Mall Insecurity: Just A Few More Chopping Days Left Until Splatter Cine-mas at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL (1986); Dir. Jim Wynorski; Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov; Tuesday, Dec. 10 @ 9:30 (photos and merch table open @ 9); Plaza Theater; Trailer here; Facebook Event Page here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

In the middle of the holiday season, when shopping centers are teeming with masses of bargain-hungry consumers, who doesn’t wish that a few bloodthirsty killbots could be unleashed to thin out the crowds? Look no further than the Plaza Theatre for some vicarious thrills as Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL!

You know, there was a time when a Jim Wynorski movie meant something. Granted, it didn’t mean much. But you knew what you were getting when you saw his name on the screen—an exploitation movie that didn’t take itself seriously in the least, and that sent itself and the genre up for affectionate ribbing. In short, a kind of low-rent Joe Dante flick (which makes sense, as both directors came from the benches of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures farm team). This is best exemplified in his two most fully-realized movies: his 1983 feature debut THE LOST EMPIRE (a comic variation on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME but with a lot more nudity) and his more successful follow-up, CHOPPING MALL.

CHOPPING MALL answers the age-old question, “what would happen if mall security was handled by robots, and a freak lightning storm caused them all to go kill-crazy on a bunch of teens partying in a furniture store after-hours?” This question has plagued theologians, philosophers and scientists for centuries, and finally found all of its potential ramifications explored in full, rich, intellectual detail in the hands of Jim Wynorski. The answer, of course, is “well, the kids would start dying in hilariously bloody ways, and it would look a lot like DAWN OF THE DEAD if, instead of zombies, there were really cheap robots that looked kind of like Number 5 from SHORT CIRCUIT, yet acted like the ED-209 from ROBOCOP.”

Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in CHOPPING MALL (1996).

Wynorski’s direction is perfectly adequate for this. It’s not pushing any envelopes or even trying to be groundbreaking in any way, but it’s tight and well-paced, creating a fun sense of tension while at the same time allowing you to chuckle at the complete outlandishness of it all. The movie hides its cheapness reasonably well, making the most of its Sherman Oaks Galleria setting, and features a host of familiar faces to distract you from the low budget. Among the teens getting slaughtered are Kelli Maroney from NIGHT OF THE COMET, Tony O’Dell from HEAD OF THE CLASS, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s Russell Todd and scream queen Barbara Crampton of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND fame. Cameos are provided by the always-welcome Dick Miller (as Walter Paisley, his character name from A BUCKET OF BLOOD) and the delightful team of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their roles of EATING RAOUL’s Paul and Mary Bland.

In short, CHOPPING MALL is just a whole hell of a lot of fun, and one of the better (and bloodier) ways to blow off steam this time of year. If you want to turn your over-taxed, shopped-out brain off and have a riotously good time, you could hardly do better than watching a shopping mall turn against the idiots populating it. And don’t forget to show up early and get your photo taken in a gore-filled recreation of one of the movie’s scenes! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: Feeling Lifeless? Head to the Plaza Theatre for an appointment with Herbert West: RE-ANIMATOR!

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2013 By:

RE-ANIMATOR (1985); Dir. Stuart Gordon; Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton; Starts Friday, Feb. 15; Plaza Theatre (visit website for show times and ticket prices); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre has become well-known for bringing new life to classic films. It makes sense, then, this week that the Plaza ins mot only making the dead return in FRANKENHOOKER, but also exhibiting the nefarious dead-raising actions of Herbert West: RE-ANIMATOR.

Prior to 1985, Stuart Gordon had been best known as a leading theatrical director in Chicago, having founded the Organic Theater Company with his wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. Gordon had overseen such important productions as the world premiere of David Mamet’s SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, E/R EMERGENCY ROOM, Gordon’s own three-part sci-fi epic WARP! and his adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s THE SIRENS OF TITAN. After 1985, however, Gordon became as inexorably linked with H.P. Lovecraft as Roger Corman once was with Edgar Allan Poe.

It all started with a desire to see a Frankenstein movie. Gordon had been discussing horror movies with a friend of his, who had asked if he’d read Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West: Reanimator,” itself a parody of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Though Gordon was familiar with Lovecraft’s fiction, this story had eluded him. He tracked down a copy at the Chicago Public Library, and was inspired to adapt the story for the stage. After struggling with the material, Gordon (along with his writing partners Dennis Paoli and William Norris) decided to update the setting and adapt it as a television series. After writing 13 episodes, the team was discouraged from pursuing a TV deal due to horror’s lack of success on the small screen. Instead, Gordon was introduced to producer Brian Yuzna, who was enthusiastic about turning the project into a feature film. Yuzna brought Gordon out to Hollywood to shoot the film and landed a distribution deal with Charles Band’s Empire Pictures.

The story, in short, is this: at Miskatonic University, Herbert West has arrived having already been driven out of Zurich for experimenting with a reagent that will reanimate dead bodies. He teams with fellow medical student Dan Cain to further test his reagent. First, Dan’s girlfriend’s cat is reanimated. Then it’s the school’s dean. And then the blood really starts to flow.

Lovecraft has long been a problematic author to adapt. His best-known tales are built on what has come to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos, which postulates that this world was once ruled by alien Elder Gods that have since either fallen into a deathlike slumber or have lost their access to this plane of existence. Because a glimpse into these other planes or even merely a quick glance at one of the Great Old Ones is often enough to cause insanity in Lovecraft’s characters, it’s got to be pretty hard to translate the mind-bending incomprehensibility of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors to a visual medium with any chance of success.

Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, RE-ANIMATOR (1985).

It stands to reason, then, that perhaps the most successful direct adaptations of Lovecraft are those not related to the Mythos. Which is where we find RE-ANIMATOR. Even though its sardonic humor and oceans of gore would seem to be far removed from the reserved and serious-minded attitude of Lovecraft’s fiction, the film hues remarkably close to its source material. The short story was written as a parody to begin with, so the film’s humorous tone is not a huge departure from Lovecraft’s intent. And as grisly as the film is, the events it depicts are largely taken directly from the first two chapters of the story and portions of the final chapter. None of this is to suggest that Lovecraft would have approved of the film, as he didn’t even approve of his own short story the movie is based upon, having unhappily written it purely for the publishing money. And even though the story is universally considered his least work, as an inspiration for a horror flick, it’s pure gold.

A lot is made of RE-ANIMATOR being a horror-comedy, but I think that what makes it work is that it’s more than just simply funny; it’s fun. It’s not a movie chock full of belly laughs, but it tells its story with such a perverse sense of glee that it’s hard not to get caught up in the movie’s charm. In addition, the screenplay never downplays the horror in favor of the humor, instead drawing the latter out of natural reactions to the former, and out of the well-developed chemistry between the film’s characters. And Gordon’s direction is surprisingly tasteful for such a bloody film. Every shot is composed thoughtfully, and his deft hand at pace and timing keeps things tightly-wound throughout. This may sound blasphemous to the devout film buff, but RE-ANIMATOR is precisely the kind of movie that James Whale would have made if he had made BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1985.

Barbara Crampton and a disembodied head in RE-ANIMATOR (1985).

However, all of this would likely be for naught if it weren’t for the remarkable performance of Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West. Combs plays West as remarkably arrogant and self-important while simultaneously nervous, brittle and on the edge of psychotically unraveling. Combs’ performance was instantly memorable, crafting a variation on the “mad scientist” archetype that is strong enough to stand with any of the legends. And while Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain is a bland (yet likeably bland) co-star, Barbara Crampton stands out in what could have been a throwaway part as Dan’s girlfriend Megan. Thanks both to the screenplay and Crampton’s solid acting, Megan transcends the mere “damsel in distress” role and becomes a believable, human character. Moreover, Crampton’s smart acting choices in every scene make her come across as being game for whatever “WTF?” moment the film throws her way (and thanks to the inventive effects work, there are plenty). As a result, the viewer doesn’t get pulled out of the film, their suspension of disbelief shattered, by suddenly becoming concerned about what the actress (rather than her character) is going through.

RE-ANIMATOR, in short, captures what is fun about horror movies without looking down its nose at them. It’s smart, energetic, delightedly (and delightfully) wicked and full of inspired set pieces and visuals. It’s not just one of the top horror films of the 1980s. It’s one of the top horror films full stop.

I was prescribed Ativan 1 mg 4 times a day. I use 2 pills before I go to sleep as it relaxes my muscles and I can sleep all night long.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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The Horror Con! The Horror Con! Our Top 10 Retro Reasons to Brave the Days of the Dead

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2012 By:

For some time, Atlanta has boasted a fearsome fright scene—we’d even argue that it’s one of the best in the nation—thanks to the mad maniacs behind the Silver Scream Spookshow, Splatter Cinema, Gorehound Productions, Netherworld, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Chambers of Horror, Buried Alive Film Festival, Rock N Roll Monster Bash, DEAR GOD! NO!… But the city weirdly never has hosted a full-out horror con.

DAYS OF THE DEAD aims to right that wrong this weekend with a thieves’ gallery of men behind masks, scream queens and cult movie idols, both classic and contemporary. The action takes place a bit south at the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center, south of the airport in Peachtree City, Friday 5 p.m.- 11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. and Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Here are our top 10 Retro reasons why you need to go…

Riff Randell and Kate Rambo!
We’re still fantasizing of hanging with the Ramones and blowing up our high school, even after all these years, so we can’t think of anything more awesome than to meet and get the autographs of P.J. Soles and Dey Young, the actresses behind Joey’s biggest fan and the sexiest budding nuclear physicist ever to attend ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979). In case you’re too young to know this cult classic, get yourself educated by reading Mark Arson’s Retro Review here.

Sid Haig!
Sid is one of those rare B-movie icons and character actors whose career spans the decades from Jack Hill’s blaxploitation films of the 1970s to the chaotic Captain Spaulding of Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. In our book, the latter is a modern exploitation classic and arguably the best of Zombie’s movies. Quite frankly you scared the sh-t out of us and since we’re not easily scared, for that we salute you, Sid, as a true master of horror. And OK, it’s pretty darned cool that your co-star Bill Moseley is going to be there, too, and both of you share a panel at noon Sunday.

Sexy Scream Queens!
A horror con wouldn’t be a horror con without a bevy of beautiful scream queens. I know it’s fun, guys, to get an autograph and pose for a pic, but we’re jazzed to hear what these gals have to say about their stints as the victim, too. Looking forward to that opportunity at the Scream Queens Panel Sat. at 2 p.m. featuring Linnea Quigley (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 1 & 2, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, TRANCERS 1 & 2), PJ Soles (who also of course was in John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN and CARRIE), and “honorary scream queen” Mark Patton (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2)

Vintage Zombies!
Being that THE WALKING DEAD is filmed inAtlanta, it seems perfectly unnatural to have a few of its zombies as con guests. But we have to admit we’re more excited about meeting George Koshana (Sheriff McClelland) and John Russo (screenwriter) from the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). In fact, we’re just tickled blood-red that they’re still on the con circuit, especially after the sad recent loss of Bill Hinzman. Glad we met him down at Spooky Empire in Orlando a few years ago.

Home-Grown Horror!
While the Hollywood stars may be the headliners, another cool thing about Days of the Dead is it also embraces our local Atlanta scary subculture. At midnight Friday, the gory gang at Atlanta’s adult haunted attraction Chambers of Horror is hosting an adults-only Rock N Roll Torture Lounge. Watch lovely ladies spin the Wheel of Torture and win prizes as the Right Reverend Andy, of Psychobilly Freakout on Garage 71, spins horror rock and punk hits. Then at 8 p.m. Professor Morte, Persephone and the Silver Scream Spookshow will be throwing a special bonus show exclusive to Days of the Dead. Be there and be scared!

Macabre Movies!
Don’t just meet the stars, take a little time out to catch a few movies. Our favorite picks, of course, are cult classics, both old and new. Linnea Quigley hosts a special workprint screening of ‘80s cult classic RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, featuring alternate scenses, takes and 15 minutes of footage never screened to the public, Friday night at 9 p.m.  Then on Saturday, DEAR GOD! NO! has been generating quite a buzz on the festival circuit for its over-the-top authenticity as a homage to ‘70s exploitation films, and you have another chance to see it at 3 p.m. Catch up on our crazy interview with director Jimmy Bickert here.

Creepy Costumes!
Be sure and pack your most frightening recreation of a horror icon, or at least your camera, as Days of the Dead serves up several costume events. On Friday night, dance until you drop dead at the Monsters Among Us Costume Ball, a Phantom Ball-themed costume party with DJs spinning. Then the best of the best compete at 4:30 p.m. Sat. in Wickedbeard’s Costume Contest. Finally Sunday, don your best zombie make-up with a Zombie Best in Show Contest, co-horror-hosted by Argos T. Fleam and Atlanta’s own Professor Morte. We’re informed that experts will judge on zombie poise, form, dexterity and talent. Dripping, dribbling, drooling and loss of appendage will reflect negatively on your final scores.

Custom Hearses!
Even if you’re not ready for that final ride to the graveyard, it’s always pretty amazing to see custom hearses done up with all the creativity of vintage hotrods. All day Saturday members of Atlanta’s Dead Ends Hearse Club will be showing off their wheels the Hell on Wheels Hearse Show, with raffles and giveaways and a contest for best of hearse at 2 p.m.

The Man Behind THE CROW!
THE CROW began as a comic book with a cult/goth following about a mild-mannered guy returned from the dead to wreak revenge on the human monsters who raped and murdered his true love. Beautifully drawn and written, the haunting and violent tale by James O’Barr inevitably caught Hollywood attention but seemed destined for another fatal turn with the tragic death of star Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, on the set. James has made Atlanta comics con and DragonCon appearances before, but it always make us smile to see him back because not only is he an amazing artist but also one of the sweetest guys on the planet. Be sure and ask him to show you the portfolio of what he’s been up to lately, and yeah, you can tell him we told you to.

Spooktacular Shopping!
Horror cons are a great place to stock up on , and from the list of vendors booked for this weekend, we’re definitely bringing some extra cash and credit card. Hollywood Book & Poster always packs a super selection of vintage horror posters, stills, books, scripts and more at reasonable prices. And stop and say hi at the Diamond Star Halo table to ATLRetro Contributing Editor and Libertine proprietress extraordinaire Jennifer Belgard, who has really revved up our own Shop Around section. For a full vendor and artist line-up, click here.

Those are just our top 10 reasons to come, of course. Yours may be Gary and Jake Busey, Roddy Piper, Jeff Burr, Tyler Mane or any of the other many guests. We don’t judge. We just say if you don’t support your local horror con, the first could be the last so get yourself down to Peachtree City and let’s have a fiendishly fun time together.

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