Every horror fan knows that October is the best month of the year, but it's not only because the stores finally fill up with quality home decor, it is also the flood of new home video releases that appear every fall. This year has been no exception.
Over the last two weeks there has been a flood of incredible releases that are worth a look. Check out what we have to say about the ghastly quintet of Chopping Mall, Blood Diner, Tales of Halloween, The Mind's Eye, and The Wailing.
First up on our celebration of all things spooky is the Blu-ray debut of Jim Wynorski's 1986 robo-slasher, Chopping Mall. Before I ever actually saw the film, Chopping Mall was one of my earliest video store memories based on the incredibly misleading – and terrifying to an impressionable child – artwork of a dismembered cyborg hang holding a shopping bag. The image, as iconic as it has become, has almost nothing to do with the film itself, apart from the fact that it is, in fact, set in a mall. The killer robots, however, look more like the Daleks from Doctor Who than any cyborg. However, by the time I'd loosened myself up enough to dive into horror films in my teens, that cover was all the impetus I needed to give this film a try and I've been a fan ever since.
The film revolves around a bunch of horny teenagers looking for a place to get intimate without their parents bothering them. Unfortunately, the mall they've chosen has recently installed a new robotic security force. The robots don't look terribly threatening at first glance, but an errant bolt of lightning turns them into killing machines bent on removing any perceived threat that stands in their way. One by one the unlucky couples succumb to the determined little tanks in amazingly gory – and sometimes even explosive – ways. With the couples locked inside the mall and the killbots hunting them down, it's just a matter of who, if anyone, can survive until sunrise when help should arrive.
Chopping Mall is fun, fast-paced, gory, and has a wicked sense of humor. The old horny-teens-must-die trope works remarkably well, and the ace casting of Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney among others doesn't hurt at all. Director Wynorski had only made one other feature prior to Chopping Mall, and for a short while in the late '80s he used this film to start a career in mid-low budget horror films that got played in cineplexes. Over the last two decades, however, he's stuck mostly to direct-to-cable skin flicks, and Chopping Mall, in my opinion, remains the high water mark of his career.
Chopping Mall marks the first release in a new series from Lionsgate Home Video designed to celebrate VHS home video era kingpins, Vestron Video. As such, this is no ordinary Blu-ray. The film has been rescanned and cleaned up to a remarkable degree, I'd wager it has never looked this good. Those of us who are fans will recall the previous DVD release which literally used a VHS era tape master and looked awful. Chopping Mall now looks fantastic, and if this is a sign of things to come in the Vestron Video Collector's Series, you can call me a believer, even if the price is a bit steep.
The extras on the disc are remarkable, and a large part of that has to do with the fact that no one sells Jim Wynorski like Jim Wynorski. He an inimitable huckster, and in an effort to give the fans what they wanted, he gathered everyone he could get his hands on to be a part of this release. The disc features three different audio commentaries, one with Kelli Maroney and co-writer Steve Mitchell, another with Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital and Ryan Turek of Shock 'Till You Drop, and a third with director Wynorski and Mitchell again. I sampled all three and they all bring something different to the table. The fan track with Thompson and Turek is probably the least empirically informative, but even if has its raw charms.
In addition to those tracks we also get a stack of featurettes a mile high. There's a making-of overview called “Back to the Mall”, a featurette on the editing process called “Chopping Chopping Mall”, one discussing the actual killbots, one discussing the kickass score, one feature talks to the film's number one fan who has a bunch of great memorabilia and props in his collection including an original robot, and much, much more. This thing is packed to the gills and any fan of the film will be more than satisfied. Definitely a must-buy