C.H.U.D. Lives!: A Tribute Anthology
Joe Mynhardt (ed.)
Crystal Lake Publishing
I think I first watched C.H.U.D. when I was a teenager, sometime in the early 2000s. Sitting in my room in the middle of the night, I was flicking through the back-end satellite TV channels and stumbled across one of those channels that does nothing but show old horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s. I was about to move on, but there was something about the opening scene to this old horror movie that had just started as I flicked over; I watched in silence as a lady walked her dog down the middle of a city street (not the pavement, literally the middle of the road!), only for a hideously-deformed creature to suddenly emerge from a manhole and pull her down, dog included. I don’t think I could have explained if someone had asked me, but for some reason I was hooked, and ended up watching C.H.U.D. through into the early hours of the morning. It didn’t have the highest budget, and some of the acting wasn’t the greatest, but there was undeniably something about it; it had an energy about it, a certain dynamism that made it greater than the sum of its parts, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve watched the film a few more times over the years, but hadn’t seen it recently, so it was certainly a happy revelation when Crystal Lake Publishing announced that they were publishing a tribute anthology for C.H.U.D., which would include some big-name horror writers, as well as interviews with producer Andrew Bonime and screenplay writer Parnell Hall.
So when Crystal Lake Publishing offered me an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of C.H.U.D. Lives!: A Tribute Anthology in return for a fair and honest review, I snapped up that ARC immediately and got to reading. Consisting of 22 entries, of which one is an introduction by Dave Drake, and two are interviews with the aforementioned producer and screenplay writer, C.H.U.D. Lives! Immediately impressed me as an anthology with a great deal of content, particularly when the title is both free under the Kindle Unlimited programme and only £2.86 to purchase (as of this review’s publication). I often highlight the quality of the cover that accompanies titles, especially anthologies, and this is one of the best covers I’ve ever actually seen; the cover art, by artist Luke Spooner (http://carrionhouse.com/home-page) is a great tribute to C.H.U.D. as a piece of cinema, the twin images (the iconic image of a C.H.U.D. climbing out of a manhole cover, and the two police officers played by John Goodman and Jay Thomas) acting as a highly evocative introduction to the anthology. The Introductory chapter by Dave Drake is a nice opening to the anthology, covering many of the reasons why C.H.U.D. has remained a cult classic long after so many of the horror and monster films released at the same time have faded from history, primarily because, as Mr Drake highlights, “C.H.U.D. was a low-budget monster movie the same way that Born Losers was a biker movie: in name only. C.H.U.D. is about people”.
Moving into the stories themselves, I’ll follow my usual pattern of highlighting the tales that particularly stood out for me, both as good pieces of horror writing, and also stories that understood the C.H.U.D. thematically. The initial tale from Robert E Waters, D.O.G.W.A.L.K.E.R, is important because it expands on the story of Flora Bosch, the wife of Captain Martin Bosch, the police officer who in the film struggles to contain the growing C.H.U.D. menace from under the city streets. In the film, his wife acts as little more than an opening leitmotif, sacrificed in the first moments to show how dangerous and vicious the humanoid monsters are. But Waters finally gives Flora Bosch a voice, and therefore a stake, in the C.H.U.D. universe, and we get to see just why she was walking her dog at that precise moment, as well as an intriguing look at some of the pressures that Captain Bosch was under even before the film starts. D.A.T.E.N.I.G.H.T from the pen of David Robbins also caught my eye, as it’s an impressive blend of the C.H.U.D. universe and outright horror, as a first date at a bar becomes more and more tense as the two would-be lovers move through the city avoiding the cannibalistic monsters, only for a twist to reveal that one of them has ulterior motives. Moving through the anthology, I also greatly enjoyed S.T.R.A.N.G.E.G.O.D.S. by Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes, which takes a much closer look at the relationship between the C.H.U.Ds and the homeless people living beneath the city, and how the monsters’ arrival was twisted into a cult by certain elements of the indigent population – escalating into a fast-paced and gory finale that had me gripped until the very last sentence.
Coming into the middle of the anthology, we come across perhaps my favourite story of the anthology – L.O.S.T.A.N.D.F.O.U.N.D. by Greg Mitchell. Framing his story around the experiences of one family as they make their way into the city just as the monsters begin erupting out of the sewers and onto the streets, Mitchell weaves a compelling, tense and occasionally even tender story of horror, loss and how adversity and terror can strengthen even the weakest and fragile of family bonds. And although I didn’t quite get the meaning behind its title, C.H.A.D. by Michael H. Hanson provides the Aliens to the original movies Alien, transposing the action from the claustrophobic sewers and tunnels underneath the city to a high-rise apartment building that has to contend with a C.H.U.D. invasion. Action-packed, streamlined and intensely cinematic at times, with an ending that just cries out for the entire story to be adapted as a film, this is a fantastic story that practically justifies purchasing the anthology by itself. The following tale, S.A.M.S.A’S.P.A.R.T.Y. is an excellent counter-point, with Ben Fisher turning in a slow-burning and tense story of a group of homeless people encountering the barrels of toxic waste that create the C.H.U.Ds and discovering, day by day, just how horrifying the side-effects of that waste can be on the human body and psyche. And T.H.A.T.’S. E.N.T.E.R.T.A.I.N.M.E.N.T. from Mort Castle is a short but darkly amusing take on the C.H.U.D. universe that posits a world in which the monsters are contained and then turned into a grim amusement park for those who can afford to attend.
Z.E.R.O.H.O.U.R is a great tale to start closing the anthology out with, JG Faherty providing a much-needed glimpse of how the world outside of the initial outbreak would handle the C.H.U.D. menace if containment did indeed fail. Following a small group of special forces as they hunt down and purge C.H.U.D. outbreaks, Faherty provides some intriguing insights into how the monsters actually function, as well as some hints at a wider conspiracy, all accompanied by plenty of gunfights and the terror of being hunted by inhuman beings that can easily kill you. A.L.L.A.T.S.E.A. BY Ross Baxter was also one of my favourites, with Baxter moving the action away from the United States and into international waters, as a group of Royal Marines are forced to try and tackle an American navy vessel that has drifted towards the UK and is not answering any hails. Boarding the vessel, the soldiers soon find out the exact nature of the vessels cargo, and are soon stuck between a horde of C.H.U.Ds and a government that is determined to stop the outbreak by any means possible. And finally, Jonathan Maberry and Eugene Johnson bring the fiction part of the anthology to a close with the brilliant Y.O.U.W.I.L.L.N.E.V.E.R.L.E.A.V.E.H.A.R.L.A.N.A.L.I.V.E, which essentially acts as the sequel that C.H.U.D. deserved but never actually received (We don’t talk about Bud the C.H.U.D.). Picking up the story of Captain Bosch, who has now been forcibly retired and become a Sheriff in a small, no-name town, Bosch finds that what appears to be a simple break-in at an isolated cabin quickly devolves into a morass of political conspiracy, mysterious disappearances and an old mine filled with an ominously familiar toxic substance that has had unfortunate effects on the local population.
With C.H.U.D. Lives!, Crystal Lake Publishing have once again delivered another spectacular anthology, filled with fantastic, high-quality stories, some short but informative interviews that give behind the scenes details about C.H.U.D. that will surely appeal to horror and cinema fans, and some evocative cover art which all combines to create a fitting tribute to a cult horror classic.