Release Date(s)1986 (September 27, 2016)
Studio(s)Concorde Pictures/Lionsgate (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
A champion of 1980’s video store rentals, Chopping Mall (aka Killbots) was released in 1986 and was directed by genre veteran Jim Wynorski. The setup is fairly simple: a bunch of twentysomethings who work in a shopping mall decide to stay overnight for some boozing and partying. Unfortunately for them, a new security system has been implemented at the mall, which features a lockdown system and several robots that patrol each floor, going after any perceived intruder with force. Once the robots go haywire and realize that they’re in the building, it’s only a matter of time before they’re hunted down and picked off one by one.
Chopping Mall, at least to me, has always been a sort of accidental favorite. There are a lot of elements at play here that probably shouldn’t work in their final form, and truth be told, they don’t really work all that well. The promise of a blood bath by overgrown, mechanized trash cans on wheels never comes to full fruition, save for a single instance. Otherwise, it’s a fairly innocuous movie in that regard. Even the original box art featuring a mechanical hand carrying around a shopping bag full of body parts acts as an eventual letdown (like a lot of VHS artwork from that timeframe). Yet, on the other hand, it’s a movie that feels like it’s trying its hardest with what little it has. Besides being one of Jim Wynorski’s first (and in my opinion, one of his best) directing jobs, there’s a terrific score by Chuck Cirino, as well as some obvious production value, including some fire gags, explosions, and a whole cast of familiar faces to the genre community.
These faces (and parts beyond) include Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet), Russell Todd (Friday the 13th: Part 2), Tony O’Dell (Evils of the Night and The Karate Kid), Karrie Emerson (also in Evils of the Night, as well as White Dog), Nick Segal (School Spirit and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo), John Terlesky (The Naked Cage), and Suzee Slater (Savage Streets). There are also some oddball cameo appearances from Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their characters from Eating Raoul, as well as some memorable appearances by Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham, and the tall man himself Angus Scrimm. Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot Rodney Eastman, who was Joey in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, as well as author and biographer David Del Valle. So the movie definitely has a pedigree when it comes to its cast.
It’s a shame that the original version of the movie entitled Killbots, which was actually released to theaters and bombed terribly before being edited down and having its name changed, has yet to be found and released. What appears on the surface to be a movie about a serial killer in a mall turns out to be something else entirely, which is malfunctioning security robots in a mall, running amok and shooting lasers at a group of irresponsible young adults. Despite that, Chopping Mall was still a perennial cable and video rental favorite of its era. It’s not a perfect movie, or even a solid B movie, but it’s a fun one to kick back and watch with some friends. It may not be a truly horrifying horror experience, but it will definitely keep you entertained all the way through.
The debut disc in Lionsgate’s new line of Vestron Video Collector’s Series titles (spearheaded and overseen by friend of The Digital Bits, producer Dustin Dean), Chopping Mall is presented with a new high definition transfer. This movie is obviously low budget and has never looked like a million bucks, but it has never looked better than it does here. There is some excellent fine detail on display with well-resolved grain levels, as well as some strong color reproduction with very good skin tones. Blacks are very deep with some good shadow detailing, and brightness and contrast levels are very acceptable. It’s also a very clean and stable presentation with only minor film artifacts left behind, which are mostly white specks. There are some scratches on the negative during the opening titles that were unable to be repaired, but overall, it’s an excellent presentation. The lone audio option is an English mono DTS-HD track, which has been given a stereo boost. The dialogue is very clear and discernible, while the sound effects and score have some nice weight to them. The score, in particular, is much clearer than ever before. There is some light hiss to be heard and there isn’t much in terms of LFE or directionality, but it’s a strong track otherwise. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
There’s also a terrific and massive set of extras to accompany the great presentation. They include three audio commentaries, one with director/co-writer Jim Wynorski, actress Kelly Maroney, and co-writer/2nd unit director Steve Mitchell; another with historians/authors Nathaniel Thompson and Ryan Turek; and a third with director/co-writer Jim Wynorski and co-writer/2nd unit director Steve Mitchell from a 2004 DVD release of the film. In addition, there’s also an isolated score audio track (2.0 Dolby Digital); the Back to the Mall: Interviews with the Victims and Makers featurette; Chopping Chopping Mall: A Conversation with Editor Leslie Rosenthal; Talkin’ About... The Killbots with Robot Creator Robert Short; Scoring Chopping Mall, An Interview with Composer Chuck Cirino; The Robot Speaks! Ten Questions with the Killbot; a segment devoted to The Lost Scene from the film; Army of One, an interview with a fan of the film Carl Sampieri; the Chopping Mall: Creating the Killbots vintage featurette; and the film’s original video trailer. Supposedly both the original Killbots and the TV versions of the movie included some additional moments, but haven’t been included here. I’m sure every effort was made to locate them though. Despite them being missing, the extras that have been included are exhaustive and a massive upgrade for fans of the movie.
To say the least, I am pleased as punch with the new Vestron Video Collector’s Series line of Blu-rays from Lionsgate. I’m rooting for its success, especially so that we can get our hands on some terrific titles yet to be released from Lionsgate’s catalogue. Chopping Mall, as well as Blood Diner, are two terrific titles to start with, and both releases are easily must-buys if you’re a horror fan.
- Tim Salmons