www.chudfacts.com) but we couldn't execute them in the time we had. I plead guilty to the neck extension/sword cut off scene. I took a lot of hits for that, but I felt that by that time in the film, we had seen so many of the creatures that we needed to up the ante. We needed to have them do something we hadn't seen yet, so we bet the farm on that. It does look cheesy, though.

One thing I'd like to say at this point is about the budget. I had originally envisioned the film as being in the league of Alien. I had it budgeted at a similar scale. I spent four years trying to raise that money and failed. So when my financial partner said to me "What is the rock bottom budget for this film?" I said $1.6 million. That's what we had to make it with. It was only in that budget that it took on the campy quality it ended up with.

How much were you involved in the editing process of the film?
In the end, not much. Readers must understand what goes on from shooting to release. Many fingers leave prints on the film. The director's cut which was contractually given to Doug was awful. Despite the fact that Claire Simpson cut this version (Claire won an Academy Award the next year for "Platoon"), it lacked any real scares and telegraphed the approach of the creatures so that they just weren't scary. I took over the film and put together the version we used to sell the film all over the world.

But New World did some test screenings and edited the film according to audience response. This is where the middle got transferred to the end and vice versa. In my opinion, this is where the most damage was done. At one of the early screenings, when Kim Greist is shouting out the window "Help me!" Someone in the audience shouted "Call the Ghostbusters!" because that film had just come out. New World heard the audience laugh at that and so they recorded someone doing that line and put it in the film. When the DVD came out, somebody (I don't know who) got ahold of one of my early versions and that's why it has most of the scenes in the right order.

What do you mean when you say the "middle got transferred to the end"?
There are so many versions around, it's hard for me to refer to any particular one. But essentially, we had the C.H.U.D.s attacking the diner (the scene with John Goodman and Jay Thomas) somewhere near the middle of the film. It needs to be there for dramatic rhythm. If it isn't there, the middle falls flat. We had ended with Danny Stern firing at the truck which then blows up causing the underground to explode and (presumably) killing all the C.H.U.D.s. New World took the diner attack out of the middle and put it at the end. They then put in their own gratuitous ending with a V.O. announcer saying something on the track indicating that "it's a brand new day" or some such nonsense like that.

Also, the Flora Bosch head and other little scenes that you see cut in one version and put back in another are all the result of New World's tampering. If you listen to the commentary track, Doug talks about how I removed the part of the John Heard/Kim Greist scene where she tells him she's pregnant. They all are surprised that in the DVD version that scene is intact. I did not take it out. New World did, but Anchor Bay's version is as close to mine as any out there.

Kim had signed a nudity release, but by the time we got to the shot, she chickened out.

Can you share with us your motivation for starting a website and attempting to tell your side of the CHUD story?
When Anchor Bay was doing the DVD, I called them and offered to do the commentary track. I had not intended to tell the sordid details of how certain actors and the original writer or the director ruined the film. I just wanted to do the track. I wanted to get Parnell Hall on that too because he remembers the details better than I do and he can tell you what was originally on page 8, etc. As a way of luring Anchor Bay into letting me do the track, I offered them my collection of stills from the production. They took these but then told me that there wasn't enough time to record me on the track.

What they DIDN'T tell me was that they had already recorded the director, the original writer and the key actors doing their own commentary track. When I finally heard the track, I was appalled. The most appalling thing was that they said that I didn't pay the actors. This was a real outrage since the actors got paid scale as was their agreement and Shep Abbott got a huge amount of money - WAY more than any first time writer I know of, especially considering how unhelpful he was. But the track was done and the DVD was in the stores and rental houses. What could I do? I had to set the record straight, so I wrote and designed www.chudfacts.com. I realize that far fewer people go to that site than buy the DVD, but it is SOMETHING.

Do you keep in contact with any of the cast or crew from CHUD?
Not the cast. But I am in touch with Parnell Hall, the screenwriter. He has gone on to become a very successful mystery novelist and has three different series out. I also am in touch with Bob Bordiga, the UPM on the shoot. Bob was essential in the making of the film. He made all the deals and was the reason the foreign buyers at Cannes thought we had spent eight million dollars on it.

Bob is also one of the most moral men in a largely amoral business. He is a gem of human being. I like almost everyone on the crew. The DP and the script supervisor fell in love on the shoot and got married. I have tried to get in touch with John Caglione, the SFX makeup artist (who, BTW won an Academy Award for "Dick Tracy") but he hasn't returned my emails. Just today, I spoke with Dan O'Bannon who helped me out with the visuals (sadly there was not enough money in the budget to make much use of most of them).

I had heard a rumor a while back that CHUD had been optioned for a remake... can you confirm or deny this?

As your readers must know, I sold the remake and sequel rights to Vestron a few years after C.H.U.D. came out because I didn't want to keep making the same film. Their sequel was so awful, I exercised my right to have my name removed from the film and all advertising. But there is a new production in development with another major producer right now. I'd say more, but I haven't read any scripts yet and I try to keep an arm's length from it. Also, the making of any film is a tap dance in a mine field. So many never survive the development process, so until it is in theaters, I never like to talk about them.

What do you think it is about "C.H.U.D." that has caused the film to resurface in recent years as a cult classic?

Damned if I know. I always thought that there was intense mystery about the world underneath a big city like New York. I also think that the idea of things grabbing you from beneath is a strong image that goes back to our childhood. We all fear the monster under the bed. Someone once told me that John Carpenter had a "C.H.U.D." poster up in is offices during the making of "Escape From New York". I think there's a scene in that film that has hands reaching up from beneath. And, of course, there's "Jaws".

I think that image is very strong. One other thing about it I owe to Parnell Hall: He thought that the acronym for "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers" could never be taken seriously. That was in Shep Abbott's original draft. But Parnell came up with the alternate "Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal" to take the cheesiness off of the original. In our shooting script, there was a lot of interplay between those two meanings, but the actors (especially Danny Stern) mangled it beyond recognition. But I think that enough of Parnell's sensibility remains in the movie so it ends up being a film that doesn't take itself too seriously. That helps a lot.

You give the impression on your site that you weren't happy with the Easter Egg on the DVD (featuring Kim Greist's body double fully nude in the shower.)... can you elaborate?

Well it was really CHEAP and I don't even know where they got the footage. But the real story on that was that we had devised a very balletic camera move where we moved down from Kim's hair to the shower drain. She was supposed to turn carefully so that the camera avoided all the strategic areas. Kim had signed a nudity release, but by the time we got to the shot, she chickened out. I felt that despite shower scenes in general being clich├ęs, we needed to show vulnerability and the fact that Kim would soon be in big trouble.

Anyone who has studied Hitchcock can understand what I was trying to do. But we didn't have the footage to work with and Doug was never a big fan of that shot (BTW, another reason I needed to defend myself in the Web site was that on the commentary track someone made it sound like I was some perverted dirty old man who wanted a nudie scene in the movie). We ended up hiring a very nice young woman named Liz Kaiten to be Kim's body double. But we still never got it right and somehow the shot shows more than we intended. It went into my version of the film severely edited. But somehow, Anchor Bay got ahold of one of the outtakes and used it for the Easter Egg. I think it's just tacky.

Can you tell us about the storyline of Parnell Hall's "C.H.U.D. II" script that Vestron rejected?

I actually don't remember much except that we had it set in the world of MTV and rock videos. I haven't read it in years, but I do remember that we were influenced by Michael Jackson's Thriller video which was big back then.

If you had to give one piece of advice to independent filmmakers working on small budgets, what would it be?

Concentrate on the script. If you can, do the things that make films better but don't cost a lot: Rewrite the script until it is great. Workshop scenes with actors if you can. And storyboard all the action scenes. Also, be true to your instincts. Remember that it's very easy for people to tell you a million reasons why your script is no good. Years ago a script was circulating around the industry and every development department rejected it. The script was "Casablanca". Somebody had changed the title and the character names. Remember anybody who tells you they know something in this business is lying.

Thanks again for doing the interview with us... any parting words of wisdom?

Films, like teachers have enormous power to influence. Their main aim is, of course, to entertain. But truth, in the end, is what people think it is. And what, to a very large degree, people think is influenced by the media, and movies still play a major role. Back in film school, we used to debate whether films reflect or influence society. I used to say, and I still believe this: Films ARE society. Films, TV, advertising, video games, print media, etc. It's all what we are. If you make films, you have power. Use it carefully or it may just climb out of a manhole and eat you.

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