Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chopping Mall (aka Killbots) (1986, USA)

Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Produced by: Julie Corman
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cinematography: Tom Richmond
Editing by: Leslie Rosenthal
Distributed by: Concorde Pictures, Lightning Video, Vestron Video International
Release dates: March 21, 1986
Running time: 77 min, 95 min (original release)
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $800,000 (estimated)
Box office: Unknown
Plot: A group of teenagers that work at the mall all get together for a late night party in one of the stores. When the mall goes on lock down before they can get out, the robot security system activates after a malfunction and goes on a killing spree. One by one the three bots try to rid the mall of the "Intruders". The only weapons the kids can use are the supplies in other stores. Or... if they can make it till morning when the mall opens back up.

Info: Chopping Mall is an American horror/science fiction film, produced by Julie Corman and originally released on March 21, 1986 under the title Killbots. Lionsgate released the film twice on DVD; once in 2004 with special features including a featurette, commentary, still gallery and trailer, and in 2012 as part of an 8 horror film DVD set. Upon release, the movie did poorly at the box office. It did better when it was re-released as Chopping Mall. The film is based around killer security robots taking over a shopping mall and murdering teenage employees. The term killbot is never actually mentioned during the movie.

Jim Wynorski directed the movie and wrote it with Steve Mitchell. It was filmed mostly at Sherman Oaks Galleria, with occasional set shots (e.g., the paint store). The movie starred Kelli Maroney (who appeared in Night of the Comet and the daytime soap opera Ryan's Hope) and Tony O'Dell (from the TV series Head of the Class). Roger Corman and his wife, Julie, produced it. Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov share a cameo as their characters from Eating Raoul, Paul and Mary Bland.

There are at least two different versions of the movie. The TV cut has some extra footage, like a small homage to Attack of the Crab Monsters, extended scenes of Ferdy and Allison watching TV, some aerial shots, and an extension of one of the Ferdy/Allison scenes. This is one of those rare times when the TV edit has more than a few extra seconds of footage over the theatrical version, but no official source offers this version.

Chopping Mall original 1986 trailer.

On the DVD commentary tracks, Wynorski and Mitchell discussed many details of making the film, including an injury that the director suffered while helping prepare a stunt sequence, their unfriendly relationship with the Galleria's security chief (and friendly one with the mall's owner), the many beautiful women who were part of the cast, and ways that they dealt with having little time or money and finished their work on time.

Julie Corman wanted to make a film about a killer in a mall and Jim Wynorski agreed to write one cheaply if he could direct. Wynorski said he was inspired by the 1954 film Gog; he claims he never saw the 1974 TV movie Trapped which some believe inspired Chopping Mall.

Film Facts: The movie was originally theatrically released in March 1986 under its original title, "Killbots." It performed poorly during its initial release. The producers felt the movie's title might have disinterested audiences, who might think based on the original movie poster that it was a "Transformers"-like children's cartoon instead of a violent exploitation movie. After some time, the movie was re-released on video under its new title with over 15 minutes cut.

When the stunt crew was setting up a scene involving a character being thrown to his death from the third level of the mall, director Jim Wynorski volunteered to try the stunt himself as long as they set him up from the second level. He completed it successfully but found out he'd broken a rib in the process; Wynorski did not tell anyone he had gotten hurt and no one found about it during the remaining production time.

Chopping Mall 1986 VHS distributed by Lightning Video.
The horror movie that Allison (Kelli Maroney) and Ferdy (Tony O'Dell) are watching in the furniture store is Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), another Roger Corman movie.

The book Gerrit Graham's character is reading is "They Came from Outer Space" which was edited by the film's director, Jim Wynorski. One of the stories in the collection is "The Racer" which was filmed as Death Race 2000 (1975) featuring Mary Woronov.

The film was allowed to shoot at a real California mall as long as they did not damage any facilities and had removed any traces of their presence before the mall opening time of 9AM. While the mall's head of security didn't like the filmmakers and was constantly accusing them of causing disrepair, the mall's owner was supportive of the film and made sure the production was able to complete its work on schedule.

Chopping Mall was filmed at Sherman Oaks Galleria. Sherman Oaks Galleria is a shopping mall and business center located in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States, at the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley.

Chopping Mall stars Kelli Maroney (who appeared in Night of the Comet). Night of the Comet (1984) was also filmed at Sherman Oaks Galleria.

Originally theatrically released in March 1986 under Killbots. Later re-released as Chopping Mall.
The budget for the film was very limited (around $800,000 total) but the director had no problems with this, as he was happy to work on a Roger Corman film and knew beforehand that Corman always kept expenses to a minimum.

John Terlesky's character of Mike is seen chewing gum in all of his scenes. Kelli Maroney did most of her own stunts.

The Lost Empire (1985), is seen in the background of many shots in the restaurant.

The Killbot claws were made from plastic toy grippers adapted with electric solenoids.

Despite the iconic VHS cover and ad campaign, the mechanical claw seen gripping the bloody shopping bag never appears in the film. Similarly, there is only one actual mutilation in the film (the exploding head scene). The rest of the victims die either by having their throats slit, being electrocuted, set on fire, or falling to their deaths.

Director Jim Wynorski provided the voices of the three Protector robots.

The film's negative was tied up in legal limbo, so the Lion's Gate DVD edition of the film was mastered from a Lightning Video VHS master.

Killbots 1986 VHS distributed by Vestron Video International.
Cameo Dick Miller, the same character he played in A Bucket of Blood (1959), another Roger Corman production. Other cameos include: Mary Woronov, the same character she played in Eating Raoul (1982). Paul Bartel, the same character he played in Eating Raoul (1982).

Debra Blee was originally cast as Linda Stanton, but dropped out prior to the shooting of the film. Blee was subsequently replaced by Karrie Emerson.

The special effects crew actually built five remote controlled robots to serve as the Protector killbots. Three were required for the scenes of the robots together in the first half of the film, with two extras as backups in the event that the originals were damaged during any of the action sequences. In order to keep the robots looking realistic (as well as due to the film's budgetary constraints), they were constructed out of such items as wheelchair frames and pieces of conveyor belt. Excluding shooting laser beams, most of what the killbots are seen doing onscreen was the result of the effects crew operating them via remote control.

In this insignificant but nevertheless fun 80's low-budgeter, the sex-hungry teenagers for once aren't chased around by a killer wearing a ridiculous mask but by a troop of malfunctioning and heavily armed security robots! Four couples that work in various stores at the Park Plaza shopping mall secretly throw an after hours party during the same night when a lightening storm completely disorientates the 3 brand new "Protector" robots and get killed off one by one. "Chopping Mall" (how can you not love that title?) is a lot of fun to watch and it's easily Jim Wynorski's best effort out of more than 60 directed films.

Limited edition 180 gram colored vinyl of Chuck Cirino's score for the classic Jim Wynorski film Chopping Mall. This new vinyl reissue features audio remastered from the original tapes. Released in 2014 by Waxwork Records.
Despite the fact that "Chopping Mall" doesn't take itself too seriously and mainly focuses on satire, there really are some tense moments and properly mounted suspense sequences. The laser head-explosion sequence is famous and there are multiple other cheese-highlights. But what is perhaps the most surprising, are the engaging acting performances and the welcome amount of tasteful nudity. The most familiar cute face in the cast is Barbara Crampton who stars as a screaming beauty in between her two greatest films "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond". Truly ingenious are the endless references towards Roger Corman's repertoire, especially illustrated through cameos of Paul Bartel, Dick Miller and Mary Woronov. Unquestionably, "Chopping Mall" is a righteous guilty pleasure of many, many horror fans.
I never thought I would see this movie released on DVD. And if I did I would have guessed it would have been ultra bare bones. But I have to say, this release was pretty good. The movie itself is a fun, cheap 80's flick, with some better special effects than a normal movie of this caliber would have. The acting is decent. The script is campy, but fast paced enough. The characters are okay, and work well within the story, and the direction is actually pretty good, considering how cheap this movie was.
Watching this movie made me realize how different the B-Movie market was then. Now you get a movie with almost no style, and a lot of point and shoot direction. The movies now usually look like they were filmed in someone's back yard (and probably were), and had his neighbors do the acting. Then you had a movie that had decent direction, actual working actors, and some minor semblance of dignity. Over all the movie is an 7/10. It's pretty good, but needed a little work in the final act.
The disc for Chopping Mall is actually way better than the price, or cheap cover art would let on. For starters, the extras are actually decent, with an informative documentary on the making of the Killbots, which then goes in to the production on the film a bit. Why Lions Gate went and did this, I don't know, but I'm glad they did. It's a nice extra, which is informative. There is also a commentary, which I haven't listened to. But the fact that Lions Gate even bothered is a plus in there case. You also get the theatrical trailer to the film.
The picture for the disc, while somewhat soft, is very good. I mean, the movie is old, and the original prints are probably damaged, so the fact that the movie looks as good as it does is a major plus. It is full frame, but I don't think this movie was shot in Wide Screen, so nothing wrong there. The audio is very good, clear, and with almost no distortion or drop outs. It also is nice that the disc is about 14 dollars. A fairly cheap price for a very well made disc. I recommend the film, and even more now that the DVD is out, and turned out so well.

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