Chopping Mall Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
High-tech robots equipped with state-of-the-art security devices have been recruited as the new mechanical night watchmen for the Park Plaza Mall. When a jolting bolt of lightning short circuits the main computer control, the robots turn into killbots...on the loose after unsuspecting shoppers! Four couples are trying to make it after-hours in a mattress store. They make it all right...in the morgue! (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall (1986) is a classic example of a high concept B-movie. It borrows ideas from other B-movies and couples them in new ways to draw exploitation audiences. It is the first, last, best, and worst movie about security robots going haywire and murdering people in a locked shopping mall. Oddly, its perfect concept was deadened only by the fact that it was advertised as a different high concept B-movie. The schlocky title, Chopping Mall, and original poster/video box art (which feature a robotic hand holding a shopping bag full of body parts) promises a mall-themed slasher movie, rather than a killer robot movie. Apparently, Julie Corman even hired Wynorski specifically to make a movie about a killer in a mall. For the record, the working title was R.O.B.O.T.S. and the original release title was the even more appropriate Killbots, but it was changed to the Chopping Mall following test screenings. I suppose that says something about the public’s (still) unrequited thirst for a mall-themed slasher. Curiously, such a movie still doesn’t exist. The closest thing is Richard Friedman’s weird/boring Phantom of the Opera riff, Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989). Sadly for Corman and Wynorski, their killer robot movie was made a year too early to cash-in on the success of Paul Verhoven’s Robocop (1987). I assume the title would’ve been changed to Robomallcops, had the release dates lined up.
As a mall-themed slasher, Chopping Mall is a failure, but, as a comedic pseudo-satire of ‘80s mall culture, it stands up better than I expected. It sags in the middle, because scares and robot action aren’t exactly Wynorski’s forte, but the gags, in-jokes, and colourful sci-fi trappings (it’s full of little classic cult movie Easter eggs) are enough to drag it through tepid violence and character clichés. The A-plus B-movie cast – including Barbara Crampton (hot off Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, 1985), Kelli Maroney (hot off Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet, 1984), the incomparable Dick Miller, and Mary Woronov & Paul Bartel semi-secretly reprising their roles as Mary & Paul Bland from Bartel’s Eating Raoul (1982) – is up to the task of poking fun at teen sex comedy, horror, and shoot ‘em up action traditions. Following Chopping Mall, which is very likely his best movie, for whatever that’s worth, Wynorski worked on loads of sequels to other ongoing B-franchises (Deathstalker II, 1987; The Return of Swamp Thing, 1989; Sorority House Massacre II, 1990; 976-Evil II, 1991) and, more recently, loads of softcore spoofs, including four Bare Wench Project movies, two The Witches of Breastwick movies, four Busty Cops movies, Cleavagefield (2009), and The Hills Have Thighs (2010). He also has the dubious honor of working on two separate Gremlins rip-off franchises – Munchie (parts one and two) and Ghoulies (part four).
After languishing on cable TV and used VHS copies for decades, Chopping Mall was finally released on DVD by Lionsgate in 2004. Unfortunately, it featured a cropped, non-anamorphic, 1.33:1, video-based transfer that was recycled again on Cornerstone Media’s PAL R2 release and as part of an eight movie DVD pack, also from Lionsgate. This Collector’s Series Blu-ray debut features a 1.78:1 (slightly reframed from the 1.85:1 theatrical release), 1080p transfer that is supposedly ‘newly remastered,’ per the advertising materials. The results are mixed. It is, of course, a massive upgrade over the cropped and dingy DVD releases. Basic elemental separation is tight, colors are vivid, and black levels are impressive. Unfortunately, someone has gone overboard on the noise-reduction front. The DNR smooths out grain, causes posterization in close-ups, and softens wide shots into fuzzy blobs (see the first screen cap below). In addition, dark edges glow with over-sharpening halos and there is a sheen of CRT noise (there’s one shot just past the 1:08:10 mark that is much grittier than the rest of the film). The loss of detail isn’t a deal-breaker, considering that the original scans probably weren’t great to begin with (there are streaky brown lines peppered through a few shots) and, again, there was no widescreen edition available in the past. Those muddy wide shots are a pretty big bummer, though.
Chopping Mall is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. It is a 2.0 mono track, which the box art refers to as the ‘original audio,’ though imdb.com claims that it was a stereo release. Considering the fact that all DVD versions were also mono, I’m willing to take Lionsgate’s word for it (perhaps there were stereo prints circulated at some point, but the source negatives were mono). The sound is sharp and pretty neat. Vocal performances, action cues (explosions, gunshots, et cetera), and robotic sound effects are mixed cleanly and loudly with little in the way of crowding problems or compression. Chuck Cirino’s electronic music is derivative, but infectious. The major themes are awesome enough to make me wish I had a soundtrack CD/MP3. This Blu-ray’s isolated score option is the closest I’ll get, I guess.
Director/co-writer Jim Wynorski, actress Kelli Maroney, and co-writer/2nd unit director Steve Mitchell – The first commentary (in track order) was recorded exclusively for this release. Wynorski and Mitchell talk a whole bunch, bouncing off of each other and cracking jokes between anecdotes. Maroney is more of a bemused bystander, but pops up with plenty of pearls of wisdom throughout the track.
Writers/fans Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital and Ryan Turek of Shock Till You Drop – The second new track is part expert track – which runs down the history of the film and filmmakers – and part fan celebration. Thompson and Turek’s efforts outshine many ‘fan tracks’ by moving the commentary along without getting too precious about their favourite moments, supplying information not already available, and contextualizing the mid-to-late ‘80s era from a horror fan point-of-view.
Director/co-writer Jim Wynorski and co-writer/2nd unit director Steve Mitchell – This is the original commentary that had been recorded for Lionsgate’s first DVD release. It’s a bit more focused than the newer director/writer track, but there’s also quite a bit of overlap.
Back to the Mall (26:29, HD) – A fun and refreshingly honest retrospective featurette with Wynorski, Mitchell, and cast members Maroney, Crampton, John Terlesky, Nick Segal, and Russell Todd. Subject matter includes writing, casting, stunts, the title change, and the joys of cult fandom.
Chopping Chopping Mall (8:19, HD) – Editor Leslie Rosenthal discusses her process and the tricks she imposed to create action and space. She, Mitchell, and Wynorski also briefly discuss the BD restoration.
Talking about the Killbots (12:11, HD) – Robot creator/SFX guy Robert Short talks about design and construction of the film’s mechanical murderers.
Scoring Chopping Mall (11:04, HD) – Composer Chuck Cirino and Wynorski recall the movie’s ‘robotic’ synthesizer musical themes, including a cue called ‘The Ecstasy of the Robots,’ which was designed after Sergio Leone’s ‘The Ecstasy of the Gold’ from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The Robot Speaks: Ten Questions with the Killbot (2:12, HD) – Mitchell ‘interviews’ one of the robots (audio over an image of the bot).
The Lost Scene (3:01, HD) – The cast and crew discuss an unfilmed scene written for Mary Woronov & Paul Bartel. Note that there is reportedly a different deleted scene available with the television edit of the movie that is not included here.
Army of One (6:01, HD) – An interview with Chopping Mall’s self-proclaimed biggest fan, Carl Sampieri.
Chopping Mall: Creating the Killbots (15:41, SD) – A vintage interview with Short and Wyrnorski.
The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray image quality