- Betraying its name by featuring no chopping at all, just a bunch of runaway security-guard robots with lasers and sleep darts, killing all the young people using a mall furniture store as their after-hours love nest
- Looking cheap, rushed, and often apathetically thrown together, except for the lovingly shot scenes involving gratuitous nudity or sudden violence
- In other words, being a Roger Corman production
Defender: Director Jim Wynorski and his scripting partner, Steve Mitchell
Tone of commentary: Gleeful, nostalgic, offhandedly exploitative. Roger Corman and his wife Julie co-produced Chopping Mall, and Roger followed his usual plan of mandating a certain amount of prurient content, but otherwise left the filmmakers alone. “Roger wanted some nudity in this picture,” Wynorski explains over one scene. “‘At least two girls or three girls have to get naked…’ I think I had one naked girl walk by here just to get an extra pair of breasts in the picture.” Wynorski and Mitchell were completely on board, and they reveled in their freedom. They shot nights in the Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall, also used as a set in Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Commando, and they say it was the next best thing to a studio, with plenty of room and freedom to do whatever they wanted, as long as they cleared away all evidence of their activity by 9 each morning. Looking back on the film 20 years after making it, they don’t seem to have changed much from the guys who were over the moon about boobs and explosions back then.
What went wrong: Chopping Mall was originally released as Killbots, and it completely bombed; it didn’t make money until the studio recalled it, and—acting on sudden, excited advice from “the guy who changes the light bulbs in [Roger Corman’s] screening room”—added the new title. Wynorski and Mitchell aren’t sure why the film tanked on first release, but they theorize that people hated the title and associated the poster art with The Transformers: The Movie, thinking it was a kids’ cartoon. Released with the new title and a new ad campaign, the film was far more successful.
As far as shooting went, Wynorski and Mitchell were making a typical Corman movie, so while they note their low budget ($800,000) and quick schedule (22 days), they don’t bother with the usual commentary-track litany of wishes for more money or time. They do gripe about the lousy caterer, about the MPAA censoring one extended fiery death, about “always fighting the sun” because the mall’s skylight dictated the end of a shooting night, and about Pat, the mall liaison who hated them. The sparks used to indicate robo-laser impacts scuffed a pole at one point, and Pat never stopped vocally blaming them for it: “Whenever there was a problem, she would bring up the scar on the pole. I mean, there were tons of stuff in this mall that the kids normally would just deface it, but because we had nicked a little piece of that pole, we were on the hit list for the rest of this show.” “Oh yeah, we weren’t gonna get any Christmas cards from Pat.” They suspect that Commando did a lot of damage to the mall, and they took the flak for it. Fortunately, the mall’s owner was on their side, probably because he enjoyed hanging around the female cast members: “It helps to have hot chicks on the set.” “It certainly does. It distracts people.”
Also, the film called for a character to be fatally thrown from the third story of the mall, so the stunt crew set up an airbag on the ground floor, and invited Wynorski to try the leap for fun. He didn’t have the courage for the full monty, but did jump from the second floor, “and successfully broke a rib.” He “kept mum” about the injury because he was embarrassed, and because he still had a film to direct.
Finally, they note in the opening scene that the cast is visibly nodding off. Wynorski suggests it’s because they were shooting at 4 a.m., and had to use periodic loud noises to keep the actors from falling asleep; Mitchell says it’s just that the scene is really boring, but they had to get in the exposition somehow.
Comments on the cast: On Kerrie Emerson: “Very lovely, very sexy. Pay attention to her blue jeans. Blue jeans never looked better on any woman on the planet, ever. Or at least in 1980.” And during her underwear scene, “Pardon me while I sort of soak in Kerrie Emerson here.” On Suzee Slater: “Being a breast man, as I’ve been for the last 50 years, I said, ‘That girl’s for me! Let’s put her in the picture!’” On the female cast in general: “The girls were just great in this scene. None of them complained. I mean, I had no complaints from anyone on this show. Everyone was having too much fun.”
The male actors get less lascivious attention, with Wynorski and Mitchell running down their CVs in knowledgeable detail, and particularly praising John Terlesky as “an incredibly inventive actor” for his decision to chew gum in every scene, even when in bed naked with Slater.
Inevitable dash of pretension: Wynorski and Mitchell rarely go pretentious; they openly acknowledge that the film looks cheap in spots, sarcastically chuckling, “There you go, there’s some high-quality rotoscoping” over the laser shots, or noting the ideas they stole from Commando, Dawn Of The Dead, Wild Bunch, and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. But they do take some mid-film downtime to boast about how their movie is a much-sought-after “cult favorite” that really stands out from the crowd of otherwise-similar “dead teenager movies,” probably due to the use of robots. “And it’s got the second greatest head explosion of all time!” Wynorski enthuses as one cast member ends up on the wrong end of a laser. “Check this out! Watch this! Too cool, too cool!”
Commentary in a nutshell: Wynorski, on a scene where Barbara Crampton slowly peels off her blouse and bra: “And this is a very key shot for the movie, for Roger, and for you out there.” Mitchell: “I think at one point, when Barbara had seen this movie, she had said—I don't know if it was to us or to somebody else—‘I have lovely breasts, don’t I?’ Well, I think the answer is yes.”