Movies

What Went Right With… Chopping Mall (1986)?

The Protector 101 and the Chopping Mall logoAs I said in my review of Trancers, not all films have to be flawless in order to be enjoyable. Case in point: Chopping Mall, a low-budget ’80s horror film that’s objectively crap in almost every department; props, effects, make-up, score, dialogue, even some of the acting. But, very much like a Barbarian Brother film or certain Golan-Globus-produced pictures, there’s something extremely likeable about trashy B-movies, when done properly of course. Chopping Mall (originally titled Killbots) is done properly: it’s a bit of late-night popcorn fun, nothing more, nothing less. In the featurette Creating The Killbots (included in the blu-ray) director Jim Wynorski mentions the influence of Trapped (1973) which featured James Brolin err… “trapped”, in a mall with some attack dogs. I haven’t seen Trapped yet but it sounds fun and just by hearing the premise, I can see the direct link between these two movies. Chopping Mall being an ’80s flick rather than a ’70s one, is also set in a shopping centre but instead of a solitary bloke it’s a bunch of twenty-somethings playing teenagers and instead of dogs it’s robots.

Oddly, in Chopping Mall‘s Wikipedia page, it states that “[Wynorksi] claims he never saw the 1973 TV film Trapped, which some believe inspired Chopping Mall”. This seems erroneous given what I’ve heard from the horse’s mouth. Jim clearly says in Creating The Killbots: “Julie Corman asked Steve Mitchell and myself to write a story about teenagers trapped in a mall with a killer, and there had been a movie called ‘Trapped’ I’d seen a couple of years prior to this film”. Okay, so he also states that “I want an updated version of Gog” (the 1954 film) but he clearly mentions “seeing” Trapped. Someone with a login needs to change the page I guess. But I digress.

Chopping Mall‘s plot is very straight-forward. Our very-late-teens come up with a very 1980’s idea: let’s party and get laid after-hours in the furniture store we work at! Of course the mall in which their store is located has just unveiled some futuristic security guards in the form of continuous track robots, and after a Pulse-esque lightening strike, the master computer’s mangled circuitry creates a mini-Westworld with synthetic life trying to take all organic life out of the picture.

You have to remember, the 1980s like the 1950s before it, was a veritable robot-a-thon. There were friendly robots like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, malfunctioning violent ones like Robocop‘s ED-209, there were robot aliens in Batteries Not Included, Flight Of The Navigator and on TV in Benji, Zax And The Alien Prince, Tomy made a whole host of robot toys including the Omnibot and Dingbot, and then there were the Transformers (toys and cartoon). Amidst this kind of robophilic atmosphere, Chopping Mall captured or at least attempted to hang onto the fringes of the zeitgeist.

Aside from bots, a mall was almost a place of worship to ’80s teenagers; it was the best place to hang out with friends or generally loiter so many films targeting this demographic were set in department stores. From Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Vice Versa, the mall was an obvious place to set (at least a portion) of a kid’s adventure or a teen comedy and in movies such as Night Of The Comet and Mannequin, deserted or night-time malls became a cosy, isolated and pleasurable setting. Of course Chopping Mall‘s mash-up plot and tone is more tongue-in-cheek than any of these films; in my opinion, it’s closer to something like Death Spa, a nonsensical premise that’s merely a set-up for teen deaths.

Of course a horror movie set in a mall isn’t original; George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was first as far as I know (if there’s something earlier leave a comment). Robots gone berserk isn’t a new concept either, with the aforementioned Westworld also being made in the previous decade, and this concept also present in the 1950s with killer-bots such as Gort, Kronos, and the aforementioned Gog. Chopping Mall therefore, isn’t a pioneering movie, it’s admittedly a copy of something from its past but that’s okay because the past came up with some great ideas. Incidentally, the title, according to Wikipedia (so who knows if it’s true) was suggested by a “janitor” but I have no idea what their name is or where they worked; the janitor of the mall, the janitor of the movie premiere location, the janitor of the studio? Who knows (leave a reply if you do).

According to the featurette, Robert Short (the creator of the Killbots aka the Protector 101) was told to reference Gog when designing them. Ignoring that bit of information, a few people have made comparisons online between the Protectors and 1986’s Short Circuit, but since Chopping Mall was released first this copying isn’t possible. Given its ’86 release date, the tank-like robot killer may have been influenced by Tomy’s Omnibot which was released in 1984 or Stan Winston’s HK-Tank from The Terminator which was also released two years prior to this film. The Killbots aren’t as menacing or serious in appearance as The Terminators however. The Protectors do have sleep darts and lasers able to cut through metal and singe flesh but it’s all a bit cartoonish. I mean, why would designers and manufacturers give a mall security robot some impenetrable armour plating, or arm it with explosive capabilities? 😄 This isn’t a story to be taken seriously.

The end credits in typical 80’s-movie fashion, features segments from the film (think the closing credits of Coming To America). The cast are: Kelli Maroney (Night Of The Comet) who is our main hero and she’s very likeable as she always is. Karrie Emerson who I’ve never seen before is pretty cool but SPOILER ALERT she snuffs it. There’s also Barbara Crampton from Re-Animator, Dick Miller from Gremlins and Gerrit Graham from Used Cars who all get bumped-off too. We also have a cameo by Mary Woronov (Night Of The Comet, Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000) and Paul Bartel (also from Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000). For some reason Mary and Paul play Mr. and Mrs. Bland from Eating Raoul in this flick, although I have no idea why. There’s a reference to The Day The Earth Stood Still (the line “Klaatu barada nikto”) and there’s also a poster of Jim Wynorksi’s The Lost Empire on the wall which means this film loves to reference sci-fi and horror even if most of it has no relevance to the film in question.

In terms of directing and writing, there’s nothing that aesthetically stands out. The dialogue is perfectly fine for a teen film but there’s no quotables. The “Thank you, have a nice day” line that the Protectors utter I assume is trying to be either iconic or ironic but it isn’t quite humorous as intended. In terms of plot, like I said, the storyline is borrowed from elsewhere. It also takes a while to get going but after about 30 minutes, Chopping Mall becomes a kind of science fiction pre-Die Hard with vent shafts being crawled through and bombs being set off in elevators. Whilst on the topic of content, I’ll mention that there’s a female character who’s a better car mechanic than her husband, another female character is a better shot with a gun than the men, and the female lead saves the day without a man’s help. Given that this is a horror, the first character to die isn’t black which means this movie challenged stereotypes and cliches whether intentionally or not. That being said, don’t think of this flick as overly progressive. Kelli Maroney’s character is only a good shot because her “dad’s a Marine” and the main reason the first character death is white is probably because there’s isn’t anyone black to kill. 🙃 Actually that’s a lie; there’s one minority who plays a janitor. I wonder if he’s the “janitor” who came up with the title?

Chopping Mall is an extremely short movie. With the original 95-minute version nowhere to be found, the runtime is 77 minutes long (76 minutes in the United States) which is very short indeed. I have no idea what’s been cut out of the longer version, but what we’re left with is a relatively snappy, fun flick for retro heads and anyone into horror or sci-fi. Given that it’s a horror, the gore isn’t too gory, the sex isn’t too, err… sexy; there’s a bit of blood, a hint of tit, okay, so a head explodes and someone burns to death but it’s generally okay for a younger audience. I watched it as a kid and there’s nowt wrong with me 🤪.

If you’re ever in the mood for a light-hearted, old-school, cheesy, sci-fi horror, you could do a lot worse. Available on Blu-ray in certain countries, and sometimes on streaming platforms such as Prime Video, this is something you should watch right now…

Chop, Chop.

Writing: 4/10

Directing: 5/10

Acting: 5/10

Overall: 5/10

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