While not a commercial or critical success, the film has gained a cult following over the years.
Park Plaza Mall has just installed a state-of-the-art security system which includes security shutters across all exits and three high-tech security robots programmed to disable and apprehend thieves using tasers and tranquilliser guns. Four couples consisted of Rick and Linda, Greg and Suzie, Mike and Leslie, and Ferdy and Allison decide to have a party in one of the furniture stores where three of them work. After hours, all of them (with the exception of Alison and Ferdy) begin to have sex, drink, and party inside the furniture store.
Outside, a lightning storm strikes the mall several times and damages the computer controlling the security robots, resulting in them killing their technicians and a janitor before going on regular patrol in the now-empty mall. Mike and Leslie leave the furniture store and are killed outside by the robots, and the others begin to separate after witnessing this. The men break into a sporting store to arm themselves with firearms; the girls take gasoline and flares from an automotive store. Utilizing a propane tank, the men blow up and seemingly destroy one of the robots. While the men set up the mall elevator as a booby trap, the robots ambush the girls and manage to ignite Suzie via shooting her gasoline canister, killing her. Greg sees this, and unsuccessfully tries to shoot the robot before Rick drags him away.
The teenagers, now regrouped, rig the elevator trap on the second robot, destroying it. They then hide out in the restaurant where Allison works. Inside, Greg confronts Allison and Linda about leaving the air ducts and soon exhibits rage due to Suzie's death, going far as pulling his gun on Ferdy when he intercedes on Allison's and Linda's behalf. Rick manages to calm him down, and Ferdy suggests destroying the robot's main control center in hopes that it would shut them down. As the group agrees on this, they head to the control center located on the mall's third floor. Greg is soon killed by the remaining robots by being tossed over the railing and falling to his death three floors below. While on the run, they also find the first robot recovered after its earlier defeat.
The four remaining survivors, Allison, Ferdy, Rick and Linda, take refuge inside a department store. They set up mannequins in an attempt to confuse the robots outside the upper-level floor, which works when the machines fire at the dummies and one of them is blinded from its own reflected laser. Linda is killed by the blinded robot and an enraged Rick drives a golf cart into the robot; he is killed by a bolt of electricity, but his actions successfully destroy the machine. As the final robot corners Alison, Ferdy rescues her and shoots it at point blank, damaging its laser just before he is rendered unconscious. Despite an injured leg, Alison escapes into the paint store, and sets up a trap mixing paint and chemicals. She lures the robot inside where it becomes stuck from its tracks unable to find traction on the spilled paint and thinners, and tosses a flare into the store, igniting the chemicals and ultimately destroying the final robot. As she leaves the store, Ferdy awakens from the upper mall and the two are the final survivors as daylight appears in the mall.
In a post-credits scene, a robot rolls up to the camera and says "thank you, have a nice day."
Julie Corman had a deal with Vestron to make a horror film that took place in a mall. Jim Wynorski agreed to write one cheaply if he could direct.
Wynorski wrote the script with Steve Mitchell, who he had known since the 1970s when they met at conventions for EC Comics and became friends. They decided to do a "phantom of the mall"-type movie and Mitchell says it was Wynorski's idea to feature robots. Wynorski said he was inspired by the 1954 film Gog; he claims he never saw the 1973 TV film Trapped, which some believe inspired Chopping Mall.
Mitchell says they wrote up the story in 24 hours and sent it to Julie Corman. Vestron gave their approval within a week despite lack of a script. The script took around four or five weeks to write.
Wynorski says Roger Corman "was nothing but supportive from the get-go. He loved the idea."
Wynorski says Kelli Maroney was cast because "I had seen Kelli in a couple of things and I wanted to date her. So, I figured the one way to make that happen was to put her in a movie. We actually did go out a bit for awhile." She replaced Dana Kimmell, who had been cast on the strength of her performance in Lone Wolf McQuade but Dana didn't want to do anything that was sexual," according to Mitchell. "So Jim was very quick to say, "Well, she’s out, let’s get Kelli," who was pretty much game for anything." Karrie Emerson also replaced someone else.
The script was full of in-jokes, writing in characters from A Bucket of Blood and Eating Raoul. The writers got the actors from the respective films: Dick Miller, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel.
Mitchell wanted John Terlesky to play the hero but Wynorski wanted Russell Todd. Terlesky played the part of Mike.
Chopping Mall also acts as a debut film for Rodney Eastman, who later went on to star in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
Wynorski says Roger Corman took him out to lunch before making the film. He bought a yellow pad "and after lunch he said this here is what you gotta do and he gave me film school in an hour.Everything I learned in film school didn't count but what he said made a lot of sense and I still have that yellow pad and I live by it. I now have it memorized, many do`s and don'ts."
The film was written to be filmed at the Beverly Central Shopping Centre, but they charged too much money so the film was filmed mostly at Sherman Oaks Galleria (where Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Commando had been filmed). The Beverly Central was used for some exteriors.
Mitchell later recalls, "I think we both felt a pretty fair amount of pressure when we started shooting. It was Julie’s picture, but it was still Roger’s company, and he was the bottom line. We both very much wanted to make him happy."
Mitchell says "the specter of Roger loomed large for the first couple of days" but after the second or third night Corman said they were doing a "very fine job". "So there was a collective sigh of relief on our part that we were making Roger happy, and that’s what really mattered," says Mitchell.
Wynorski says that Bartel and Woronov ad-libbed the bulk of their parts.
Mitchell estimates filming took 20 days at the Galleria and two days at Corman's studios.
At least two different versions of the film exist. The TV cut has some extra footage, such as a small homage to Attack of the Crab Monsters, extended scenes of Ferdy and Allison watching TV, some aerial shots and an extension of one of the Ferdy/Allison scenes. This is rare: TV edits seldom have more than a few extra seconds of footage over the theatrical version. No official source offers this version.
On the DVD commentary tracks, Wynorski and Mitchell discussed many details of production, including an injury that the director suffered while helping prepare a stunt sequence, their unfriendly relationship with the Galleria's security chief (and friendly one with the mall's owner), the many beautiful women who were part of the cast and ways that they dealt with having little time or money, yet finished their work on time.
Concorde Pictures released the film in limited theaters on March 21, 1986. It was known during production as Robots, then Killbots. Upon initial release as Killbots, the film did poorly at the box office; however, it fared better when it was re-released as Chopping Mall. The name Chopping Mall was a suggestion of a janitor.
The film was released on VHS in the United States by the Vestron sub-label Lightning Video in 1986. Lionsgate released the film twice on DVD: once in 2004 (with special features including a featurette, commentary, still gallery and trailer) and in 2012 as part of an 8-horror film DVD set. It was released for the first time on Blu-ray on September 27, 2016 as part of Lionsgate's new Vestron Video Collector's Series line.
Wynorski later said, the film "did okay when it was released in theaters. It got some okay reviews and did decent business. But it really found a life on VHS and cable. That’s when it really was embraced."
"I never had the desire to do a sequel," said Wynorski. "I felt the idea was exploited fully in the first film.”
On November 2011, Dry County Entertainment acquired the film rights and are planning a remake with a supernatural twist. The film will be produced and written by Kevin Bocarde and directed by Robert Hall.