Lionsgate Becomes a Force for Good, Starting With Chopping Mall (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Chopping Mall is one of the movies I lightly covered as part of Lionsgate's Horror Collection 8 Movie Pack.  But I think it's time we allow it to fly solo, given that it's just debuted as the inaugural release in Lionsgate's new Vestron Video line of cult horror collector's edition blu-rays.  And this is a very deserving title to start off with.  I mean, this isn't just the first time we're getting Jim Wynorski's all-time best film in HD (sorry, Busty Cops 2!); it's the first time we're getting to see it widescreen.
In the Horror Collection post, I described Chopping Mall as a crowd pleaser, and I stand by that.  It's cheesy and doesn't have a subtle bone in its body, but it's a perfect piece of 80s B-movie entertainment.  A group of teenagers stay overnight to party inside a shopping mall.  Unfortunately, they chose the same night that the mall installed their new collection of robot security guards and impenetrable metal doors sealing all the exits.  That would actually have been fine, if their luck didn't worsen as lightning strikes the building, turning the robots turn into berserk killing machines.  It becomes a small war of man versus machine, and there's plenty of casualties.
Cameos by Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Angus Scrimm and Dick Miller do a lot to elevate the proceedings, but this film is a good time on its own.  The production values are surprisingly high, with big explosions seemingly being set off in a real, working shopping mall; and the robots look great.  The soundtrack is a really effective and even catchy at times synth creation, and there's some pretty effective gore effects.  The characters are heavy-handed but cute, and the movie flies by at a brisk pace from one entertaining set-piece to another.  I'd hate to party with the person who couldn't get at least some enjoyment out of this picture.
Chopping Mall debuted on DVD as a fullscreen special edition back in 2004.  Why fullscreen?  Well, clearly not everybody behind the release cared as much as they should've.  At least it had some extras.  It was all we got for a very long time, though it did turn up again, completely barebones, in the aforementioned Horror Collection 2-disc set in 2012.  I've still got both of those, so we'll be doing an all-out comparison.  But don't expect them to hold a candle to Lionsgate/ Vestron's brand new 2016 blu-ray.
2004 DVD on top; 2012 Horror Collection DVD mid; 2016 blu-ray bottom.
Oh yeah, look at that.  Actually, it's interesting to note that the two DVD transfers are different in more ways than just the compression (they stick Chopping Mall on the same disc with three other movies in the set).  The framing is slightly different - the second DVD has a little more picture on the top and left-hand side.  And the original DVD's color timing is different: greener, compared to the Horror Collection's redder look.  Like, they actually went back at some point and made a new, equally unimpressive master from the same video source?  Anyway, it's all academic now, because thanks to the new version, there's no reason ever to look at the old DVDs again.
Like I said, the new blu is finally widescreen, matted to 1.78:1 (despite saying 1.85:1 on the case).  It turns out the old DVDs weren't entirely just open matte, as we do gain a little more picture along the sides, but it's mostly a question of matting out the extra vertical information.  We've got the most natural set of colors, somewhere in between the two poles of the past releases.  And the picture is so much clearer and more defined in HD.  It's a major boost since the old DVDs are soft.  It's not quite a perfect transfer.  Sometimes the picture's still a little soft, though I have a feeling that's more to do with the original film, since grain is often quite visible and natural looking.  But there's also what looks like a little funky macro-blocking or digital noise going on at times.  Like, look at this thumb.  So it's not a perfect five-star transfer, but compared to what we've had before it's amazing.  And even compared to other blu-rays, it's still safely at least in the "very good" range.

Vestron provides the original mono audio in DTS-HD, and it sounds great.  There are also optional English SDH subtitles, and they even include the isolated film score, also in DTS-HD.  They're really doing it right here.
I called the old 2004 DVD a special edition because, despite being fullscreen, it really was.  It had some solid extras, including an entertaining commentary with Wynorski and his co-writer Steve Mitchell, and a really neat featurette on the killbots, and the trailer.  And happily, all of that has been carried over to the new Vestron release.  Even more happily, there's also a whole ton of new stuff, that really does this film justice.  First of all, there are two new audio commentaries: one with Wynorski and Mitchell again, but this time joined by lead actress Kelli Maroney - and I think it's even better than the original, a perfect blend of entertaining and informative.  And then the other one's with horror critics Nathaniel Thompson and Ryan Turek, which you can honestly skip, as all they really do is talk about themselves and the 80s in general.  After about five minutes, they never really mention Chopping Mall again.  But I think the best extra of them all isn't even a commentary but the roughly half-hour retrospective documentary with Wynorski, Mitchell, and almost the entire cast, including Barbara Crampton.  It's a lot of fun and fairly comprehensive.

But there's a lot of other fun stuff, too.  There's a brief look back at an unfilmed deleted scene, with Mitchell and Wynorski explaining it and then reading from the original script (more with the Blands!), and interview with the film's composer and a new featurette on the composer.  Those are the must-see stuff.  Then there's some sillier things, like a gag interview with one of the robots, voiced by Wynorski (who also voiced them in the film), and an interview with a fan who actually has the last surviving killbot.  It comes in a nice, glossy slipcover, too.
I couldn't be happier with this release.  It's a fun movie given ideal, first class treatment.  They did everything right, and that's all the more impressive given how much Lionsgate didn't get right - with this film and their incredible back catalog they'd been callously sitting on for decades.  I'm thrilled thinking about all of the films I thought we'd never get finally not only coming out but getting amazing blu-rays in this stellar new line.  They've already got a bunch of great titles following this one up, and who knows how much more they continue to do if this line takes off.  I can't wait.

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