On March 21st, 1986, a film was released by legendary producer Roger Corman that today still is recognized as a genre classic. Chopping Mall, produced by Julie Corman and helmed by exploitation wunderkind Jim Wynorski, was released during the VHS/home video explosion and would change the way the business perceived the place of genre titles within this emerging marketplace.
“The film tells the story of killer security robots taking over a shopping mall and systematically murdering a group of trespassing teenagers who have broken into the mall for an all-night party. Four couples decide to have a party in one of the furniture stores where three of them work. They all stay after hours at the mall, drinking, partying, and making out, while the fourth couple watch old science fiction films on TV.
Outside, a lightning storm strikes the mall several times and damages the computer controlling the security robots. The robots kill two technicians and a janitor before going on regular patrol in the now empty mall. Two of the teens leave the furniture store and are subsequently killed by the robots. The surviving teens witness the robots kill a girl in via a still talked about head explosion, and the men and women are forced to separate, the men into the mall and the women into the air ducts, when the robots begin their final attack.“
Directed by Wynorski, who co-wrote with longtime friend Steve Mitchell, Chopping Mall was filmed primarily at the infamous Sherman Oaks Galleria, famous for appearing in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The movie stars Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “Ryan’s Hope”) and Tony O’Dell. B-movie icons Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, and Dick Miller, fixtures in the Corman stable, have cameos in the film.
While the film did moderate theatrical business, where it really made an impact was in the burgeoning home video marketplace. Released through Lightning Video, the B-movie label owned by Vestron, Chopping Mall was equipped with compelling box art created by artist Corey Wolfe. It proved to rental outlets that B-movies coupled with great box art could easily outperform mainstream studio-produced fare and could have longer shelf lives. The title’s artwork screamed, “Rent me!” to America’s VHS-hungry public, and they consumed it hungrily. It could be argued that lying within the success of Chopping Mall laid the foundation for the next decade’s video rental industry.