Chopping Mall (1986)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Nick Segal, John Terlesky, Suzee Slater, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller
(out of 4)
Chopping Mall‘s advertising gimmick is clever. Very clever. Take the title – hard to forget, right? And the poster: body parts in a shopping bag held by a metallic hand. And the tagline: “Where shopping can cost you an arm and a leg.” This stuff just writes itself. Only when you actually view Chopping Mall do you realize that there really isn’t any chopping in it – more like lasers, electrocution, and incineration. Oh, and that metal robot hand carrying the bag? Put it out of your mind – there are no Terminator like cyborgs, or Robocops in this picture. But there are these cute mall security guard robots on treadmills that look like a curious cross between Crichton from Buck Rogers and Johnny Five from Short Circuit. The robots are introduced in a clever sequence involving a training film and a Q&A between the manufacturer and the retailers, who include Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their roles from Eating Raoul). When the Blands are told nothing can go wrong, they roll their eyes in unison. They were right to be skeptical – these security robots are one lightning bolt away from killing everybody in the building.
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In what can only be deemed the most unbelievable lightning storm in movie history, a transformer is hit, causing the central computer console in the mall to go haywire, activating three Protector 101 Series robots (not to be confused with Cyberdyne Systems Model 101) which promptly take out two engineers, then head out to patrol the mall. And by patrol, I mean target any living thing and kill it. The team of meatbags assembled this evening include the virginal Alison (Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet), geeky Ferdy (Tony O’Dell from The Karate Kid), Rick (Russell Todd, who got a machete to the head in Friday the 13th Part 2), Rick’s wife Linda (Karrie Emerson), Alison’s bubbly co-worker Suzie (Barbara Crampton from Re-Animator), her boyfriend Greg (Nick Segal), horny co-worker Mike (John Terlesky), and Mike’s sultry girlfriend Leslie (Suzee Slater). I think the movie wants us to believe that they are all teens, even though they are clearly late twenty-somethings, but I still don’t know what to make of the fact that they thought it was a good idea to have a party in Ferdy’s uncle’s furniture store after the mall closes Friday night. Would young people really want to party at the mall on the weekend? I would think it pretty strange for three couples to be having sex within feet of each other while the fourth couple (Alison and Ferdy) sit on a couch and watch Attack of the Crab Monsters on TV. That movie being directed by Roger Corman, it should give you a hint that this is indeed a Corman production. (Be sure to catch posters from other Corman productions like Galaxy of Terror and Barbarian Queen lining the walls next to Wynorski’s other film Lost Empire).
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The robots dispatch poor janitor Dick Miller (his cameo is way too short) before taking out Mike and Leslie (Suzee Slater’s death being the best – a nice head explosion from a laser). Yes, these robots have lasers, and they shoot them in all directions (with this kind of tech, they should be on the battlefield, not patrolling some shitty mall). After a nice party crashing where two of the robots storm the store and turn Chopping Mall into a funny sci-fi actioner, our heros band together and loot the nearby sporting goods store (which has machine guns on hand, how about that!) Unfortunately, guns don’t do a lot of damage against these slow-moving killbots, but sometimes an improvised Molotov cocktail will knock ‘em over. The bots are hard to destroy though, and most of the main cast will start dropping like flies (Crampton’s character is burned up by her own gas can but nobody thinks to help her out). The other deaths are rather ho-hum – one person dies ramming their security cart into one of the metal killers; I’m hard-pressed to remember many of the others. The robots, while not threatening in any way (you’re telling me nobody can outrun these things?) are at least inventive in their appearance and funny in their delivery of lines (after someone dies, they deadpan “Thank you. Have a nice day.”) Acting ranges from passable to bad, but the movie is made more palatable with the willingness of Slater and Crampton to put their breasts on display (Emerson is at least kind enough to drop down to her underwear). Final girl Maroney fares the best as the resourceful virgin, even though for her to survive the plot requires a killbot not to use its lasers at the exact moment it should use them.
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Chopping Mall is basically a slasher movie with cheesy robots substituted for a hulking killer in a hockey mask. You can also substitute the Xenomorphs from Aliens if you like. (Actually, director Wynorski says in the commentary track that he modeled the film after a 1954 movie called Gog, which concerned robots in an underground installation going haywire.) There is a definite undercurrent of Dawn of the Dead here, and Wynorski makes sure to utilize as much of the mall as possible (sporting goods, clothing store, pet store, paint store). It’s like that episode of Star Trek where Kirk had to fight the Gorn by utilizing the resources of the planet he was trapped on. Certainly, there’s fun to be had with this film, but the problem is that even at a brisk 77 minutes it still feels like it drags. For a B-movie, it’s interesting but not interesting enough, exciting sometimes but not throughout, gory only sporadically, and features killer robots that are fun for a few minutes but not threatening enough to sustain an entire film. I suppose you might want to watch it once anyway, just for the pure cheese of it all, and at the very least for Kelli Maroney, who at the end does her best Sarah Conner impression (“Your Terminated, Fucker!” is replaced with the everlasting comeback “Have a nice day!”). An unmistakeable 80s relic, I can’t help but think Chopping Mall would have been improved by bringing Woronov, Miller, and Bartel front and center. And at least giving the robots a floor-cleaning attachment – talk about wasted opportunity!
- Bill Gordon
The supplements include commentary with Jim Wynorski and co-writer Steve Mitchell which is informative and fun (Wynorski is smart enough to call Slater’s death the second greatest head explosion of all time – the first being Scanners, of course), and a special feature on how the robots were created. There’s also a trailer and photo gallery.
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