It’s October and in anticipation of Halloween, I’m looking at two early 80’s horror films shot in NYC.
The first is 1984’s “C.H.U.D.,” which supposedly stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, but as the story unfolds, it’s discovered that it stands for something more sinister. Probably inspired by news reports of discarded alligators growing in the New York waterways, the film is about strange reptilian creatures lurking in the sewers and subway tunnels, who sporadically come out of manholes to grab a victim or two. The only people who seem determined to investigate this weird phenomena are a police detective whose wife recently went missing, a photographer, a fashion model, and a hippie nicknamed “the Reverend” who runs a soup kitchen for the homeless (many of which have been disappearing). Like a lot of films from the 1980s, the real villain in this story is the U.S. Government, who was running a secret experimental program that spawned these deadly underground dwellers.
“C.H.U.D.” is a film I didn’t particularly care for when I first saw it as a teenager, but it has since grown on me. Granted, the giant frog-like rubber suits used for the monsters are pretty silly-looking but that sort of adds to the schlocky charm. However, aside from the fabulous NYC filming locations (made-up to look as gritty and grimy as possible), the best thing about “C.H.U.D.” is its strong cast of characters. Daniel Stern, who plays “the Reverend,” gives a rather committed performance for a low-budget monster movie, and John Heard and Kim Greist, who play the photographer and model couple, are as solid as ever. In addition, we get some quick but delightful performances by several character actors, such as Sam McMurray, Eddie Jones (who just passed away this summer), Jon Polito, Jay Thomas and a young John Goodman.
Walking the Dog
Even though C.H.U.D. has become somewhat of a cult classic, I was surprised there wasn’t much in the way of specific filming locations listed online, other than some reviews saying something like, “shot on-location in New York.” Arrow Video’s 2016 Blu Ray release of C.H.U.D. supposedly has a 9-minute featurette that tours some of the Manhattan locations used in the film, but I never had the chance to see it.
However, since it appeared a lot of the film was shot in Manhattan’s SoHo, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find most of the locations. The two main advantages of tracing locations for a film shot in SoHo is that the neighborhood isn’t terribly large so there isn’t a whole lot of ground to be covered, and since most of the area has been landmarked, there’s a good chance the buildings that appear in any given scene will still be around today.
For this opening scene, I could see that the street came to a T-intersection a couple blocks away, so I figured there was a good chance we were looking south towards Canal Street. And since the following scene featured some trash cans with a Crosby Street address written on them, I assumed this opening scene took place there as well. After checking Google Street View, I determined the scene was shot on Crosby, just south of Broome Street.
Early Morning on Skid Row
Like I mentioned above, this scene featured some trash cans that had Crosby addresses written on them, and it turns out that’s exactly where this scene was shot. In fact, so far, I have yet to encounter a movie featuring trash cans that ended up having fake address written on them. So it turns out trash in a film can be turned into a real treasure.
Landlady Discovers a Hole
Finding this location was just a matter of looking through the SoHo neighborhood in Google Street View. I focused on trying to find a building that matched the corner building seen in the wide shot of the landlady approaching the garbage pile, and before long, I found it. Even though doors have been added and a bright coat of pain has been applied, the building next to the bloody hole looks pretty much the same today.
Finding the police station wasn’t a difficult task, since the sign above the door indicated that it was the 9th Precinct in the East Village. Granted, sometimes these movie signs have fake precinct numbers, but this one was correct. Even without the sign, I would have recognized the station from the television series, Kojak. Plus, I’ve probably passed that building a thousand times over the years since two of my closest friends have live on the same block.
Admittedly, I did get a little confused at first when the camera cut to the reverse shot of the two characters walking away and turning a corner. I could tell that that was definitely not East 5th Street, and I briefly thought that I got the wrong police station. But I soon realized the filmmakers simply switched locations for the reverse shot.
To figure out that location, I looked online for any info on the A.J. Allen Gallery, whose banner is seen on one the buildings behind the actors. I was able to find the address in a 1983 copy of National Art Museum and Gallery Guide which lists it at 87 Mercer Street. And from that, I was able to deduce the actors were on the corner of Spring and Mercer.
The next location on Broome and Crosby was already identified in the “Early Morning on Skid Row” scene (see above), but I was surprised that right in middle of the actors’ dialogue, they jumped one block north on Crosby (which, like many other cases with this film, I found by looking through Google Street View). I still have no idea why they switched locations at this particular point, but that made it a total of four geographical jumps in this one scene.
It was pretty obvious they filmed this scene at Chambers Street, given you can see a large station sign displayed in the initial shot, and those high ceilings and distinct white-tiled posts are unmistakably unique to that particular BMT station. Also, I already knew that Chambers has been a popular station with filmmakers since it has a couple discontinued tracks/platforms that allow crews to completely take them over without disrupting normal subway service.
The one tricky thing about taking matching “after” pictures at this location was that most of the filming took place on platforms that are no longer open to the public, so it was hard to get my camera in the correct position. You can see that my 2019 photos above didn’t quite line up with the stills from the movie. I did try to use my newly-acquired 103-inch selfie stick to help maneuver my camera closer to the right angles, but it ended up not really working out.
Grandfather’s Phone Call
It wasn’t too difficult to find which intersection the phone booth was located at, since the street signs are clearly visible in the scene. However, as embarrassing as it is, when I first took the “after” photograph of the location, I actually took it of the wrong corner. The buildings on the two corners were similar enough that when I got to the busy intersection, I got a little confused. I ultimately figured out my mistake and went back to the location and corrected it.
As to the earlier high-angle shot of the man and his grandkid walking by, I figured out that location simply by looking around the SoHo neighborhood in Google Street View. Naturally, I started near Crosby and Spring, but ended up widened my search and eventually found matching buildings on Grand Street near Broadway.
And even though the selfie stick didn’t help much with my photos of the subway station, it did help me get a photo that closely matched the high-angle used on Grand Street.
It was clear this scene took place near one of Central Park’s entrances, and I figured it was most likely one of the entrances along 59th Street. So all I did was check out each southern entrance in Google Maps and see if any of them had buildings across from the park that matched the ones from the film. And from that, I concluded the scene took place near the 6th Avenue entrance, and used the position of the José Martí Statue to find the approximate spot the cab pulled up to.
It took me a little longer to figure out where the top of this scene was filmed. Since the ending took place near 59th Street, I figured the earlier part took place near the Pond in the south end of Central Park. When I realized the buildings near the Pond didn’t match the ones that appeared in the scene, I started looking at other bodies of water in the park and eventually made my way up to the Pool near W 102nd Street and saw that the buildings at 415-418 Central Park West matched the film.
Once I figured out the two locations used in Central Park, I was able to quickly figure out where the wide overhead shot of the park was shot. Naturally, I wasn’t able to take any pictures from a rooftop to match what was taken in the film, so I relied on Google Satellite 3D View to get an approximate recreation of the shot used. Unfortunately, when you zoom in too close in 3D mode, the image starts to look a little cartoonish, but you can get a general sense on how little 5th Avenue has changed over the last few decades.
When I watched this “Soup Kitchen” scene, I was delighted to see that there was a clear shot of the name, “North Baptist Church,” which was displayed above the entrance. And since I initially assumed that the filmmakers shot everything in Manhattan, when I searched for that church name, I limited my search to NYC. And I thought I found my soup kitchen when I came upon the “Emmanuel Anglican Church” in the West Village which, according to multiple sources, used to be called, “North Baptist Church.”
However, when I looked at photos of this West Village church, it didn’t look like the soup kitchen that appeared in the film. Of course, since beginning this “NYC in Film” project, I have discovered several New York churches that have been rebuilt over the years —usually due to a destructive fire— and I thought that this might be the case with North Baptist. But I eventually rejected this notion when I couldn’t find any reports of a fire or any evidence of a reconstruction.
Just as I thought I was hitting a dead end, I noticed that IMDB listed one of the filming locations (out of only three) as “Jersey City,” but without any specific street address. As a rule, I usually don’t take much stock in IMDB listings, mainly because anyone with an account can add a location to a page without having to provide any proof or references, but I thought it was definitely worth taking a look. I’m glad I did, because as soon as I did a Google search for “North Baptist Church” in Jersey City, I found a match at 598 Jersey Avenue.
Interestingly enough, even though the Baptist church in NYC hadn’t been victim of any fires, the church in Jersey City had. The 1890 building was completely gutted by a fire that broke out in October of 1978. It was renovated over a period of several years and finally reopened in 1985 (one year after C.H.U.D. was released), under the new name of “North Baptist Spanish Church.”
Even though most of the original façade is still intact, it’s now without a nave and is missing the top of the steeple. When I went to Jersey to take an “after” picture, the place felt a lot like how it was portrayed in the film. The building was chained shut and surrounded by boards and scaffolding, junk was strewn about, and there was strong evidence that at least a couple homeless people camped out at the place. I don’t know what the fate of the church will be, but hopefully this Romanesque structure will survive.
I figured out where this scene was shot by spotting several municipal buildings in the background, including the tower of the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse. It was then just a matter of figuring out which nearby north-south street gave the correct vantage point of the buildings, and I soon zeroed in on Centre Street.
Even though the payphone used in the scene is now gone, you can still see where the trunkline used to go into the sidewalk.
And one quick note on this scene: I know C.H.U.D. is just a silly monster movie and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but who came up with the idea of a coin-eating government goon? Was that supposed to be some form of intimidation? And if that’s the case, why would he let the “Reverend” character return to his church, where he could make all the free phone calls he wanted?
I can’t imagine swallowing a quarter was in any government handbook, but I certainly would have been fascinated to know on how much loose change had traveled through this goon’s bowels over the years.
Going Into the Tunnels
Clearly this scene was also shot at Chambers Street, and the only task I had to do was figure out which staircase they used in the film. I had to wander around the station for a little while before I finally determined where the two actors were positioned for this scene.
The only unfortunate thing is that they’ve recently begun renovations of the station, so a lot of the distinctive features have been boarded up or stripped away.
Locked in the Basement
For some reason this location puzzled me at first. Even though my first instinct was that this scene was shot somewhere along the Hudson River, I started second-guessing myself when I couldn’t figure out the orientation. When the camera is looking south towards the World Trade Center, I thought it looked like the tall skyscrapers were across another body of water, making me think that maybe we were in Brooklyn or New Jersey. But clearer heads finally prevailed and I realized we were near Pier 52 in Manhattan, on what is now called Gansevoort Peninsula.
At the time of this writing, Gansevoort Peninsula is in the process of being converted from a NYC Department of Sanitation facility to a public park replete with the largest green space in Hudson River Park and an art installation that reconstructs an outline of the original Pier 52 shed. The park will also retain the only remaining stretch of the nearly-forgotten Thirteen Avenue (which you can read more about in my post about 1950’s Side Street).
Since Gansevoort Peninsula is under construction, the site is currently closed to the public, which made taking “after” photos from the same angle a bit of a challenge.
I ended up getting the pictures taken by staking out the site one day around 4pm and waiting until it looked like all the workers had gone home for the day. Once the literal coast was clear, I hopped a fence just off the greenway and skirted along the rocky edge of the peninsula. Even though the workers were all gone, I had to be careful not to be spotted by any passing cops or any Hudson River Park employees who occasionally walk along the greenway.
Fortunately I made it onto the peninsula and back without any incident and got all the pictures I needed.
This is one of the few locations from this film already established by several different sources as being at the former Cleveland Diner on Kenmare Street.
Today, what used to be a cruddy corner diner seen in the film has turned into a taqueria called La Esquina (Spanish for “The Corner”) with a secret speakeasy/restaurant hidden downstairs behind a door marked “employees only.” Apparently, if they’re lucky enough to get a reservation, customers are required to go through a maze of doors, stairs, and even a kitchen in order to get to the swanky 50-seat dining area that’s been serving celebrities and trend-setters since 2005. If you don’t want to go through all that hullabaloo, you can go to the cafe around the corner on Lafayette that serves many of the same items from the menu, but without the pretense.
George and Lauren’s Apartment
The way the story unfolds, you get the impression that the main characters’ apartment is on Crosby where all the homeless people are seen milling around. But I quickly realized this wasn’t the case. So, it was back to Google Maps and searching the streets for any building that had a set of stairs and looked like the one seen in the film. About 15 minutes later, I found the building on Mercer that appeared to be a match.
The area has obviously cleaned up since the summer of 1983, but up to a few years ago, I was amazed to discover that the now-obsolete ‘Fallout Shelter’ sign next to the entrance was still there.
The sign is technically still there, but has since been painted over. This was a result of a coordinated effort by the city, beginning in 2017, to remove these faded relics of the Cold War from all public spaces.
These signs first started going up shortly after the National Fallout Shelter Survey and Marking Program began in 1961 under president John F. Kennedy, in an effort to offer Americans protection from any radioactive fallout caused by a Soviet nuclear attack. The funding for these shelters —housed in places like public schools, town halls, banks and libraries— ended in the 1970s, but many of the yellow signs remained. However, with recent anxiety over North Korea’s ongoing nuclear development, public officials probably decided it was time to dismantle these outdated safety notices to avoid any confusion since these fallout shelters (which used to be stocked with food and potable water by the government) are no longer active and wouldn’t offer any protection.
Of course, of the 19,000 designated fallout shelters in NYC, most of them would have been useless anyway since they were located too close to potential strike targets. A couple hydrogen bombs detonated over Midtown would virtually destroy everything in the Tristate area, turning everyone of these shelters into a pile of rubble.
But perhaps these shelters could have protected us from a C.H.U.D. attack.
Even though this last sequence looks like it took place in SoHo, it technically was shot in the nearby neighborhood of Tribeca. I could tell it was not SoHo because it looked like it was shot near the river. So I just looked around Washington and Greenwich streets in Google Street View until I found some matching buildings.
What surprised me was how several of the buildings that are there today weren’t around when this film was shot in the summer of 1983. That confused me a bit when I was trying to figure out all the different angles from this scene. A lot of these modern structures look like they were built in the early 20th Century. It just goes to show that you can erect new buildings that mesh well with the existing architecture instead of these big behemoths that stick out like sore thumbs.
We must stop further C.H.U.D.! That is, Corporate Highrises and Unnecessary Domiciles.