What kind of movies did you enjoy as you were growing up and which do you feel helped shape you as a filmmaker later in life?
“I enjoyed a wide variety of movies while growing up on Long Island. New York had a number of independent TV stations that exposed me to all kinds of genre flicks. Although I liked westerns and action pictures, I think I gravitated to the sci-fi/horror titles because I liked being scared. I’ll never forget waiting for Chiller Theatre to run every Saturday night.”
How did you get your first break as a filmmaker and what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as both a writer and director?
“I got my first break doing The Lost Empire for Plitt Theatres. The late owner, Henry Plitt (a decorated war hero), wanted to make a low budget sci-fi action picture as a tax loss. I never knew that when I made the show, so I put my heart and soul into the project. When it finally got completed, Plitt actually liked it enough to give it a wide theatrical release – where it actually made some money.”
Where did the idea for Chopping Mall originate from and what was it about malfunctioning technology that intrigued you so much?
“Chopping Mall was inspired by an old Ivan Tors flick from the 1950s entitled Gog. Vestron Video came to Julie Corman (Roger’s wife and a fine producer in her own right) looking for a film about ‘a killer in a mall.’ She said if I wrote a good one, I could direct it. I recalled the plot from Gog involved a couple of dangerous computer controlled robots patrolling an underground scientific lab in the Arizona desert. Co-writer Steve Mitchell and I transposed the idea to a mall and we were off and running. Some people have said we took our concept from a 1970s TV movie about guard dogs in a mall called Trapped, but in actuality neither Steve or I ever saw that flick.
How would you describe the making of the movie and was it an enjoyable experience? How come the name was changed from Killbots to Chopping Mall and did you always intend on the film being tongue in cheek or did you originally conceive it as a more straight-forward horror?
“It most certainly was enjoyable. For three full weeks, we owned an entire mall from 9pm to 7am in the morning. It was really eerie shooting in a deserted mall all night long. But with such attractive ladies such as Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney on hand, there was never a dull moment. The original script was called Robot, which was changed to Killbots for the first preview. Unfortunately, that title failed to ignite any interest at the box office – so Roger Corman pulled the film and demanded a new title. He knew the film delivered, and felt all it needed was a fresh approach in the advertising. One afternoon we showed the picture in the company screening room, searching for a new was to sell it. As it turned out, the janitor happened to be in the room changing floor lights. When the film ended, he turned to everybody and said “Why don’t you just call it Chopping Mall? Corman and I looked at each other, raised our eyebrows and the new title came into being there and then.
How successful was the movie and how come you never developed Chopping Mall 2?
“The movie was very successful under the new title, especially on home video. You couldn’t go into a video shop back in the 80s and not see a couple of copies. I never had the desire to do a sequel. I felt the idea was exploited fully in the first film.”
How come you decided to direct Sorority House Massacre II? The original was one of the few slashers to have been directed by a woman, how would you compare you approach to the genre compared to Carol Frank’s?
“I never saw the original. My film (SHM2) was originally titled Jim Wynorski’s House of Babes. No kidding. Roger and wife Julie were going away to Europe for a week, and I came to Julie with the idea of shooting a slasher movie on the sets from Slumber Party Massacre 3 and Rock and Roll High School Forever – which were both scheduled to be dismantled . She put a hold on striking the sets and told me to make the film while they were gone without telling husband Roger. I wrote the script in four days, cast it in two and started shooting the moment they left town. Roger only got wind of it after they returned. At first it was to be called Nightie Nightmare, but ultimately it got the Sorority House Massacre 2 moniker.”
Having already directed other sequels (Deathstalker II, The Return of the Swamp Thing) did you feel confident about taking over a franchise and what new aspects did you hope to bring to the slasher genre?
“I made SHM2 on the fly in seven days. I was adding humor whenever possible and making sure there was plenty of nudity along the way. At first, the script ended when the cops arrived in the morning and found the Gail Harris character alive and holding the knife. I said to hell with that and continued on.bringing Orville back to life one more time to take care of business.”
Hard to Die is sometimes referred to as Sorority House Massacre III. Is this a true continuation of the series and how come it is known under different names?
“When Roger Corman saw what I did for his wife in just seven days, he wanted me to do the same for him. He’d just finished a deadly dull comedy called Corporate Assets (I think that was the title, but don’t quote me) and there were office sets left standing all over his studio complex. He turned me loose and said just remake the picture again, which I happily did. Only with Hard to Die, I took Orville’s hardships to even further extremes.”
Looking back on your work during that era, are you proud of what you achieved and have you ever considered returning to any of these movies, with either a sequel or a remake?
“I had fun making both those movies, but they were a product of the time.profitable because the video retail market was still going strong. I don’t think a sequel would be financially viable at this point, although I still have a hidden desire to make Orville in Orbit. Maybe someday.”