I guess I’m just not used to being chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots.
Indeed. About as good as Chopping Mall gets.
Wow is this an 80s flick. Oh the big hair. Oh the pastel clothes. Oh the wall-mounted ashtrays in the Sherman Oaks Galleria (previously home to Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Commando). And oh the product placement (nicely done by Unique Product Placement, Inc.)–Florsheim, Naturalizer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Thom McCann, U-Haul. And I caught those without even paying attention. So much for the seamless integration of merchandising and narrative.
This movie itself is phenomenally bad but so much fun. The premise is simple enough. A mall uses robots as security. What could possibly go wrong? Ask our intrepid band of teens, one of whom works at his uncle’s furniture store. They decide to drink and have sex in the mall’s furniture store after hours. Think about that the next time you’re out mattress shopping.
So again, what could go wrong? A short circuit caused when lighting strikes a conveniently roof-mounted bit of computer equipment tied to the robot control panel, that’s what. Funny since Short Circuit was the same year, and the robots are strikingly similar. Result? Killer robots. Of course. Or killbots, if you will. We’re gonna come back to that in a bit.
As for our gaggle of mind-numbingly daft young folks, let’s just say there ain’t a single MacGyver in the bunch. I mean, the robots are on treads, not walking around on legs. There’s a hardware store in the mall. Maybe some bolt cutters and a ladder that leads to the roof?
The highlight, for me, is a crimped-haired, better-than-the-script, fresh off Re-Animator Barbara Crampton as Suzie. As a character, she’s literally short-lived and pretty inconsequential, but so is everyone else. To be fair, most victims in almost every slasher movie from Friday The 13th until possibly High Tension make me say “I don’t care what happens to these people” (or what TV Tropes calls the Eight Deadly Words).
Still, Crampton’s Suzie does garner one of Chopping Mall’s two memorable deaths. The first is Leslie’s (Suzee Slater) head explosion. A short time later, Suzie, gets lit on fire.
The rest of the body count is, overall, unimpressive. Lots of smoke. Lots of fires. Lots of explosions. All of which leads one to wonder A) what kind of town are we in where none of this attracts anyone’s attention and B) shouldn’t this joint have at least one fire alarm?
In fact, there are lots of questions here. If the robots aren’t supposed to kill intruders (as made clear at their demo), why do they have lethal capability? Why does the hardware store sell gas cans already full of gas? Why doesn’t anyone use the paint from the paint store to blind the robots? Why doesn’t anyone get hacked up or even slashed in a movie called Chopping Mall? Why did they abandon the original and far better title Killbots? Okay the last one’s easy to answer–cash in on the slasher movie trend.
There are, however, many highlights as well. For a 1986 flick, director Jim Wynorski instills a good amount of self-awareness. The robots say, “Thank you. Have a nice day” pretty much every time they kill someone. There’s a pointless but somewhat enjoyable appearance by Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov. Roger Corman go-to, Dick Miller, shows up (no accident there–producer is Julie Corman, Roger’s wife). The sporting goods store where all the lads stock up on guns and ammo is called Peckinpah’s. The second technician to get killed is reading They Came From Outer Space: 12 Classic Science Fiction Tales That Became Major Motion Pictures. Funny enough on its own. Funnier when you look at the cover.
Finally, I’ll leave you with some eternal words of wisdom as put forth by the stalwart Greg (Nick Segal): “Fuck the fuchsia; it’s Friday.”
Available on Pluto, Prime, Tubi, Vudu