Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Chopping Mall Reunion

Sunday marked the closing night of The American Cinematheque's Night of the Living '80s: A New Wave of Horror with the ridiculous and fun Chopping Mall along with Night of the Comet. The Egyptian Theatre teamed up with La-La Land Records and Creature Features for what would be a reunion of epic proportions. The two had produced a fantastic Used Cars reunion screening a few years ago we attended at The Arclight in Hollywood. Editor and horror fanatic James Branscomb got the packed crowd amped up for the evening and ready to have a good time. He even gave us a shout out for next month's He-Man event (check your local listings this week). We'd never seen Chopping Mall but the simple premise of teenagers locked in the Sherman Oaks Galleria and being hunted by killer robot security guards was too much to pass up even after all the fun of D23 Expo.

The Sherman Oaks Galleria has just deployed three state of the art robot sentries but a freak lighting storm turns them into nearly unstoppable Killbots. That's bad news for our young leads as we meet the nerdy and responsible Ferdy (Tony O'Dell), "fuck the fuchsia, it's Friday!" Greg (Nick Segal) and obnoxious, gum chewing sex machine Mike (John Terlesky). While at the local pizza shop we run into the innocent Alison (Kelli Maroney) and her partying co-worker Suzie (Barbara Crampton). Clothing store vixen Leslie (Suzee Slater) and mechanic couple Rick (Russell Todd) and Linda (Karrie Emerson) complete our sextet who party in the mall after work. The Killbots take out security and janitorial staff before zeroing on our kids. Locked in for the night, the six fight for their lives with propane tanks, machine guns, shotguns, paint and gasoline cocktails, trying to stop the out of control machines. Tits, stiff acting, a surprising amount of indoor pyrotechnics, exploding heads and an awesome synth soundtrack ensues.

At barely 80 minutes, Chopping Mall is a lot of fun that doesn't wear out it's unapologetic, non-highfalutin sense of mischief while making great use of an under $1 million dollar budget provided by Roger and Julie Corman. Jim Wynorski directs from a script co-authored by Steve Mitchell and we get a ridiculous romp of 80's proportions with big hair, mullets, high waisted jeans, popped collars and cameos from Dick Miller (Gremlins), Gerrit Graham (Used Cars) and Mary Woronov (Night of the Comet). The crowd was great, enthusiastic and cheering throughout. After the film, Blumhouse's Ryan Turek moderated a huge reunion panel that included Wynorski, Mitchell, composer Chuck Cirino, robot designer Robert Short and actors Maroney, O'Dell, Todd, Emerson, Crampton, Segal and Terlesky.

- Wynorski and Mitchell were old friends, asked by Vestron for a slasher flick in a mall. Didn't want to do typical boogeyman style that was rampant in theaters.
- Pitched story to Corman and had a greenlight in a matter of days.
- All actors were cast quite quickly and all reflected on the experience very fondly. Maroney and Crampton are still great friends to this day.
- Terlesky debated between chewing a match or gum to make Mike as obnoxious as possible.
- Wynorski saw Russell Todd on poster for Where the Boys Are and wanted to meet him.
- Wynorski saw Emerson acting silently in a commercial and thought she was gorgeous.
- Three robots were created, one fully functional, others towed by cables. Had an emergency kill switch on the back if they ever took off randomly, which actors didn't know.
- Robots designed to shoot at Beverly Center, measured aisle ways and escalators then BC upped price last minute so production moved to Galleria.
- Mitchell was a big fan of Used Cars and got Graham to come in for one night, while sick, to shoot his cameo. Years later, Mitchell thanked Graham who couldn't quite remember the night.
- Film was originally called Killbots which did not create buzz. Lighting tech in test theater suggested changing name to Chopping Mall and off they went.
- A random question about Wynorski and Terlesky's Deathstalker 2 where cast and crew arrived, movie was pushed back a week so they just sat watching TV in Spanish, took all random cues from cartoons and professional wrestling and added it to the movie.
- One Killbot was blown up on screen, blowed up real good, one is on display in a private collector's house in New York City and the third was left to rot in Corman's back lot in Venice.
- Cirino had been doing commercials but friend Wynorski and Mitchell suggested he try film, has composed the music for nearly 70 movies since.

It was a very fun night, low key and easy unlike the last time we came to Hollywood...Would have loved to stay for Night of the Comet but it was still a Sunday after all. Just too old to wait in line at conventions or see a double feature on a school night. If you have a problem with that, I'll send you a Rambo-gram!

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