No holiday season is complete without a trip to the mall… the Chopping Mall, that is.  Cinematic Void, an organization that promotes screenings of classic horror, sci-fi and cult flicks in Los Angeles, allowed moviegoers the opportunity to spend Black Friday in a mall that became a movie legend in itself: the Sherman Oaks Galleria. 

Before the indoor mall was razed in 1999 and reopened as an open-air mall in 2002, the Galleria had been immortalized in ’80s faves like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Terminator 2, Night of the Comet, Commando and the Frank Zappa hit “Valley Girl” (as well as the movie it inspired), this icon of ’80s teen life added some scope and production value to a handful of horror films as well.

Those in attendance Friday could give thanks for insightful Q&As related to screenings of Chopping Mall, along with its fellow Galleria film Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge.

Director Jim Wynorski, writer Steve Mitchell, composer Chuck Cirino and actor Kelli Maroney shared stories about how “killbots” came to terrorize this temple of commerce.  Memorable anecdotes included:

  • Producer Julie Corman (wife of Roger Corman) pressed Wynorski and Mitchell for a “killer in the mall” idea. Tired of the slasher formula, Wynorski reached back to the 1954 “machine gone mad” film Gog as a springboard for killer robots as the mall menace of choice.
  • Kelli Maroney was cast due to her turn in Night of the Comet, although the powers that be nearly cast someone else. Luckily, that actress was offended by the script and dropped out, giving Wynorski his first choice for Chopping Mall‘s Final Girl.
  • Cirino, a friend of Wynorski and a “synthesizer hobbyist” who made his living directing commercials about discount electronics, created the score more or less on a dare in three weeks, kick-starting his own rich composing career. (Cirino is currently working on a Psycho-A-Go-Go film musical.)
  • After tanking in a few markets under the title Killbots, a janitorial staffer suggested the title Chopping Mall. Corman took the unsolicited advice and the fortunes of the film changed immediately, showing Wynorski the power of effective marketing.
  • The “cold open” structure was informed by James Bond films.
  • Wynorski’s bête noire on the film was a woman named Pat, a minder paid to protect the mall. Ironically, when Wynorski wanted to set an actor on fire, the actual owner of the mall, a purported movie buff, approved the fiery stunt without a second thought.
  • The explosive finale was accomplished by re-creating a storefront in a parking lot at Corman’s studio. What “sold” the recreation was a bench “borrowed” from the actual mall (returned once the explosion was committed to celluloid).
  • The robots, which worked flawlessly, were built for the Beverly Center mall. Although that mall, with its unique exterior escalators, still serves as the exterior, the interior locations switched to Sherman Oaks, which contained narrower escalators, so any interior escalator shots were accomplished by crew holding the upper torsos of the robots.
  • The fictional “Furniture King” store created for the film had to fend off customers, would-be employees and even celebrities seeking to purchase the thrift-store derived props.

The Q&A ended with a shout-out to the Chopping Mall Blu-Ray, which the creators oversaw, pulling original elements together and making sure the aspect ratio and sound mix reflected their original vision (something not reflected in either the original prints or the VHS).

Steve Mitchell promoted his documentary, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen and discussed his in-process documentary True Believers, about the first generation of comic book fans who became industry pros in the ’70s and ’80s; Maroney discussed her upcoming films Exorcism at 60,000 Feet and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Old Ones.

Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge closed out the double feature, presenting a surprise Q&A with screenwriter Scott J. Schneid, who laid out what might have been, recounting how his original screenplay was altered (and, he argues, diminished) on its winding path to the big screen. With a good sense of humor, Schneid wondered aloud what all VHS jockeys of 1989 questioned: how the heck are we going to know who Eric is before we watch the movie?

[If you want more background, Schneid referred the audience to William S. Wilson’s exploration of his and former writing partner Tony Michelman’s original draft, which you can read here.]

After being teased with a grander vision, we settled in to watch the fun but flawed film that emerged in 1989. One thing the film does even better than Chopping Mall, however, is deliver on legit late-’80s mall ambiance.

Amplifying the theme, Cinematic Void livened up the pre-screening time with a fun batch of vintage mall-themed nuggets – including real Cabbage Patch Doll holiday hysteria, proving that Americans don’t need killbots or phantoms to bring horror, violence and mayhem to Black Friday.

Cinematic Void’s own James Branscome told us about the inspiration for this double feature by referencing another beloved mall-based genre classic.

“Last year I hosted a screening of Dawn of the Dead on Black Friday,” Branscome said, “and wanted to continue the tradition of horror films set at a mall. So when the opportunity presented itself I figured it was the perfect chance to pair a beloved horror-comedy with a title lingering in a bit of obscurity.” He says the Sherman Oaks location “tied it all together nicely.”

For those of you who missed the show, we hope we’ve encouraged you to pick up copies of both movies and plan your own mall-themed horror marathon… and here’s a little tune to encourage you!

Cinematic Void’s next event is a screening of the under-appreciated Exorcist III, which, cheekily, they are billing as a holiday film. Be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and visit their official site to find out how you can be an official patron of the Void!

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