Chopping Mall (1986)

Even though they rarely represented the movies at all, one of the best things about browsing through the horror and action sections of a video store was looking at all the covers.  Even in my younger days I didn't expect to see anything that the poster offered, often looking at the back of the video box to see the few scenes they put on from the actual movie, occasionally getting an eyeful of the nubile actresses that made up the cast.  It was definitely not the puppets in Puppet Master II that caught my eye, for instance. 

There were those rare times when the movie itself was better than the cover.  Chopping Mall is one of those.  The art promises a slasher, only in a mall instead of in the woods.  It's a good title, but doesn't seem to offer anything one hasn't seen Jason, Michael or Freddy do already.  One would expect a masked killer, some Scooby Doo type nonsense and the required amount of blood and breasts - unless some "concerned parent" organization got wind of it and forced all the good stuff to be removed.  It certainly doesn't hint at a fun romp with a group of young adults fighting killer robots. 

Park Plaza 2000 has just installed a new security team: the Protector Series, three autonomous robots that work to detain those that may want to do their shopping after hours.  Combined with a system that seals off the mall using steel blast doors, it's advertised as a fool-proof security system.  Unfortunately, someone forgot to install a few small things, such as lightning rods or anything to ground the main computer, as a lightning storm puts the control center out of commission and grants the Protectors autonomy, which they use to start murdering anyone they come across - often with high-grade military weapons not mentioned in the brochure. 

This happens on the night that Ferdy Meisel (Tony O'Dell) is pressured by his friends into hosting an all-nighter in his uncle's furniture store.  They are joined by married couple Rick (Russell Todd) and Linda Stanton (Karrie Emerson), Ferdy's coworkers Greg (Nick Segal) and Mike (John Terlesky), and their dates Suzie (Barbara Crampton) and Leslie (Suzee Slater).  As a consolation Ferdy is introduced to Allison (Kelli Maroney), and the two hit it off.  Their night of fun and frivolity quickly comes to an end when the robots discover them and, finding themselves locked in, they must survive the night. 

Director Jim Wynorski and writing partner Steve Mitchell threw Chopping Mall together after Vestron Video mentioned it wanted a horror film done in a mall.  Julie Corman, wife of Roger Corman, agreed to Wynorski's offer to write it without cost if he could direct, and soon filming was in progress at Sherman Oaks Galleria after Beverly Center turned out to be too expensive.  Wynorski, a big fan of Roger Corman, tried to throw as many references to his hero's movies in as he could, and went a definite tongue-in-cheek route with the film.  Rather than being a slasher it is one of a number of late '80s horror films that don't try to be scary, but rather use humor, fantasy and science fiction elements to entertain.  

Normally when a film is severely edited it's a bad thing.  Originally released as Killbots, Chopping Mall did badly on its first theatrical run, but Corman himself cut out about 13 minutes and re-released it under the title it has now.  Some of that missing footage showed up for shows such as USA Up All Night, but I have no idea if the Killbots cut still exists.  If it does, neither Corman nor Wynorski have made any major attempt to get it released, as Chopping Mall itself quickly became a cult favorite.  Whatever was cut out probably needed to be, as the film moves at a nice clip and doesn't slow down once the killing starts. 

It's also not horribly acted.  Crampton's character can be a bit annoying, but that's the writing and not her fault.  In fact, there are a number of clunker lines in here, but the cast is able to sell them with a straight face and not sounding like they're in a lawyer commercial.  It's also refreshing seeing that most of the characters are supposed to be in the early 20s, instead of the usual of substituting adults for teenagers. 

There are a ton of issues, ranging from Linda being concerned about how much they will be responsible for in damages (it's more likely the survivors will end up owning the mall after suing) and the fact that military-grade robots with lasers can't seem to hit anything until the plot says so, but this isn't supposed to be anything other than a cheesy, enjoyable flick.  For as cheap as it is the effects are decent, and the robots themselves make great adversaries.  It is also one of the more watchable films by Wynorski, who has a vast catalogue of films, few of which are as enjoyable as this. 

Chopping Mall (1986)
Time: 77 minutes
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Nick Segal, John Terlesky, Suzee Slater
Director: Jim Wynorski



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