Blu-ray Review: CHOPPING MALL

2016/09/27 01:17:01 +00:00 | Patrick Bromley

We horror fans have been spoiled in recent years when it comes to home video titles, with labels like Scream Factory, Arrow, Synapse, Vinegar Syndrome, Blue Underground and several others releasing genre titles both classic and obscure on pristine high definition Blu-rays, often laden with tons of extra content for too much of a good thing. Now Lionsgate is throwing its hat into the special edition Blu-ray market with Chopping Mall, the first title in their new Vestron Video Collector’s Series. They couldn’t have picked a better title to kick off what is, based on the quality work here, a very promising new label.

Schlock legend Jim Wynorski’s 1986 opus Chopping Mall—aka R.O.B.O.T.S., aka Killbots—is pure B-movie bliss. It takes a group of teenagers (among them genre legends Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney, plus Tony O’Dell from Head of the Class) who camp out in a mall overnight only to come up against the state-of-the-art security robots installed to protect the building. A lightning storm has shorted out their protocols, turning them from regular security robots into KILLBOTS inside a “Chopping Mall,” that’s what the title was changed to even though it’s totally misleading and no one ever actually gets chopped. Great title, though.

Wynorski, whose films tend to run the gamut from cheap fun to just cheap, does some of his best work in Chopping Mall. It’s one of his most polished efforts. While the robots’ designs aren’t particularly inspired, their practical execution is impressive. There’s a real sense of fun throughout the proceedings; the film is never quite campy, but has a very honest and self-aware sense of humor that lets us laugh with it instead of at it. There’s some sex, some violence, one of the best exploding head gags in all of cinema (I’d put it second only to Scanners, but that’s an almost impossible bar to clear), and a bunch of laser-shooting killer robots. What’s not to like?

And because the movie is produced by Julie Corman, there’s some crossover with the Roger Corman universe and cameos from a whole bunch of recognizable genre faces. Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov show up in an early scene, reprising their roles as Eating Raoul’s Paul and Mary Bland. Dick Miller appears as a custodian named Walter Paisley (a reference to Roger Corman’s great Bucket of Blood). Gerrit Graham of CHUD II: Bud the Chud (and, more importantly, Phantom of the Paradise) has a small role. Angus Scrimm even shows up. Chopping Mall is the kind of horror movie that rewards the audience for being horror fans.

The package Lionsgate has put together for their premiere title in the Vestron line is way impressive, rivaling some of the best work being done by Arrow and Scream Factory. The newly remastered HD transfer of Chopping Mall is a revelation. The only previously available version was a DVD from the early 2000s that offered a truly sub-par quality, full-frame transfer apparently sourced from a VHS tape. This new Blu-ray remedies all of that, with a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer that’s practically pristine; colors are vibrant, skin tones are natural, and the details are clear throughout, with very little print damage or debris visible. This is, without question, the best the movie has looked since its theatrical run back in 1986.

There are three—yes, three—commentary tracks included with the disc. The first features writer/director Jim Wynorski, co-writer and 2nd unit director Steve Mitchell, and star Kelli Maroney. It sounds as though the three were recorded in three separate locations (possibly over Skype?) so there’s some variance in the quality, but their talk is lively, fun, and filled with both warm enthusiasm and interesting production anecdotes. The second track is billed as the “historian” track, with Mondo Video’s Nathaniel Thompson and Ryan Turek, formerly of Shock Till You Drop and now of Blumhouse. They approach the movie more from the perspective of the fan, but the affection and the knowledge of the genre that they bring to their viewing makes this a great commentary for anyone who likes Chopping Mall.

The third commentary features just Wynorski and Mitchell (carried over from the original DVD release); as is to be expected, there is some overlap with their more recent commentary, but both are engaging enough that it’s worth at least a single listen. A fourth audio option offers Chuck Cirino’s excellent score as its own isolated track. As a lover of the retrospective featurette, one of my favorite supplements on the disc is the nearly 30-minute “Back to the Mall” video, which includes interviews from Wynorski and Mitchell, as well as several members of the cast, among them Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton, who has the best line of the entire piece.

Editor Leslie Rosenthal is interviewed for “Chopping Chopping Mall,” as is composer Chuck Cirino. Three separate featurettes are devoted to the robots, two of which (“The Killbots” and “Creating the Killbots”—an archive featurette), cover their design while the third, “The Robot Speaks!,” is an interview with one of the machines. Rounding out the bonus materials is a brief interview with Chopping Mall’s “biggest fan” Carl Sampieri, several pages of script from a deleted scene that would have given us more of Paul and Mary Bland, and the terrific theatrical trailer.

There’s a certain type of horror movie that’s very specific to the 1980s: one that is colorful and fun and isn’t really interested in scaring the audience as much as it is in being, above anything else, purely entertaining. That’s Chopping Mall, a movie that knows exactly what it is and knows exactly how to deliver the goods. After years of failing to really take advantage of their catalogue titles on Blu-ray, Lionsgate’s Vestron collection is off to a great start; not only does the movie look practically new, but it has been packaged with an impressive collection of bonus features that’s sure to please longtime fans as well as give the movie new life among first-time viewers. Take a visit to Chopping Mall. Sure, it may cost you an arm and a leg, but it’s worth it.

Movie Score: 3.5/5,  Disc Score: 4/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.