Chopping Mall (1986) Concorde Pictures/Sci-Fi-Horror RT: 77 minutes Rated R (graphic violence, language, nudity, sex) Director: Jim Wynorski Screenplay: Jim Wynorski and Steve Mitchell Music: Chuck Cirino Cinematography: Tom Richmond Release date: March 21, 1986 (US) Cast: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Nick Segal, John Terlesky, Suzee Slater, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Angela Aames, Gerrit Graham, Mel Welles, Paul Coufos, Arthur Roberts. Box Office: N/A
It was the title that attracted me. How could I possibly turn down a horror flick with a cool title like Chopping Mall? Okay, it wasn’t exactly what I expected; it didn’t involve a deformed homicidal maniac mutilating dumb, horny teens at a shopping mall. No, it was even cooler. By way of explanation, I’ll quote a line from the movie, “I guess I’m not used to running around a shopping mall in the middle of the night being chased by killer robots.” That’s right, killer robots. Is there any other kind? Technology can be deadly and it usually is in horror movies. Look what happened in The Terminator and Runaway. I guess the builders of the security robots in Chopping Mall missed those movies.
Directed (and co-written with Steve Mitchell) by Jim Wynorski (Deathstalker II) and produced by Julie Corman (wife of exploitation movie king Roger Corman), Chopping Mall is a low budget job, made for only $800,000 in just 22 days. You wouldn’t know it though; it looks better than some movies made for ten, twenty times that amount. I first saw it in June 1987. I saw it on the shelf at West Coast Video and knew right away it was for me. Like I said, it was the title. I was very impressed with it. Not only did it have a decent body count and some cool kill scenes (including one exploding head!), it also has a sense of humor. This is evident in the movies opening minutes. Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov reprise their characters (Paul and Mary Bland) from the 1982 cult comedy Eating Raoul. Why are they there, you ask? Because they’re longtime friends and associates of Roger Corman, of course. In fact, there are many references to other Corman movies throughout Chopping Mall. I’ll talk about that later.
Although I already summed up the plot in the opening paragraph, I’d now like to provide a more detailed plot description. The Park Plaza Mall has recently updated its security system which now includes three robots that patrol the place. They’re programmed to check IDs and apprehend shoplifters using tasers and tranquilizer guns. One night, a lightning bolt strikes the mall and turns the robots into killers. Naturally, it’s the same night that a group of young employees decide to stay after hours and party in the furniture store where three of the guys work. It’s the 80s and it’s a horror flick, so partying entails drinking and sex.
The couples are Mike (Terlesky, Deathstalker II) and Leslie (Slater, Savage Streets), Rick (Todd, Friday the 13th Part 2) and Linda (Emerson, Evils of the Night), Greg (Segal, School Spirit) and Suzie (Crampton, Re-Animator) and Ferdy (O’Dell, Head of the Class) and Alison (Maroney, Night of the Comet). There’s little question as to who last man and/or woman standing will be. Here’s a hint; Ferdy and Alison are on a blind date. Anyway, the security system is set up so that the mall is completely locked down between midnight and 6am. No in or out. In other words, the kids are trapped inside with the killer robots. Let the fight for survival begin.
Chopping Mall is great fun! It has a killer cast. I love Kelli Maroney. She was so good in Night of the Comet (a cult classic!) and she’s just as good here. Not all of the acting is good; some of it is quite bad, in fact. Terlesky overplays his role as the typical 80s macho studley type, grinning and chewing gum the whole time. However, even the bad acting is great. It’s kind of what you expect in an 80s teen-oriented horror flick. In addition, there are cameos by Dick Miller (another Corman vet) as a janitor with a very short life span, Gerrit Graham (Cannonball) as a security technician with a very short life span, the late Angela Aames (Bachelor Party) and Paul Coufos (The Lost Empire) as security company reps, Mel Welles (Mr. Mushnick from the original 1960 Corman-produced version of Little Shop of Horrors) as a pizza cook and Arthur Roberts (Revenge of the Ninja) as Leslie’s ill-tempered dad.
I mentioned earlier that Chopping Mall contains references to other Corman movies. Some of them are in the cameos. Miller plays the same character he played in 1959’s A Bucket of Blood. Also, you see posters for Galaxy of Terror, Sorceress and The Lost Empire (all Corman productions) in different scenes. There’s no reason for them to be there since not a single scene is set at a video store but so be it. The book Gerrit Graham’s character is reading “They Came from Outer Space” was edited by Wynorski and contains the original short story (“The Racer”) that became Death Race 2000. The horror movie Alison and Ferdy watch in the furniture store is Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). Yes, it’s a Corman flick too! I don’t know about you but I find trivia like this fascinating.
It was originally entitled Killbots but Chopping Mall is clearly the better title. The first title is really the movie’s only wrong move but the producers rectified it quickly. I’m glad because Chopping Mall really is a great movie. It has some cool kill scenes. People are electrocuted, burned to death, shot with lasers and have their throats cut. One poor dope falls three levels to his death. Then there’s the piece de resistance, the exploding head. It’s almost as gory as the scene in Scanners (1981). The effects are cheap and the dialogue goofy. One of my favorite lines comes when the guys are arming themselves (with guns from Peckinpah's Sporting Goods!) for battle with the bots. One of them cocks his rifle and says, “Let’s send these f---ers a Rambo-gram.” You have to love silly lines like that. Here’s the thing about Chopping Mall; it never takes itself seriously, not even for a nanosecond, so why should we? It’s just a fun, well-made sci-fi-horror cheapie that puts many big budget scary movies to shame. It’s smarter than you’d think and just as silly as you’d expect.