Tagline: Where shopping will cost you an arm and a leg.
Director: Jim Wynorski
Writers: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Dick Miller, Nick Segal, John Terlesky, Suzee Slater, Pau Bartel
18 | 1hr 17 mins | Horror
Budget: $800,000 (estimated)
Long before Amazon and Facebook turned us all into hermits, shopping malls were our cultural epicentre. Each weekend teenagers would flock in their legions, hanging out at their favourite arcades or fast food restaurants and marvelling at the colourful array of consumer products that were not yet accessible at the click of a touchpad. Inevitably, these monuments to consumerism became schoolyards away from home, and in an era when Reagan proclaimed that ‘all great change in America begins at the dinner table,’ ghetto blasters and bubblegum could only lead to all out rebellion, right?
Fear not irrational parents of the 1980s, for Park Plaza has a new bastion of shopping centre law enforcement: the Protector 101 series robots, otherwise known as the Killbots. Chopping Mall is a garish roller coaster of ineptly-plotted action, third-rate acting and all-round silliness. Made after the genre had succumbed to the chastening whip of ‘video nasty‘ censorship, it is a savvy exercise in knowing humour that could charm even the most conservative of horror naysayers, turning to the kind of camp self-awareness that saved the genre from cutting room mediocrity.
Filmed in Sherman Oaks Galleria of Commando fame, Chopping Mall begins with a presentation video displaying the murderous capabilities of the Protector 101 Series. Probably not the smartest approach, and one that does little to assuage the gaggle of mall rats clamouring for answers. One watching citizen isn’t convinced and asks how this tank/toaster hybrid could possibly distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys, leading their smug host to assure them that absolutely nothing can go wrong.
And perhaps it wouldn’t have if not for the random flash of lightning that strikes the mall’s control panel, immediately sending the machines doolally. At first glance this might not seem like much of an issue. After all, this is not ED-209 we’re dealing with, and the Killbots are more Nintendo‘s R.O.B than Robocop. But don’t let their cheap aesthetics or lack of mobility fool you. These kitsch and highly immobile oddities are brutal, devious and queerly efficient, though the latter is mostly due to a deliciously contrived screenplay and the exceedingly vacuous victims it forges (see Most Absurd Moment).
For a machine whose sole purpose is to restrain and reprimand, it is certainly surprising that the designers decided to install a plethora of deadly weapons, including razor sharp implements and lasers that with one direct hit can make a human head explode like a watermelon. For the group of teenagers who decide to sneak into the mall after hours for some premarital sex, this superfluous oversight could not have come at a worse time.
Featuring the kind of melodramatic cast that almost validates such cynical slaughter, Chopping Mall is an affectionate send-up of the ’80s B-movie boom, but instead of fleeing omnipotent maniacs through darkened woods, our skimpily-clad girls have the seemingly straight-forward task of evading clunky hunks of tin metal, while Schwarzenegger and Stallone are replaced by a trio of pencil dicks who wouldn’t last five minutes at a friendly paintball outing.
Luckily for them, they have resourceful final girl Alison Parks (Kelli Maroney) to fall back on, a cutesy all-American chick with mammary glands of steel who would land the lead based on the director’s real-life infatuation with her, and who proves the perfect acquisition for a flick of such bonkers aspirations. Chopping Mall is one of those movies that just wouldn’t get made today, the kind that poses very little financial risk and as a consequence benefits from an almost limitless canvas. It is contrived, absurd and often laughable, but as a result unique, curious and utterly beguiling.
Featuring one of the best and most misleading promotional posters of the era (see above), the movie would later achieve cult status due to its schlocky practical effects and all round cheapo charm — particularly that of its tin man antagonists. Not only are the killbots dubiously designed, they snap their little claws with unabashed glee whenever they dispose of a fresh victim. They even have their own cute catchphrase, making them the most acerbic androids this side of The Terminator.
‘Have a nice day!’
Borrowing more from the genre than gimmicky one-liners, the second half of the movie is reminiscent of a Cannon action flick, and a half-decent one at that. As well as the many shoot-outs, explosions and vent-crawling, there are stuntmen in ladies wigs running around on fire and a scene in which our newly ferocious protagonists disguise themselves as mannequins, successfully fooling the most advanced robotics technology in the world. This is silly, harebrained fare, but that’s the whole point. If you’re looking for a nice slice of endearing trash cinema to while away the weekend, then look no further.
Produced by the wife of legendary B-movie mogul Roger Corman, who had a deal in place with Vestron to make a movie set in a mall (the perfect location to entice teenage horror lovers of the mid-1980s), Chopping Mall was shot in three weeks on a budget of $800,000, with Corman himself pulling the strings. According to director Jim Wynorski, who landed the role after agreeing to do it on the cheap, the world famous producer met him for lunch and laid out in no uncertain terms what he had to do to make the movie a success. Wynorski would take notes in a little yellow pad, one that he lives and dies by to this very day.
Now that’s good eating!
After finding her douchebag boyfriend Greg with his throat slit, skimpily-clad temptress Leslie Todd (Suzee Slater) flees a barrage of Killbot lasers, before inexplicably turning to catch one in her face. Remember what I said about exploding watermelons?
Most Absurd Moment
After watching his girlfriend Linda (Karrie Emerson) catch a stray laser from a shorting Killbot, dillweed Rick Stanton (Russell Todd) decides to mount a nearby electric cart, driving at 2 mph into the mechanical menace and electrocuting himself to death in the process.
Most Absurd Dialogue
While busy making out, Greg and Suzie stop for an impromptu exchange.
Greg: You smell like pepperoni.
Suzie: Well, if that’s how you feel…
Greg: Wait a minute…
Greg: I like pepperoni.