When it comes to genre cinema, there are certain studio names that let you know you are in for a certain kind of flick. Names like Troma or Blumhouse have distinct appeals to different sides of the horror lover. In the ’80s, one of these names was Vestron Video, a distribution house for uber-schlocky B-or-lower horror that eventually began producing their own titles. The company folded some time ago, but Lionsgate is bringing it back, and issuing special edition Blu-rays from the Vestron vault. The first two of these are Chopping Mall and Blood Diner.
Made in 1986 by the incredibly prolific director Jim Wynorski and produced by Julie Corman, Chopping Mall is something of a classic in the gory schlock department. Running a real quick 76 minutes, the film features a group of young people, both hot chicks and studly dudes, who end up staying overnight at a shopping mall with the intent of getting up to sexy fun times. What they don’t know, however, is that, in order to stave off the rampant burglaries the mall has suffered, a battalion of violent robotic tanks has been deployed to shoot laser beams at any intruders, no matter how hot they are. (Hence the much more accurate original title Killbots.)
This is an incredibly fun and delightfully goofy horror flick with lots of great horror and B-movie superstars, including Kelli Maroney, Barbara Crampton, and the great Dick Miller. There’s also a cameo appearance by Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov playing their characters from the 1980 cult classic Eating Raoul. The robots look very silly, like if someone made a kids’ toy into a murder machine, but that’s more than half the fun of it, and it results in one of the most lauded head explosion effects in all of horror cinema. Seriously, look it up, it’s pretty phenomenal. Perhaps, after Dawn of the Dead, it’s the most important and fantastic mall-set horror movie in the history of anything.
The second film was a complete mystery to me prior to this release. Definitely, 1987’s Blood Diner doesn’t have close to the same cultural permeation as Chopping Mall. Directed by Jackie Kong, one of the few female horror directors from the ’80s, Blood Diner is ostensibly a very black comedy horror film with a lot of off-color jokes, over-the-top gore, and topless women as far as the eye can see. Two brothers follow in the footsteps of their serial-killer-turned-floating-talking-brain-in-a-jar uncle by running a diner that specializes in “health food” (it’s actually people). You see, the brothers need to kill and dismember a certain number of *ahem* disreputable women in order to create a vessel for the ancient Egyptian murder deity, Sheetar. Carnage ensues something fierce.
Blood Diner works—if that’s the right word for it—on two levels: the first is the absurdly grotesque gore mixed with the irreverent and silly humor; the second is that the acting talent of this cast of veritable unknowns is pretty much across the board awful, and laughs are to be had because of that. You really need to buy into the tone and the general conceit of the movie or it can be a slog. But that’s the sort of movie you got in the ’80s, and it can be a fun movie to watch with friends if you’re all down to laugh with and at it.
The Blu-ray sets from Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collectors Series have been handled with exceptional care. Like Criterion, Drafthouse Films, and Shout Select, the Vestron releases are numbered—one and two, respectively—and will look very nice on any Blu-ray shelf. Chopping Mall boasts three commentary tracks and hours of featurettes, while Blood Diner has one commentary track and fewer, yet still enlightening, mini-docs.
As a genre fan, I love that companies like this are putting forth the effort to make more niche titles worth the money to pick up. All of the best releases are being done by these more boutique companies and long may physical media reign (or exist, frankly) if they continue to be this good. Chopping Mall and Blood Diner getting this nice a treatment is an early Halloween gift for horror fans everywhere.
Images: Vestron/Lightning Pictures