The 80s were a wondrous time because long before there was Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram if teens wanted to hang out they’d actually have to do it in person, and the most popular place for kids to meet was at the local mall. Now, movie-wise kids were being murdered left right and center by machete-wielding maniacs all throughout the 80s, so it was kind of nice to see writer/director Jim Wynorski bringing a little of that bloody mayhem to a more urban setting. Inspired by the killer robots in the 1954 film Gog Wynorski and producer Julie Corman, the wife of legendary B-Movie master Roger Corman, brought their own brand of low-tech wizardry to the genre with Chopping Mall, or KillBots as it was originally titled.
This film is clearly a little self-aware, as Wynorski not only rolls out each of the movie’s characters that are straight out of Horror Cliché 101, but he also populates the script with such memorable lines as “I’m just not used to being chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots.” He also filters in classic B-Movie stars such as Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov and Dick Miller that will give fans a nice chuckle as they reference such classics as Eating Raoul and Bucket of Blood. So right off the bat, we know we aren’t supposed to take much of this film seriously, or at least not as seriously as one could ever take a killer robot movie that takes place at the mall.
The basic premise of this movie is that a company by the name of Secure-Tronics had developed high-tech security robots called “Protectors” that would be used to patrol malls after hours and keep all the shops safe from burglars, but then a lightning strike at the mall turns the Protectors into killing machines and a group of teenagers trapped in the mall must somehow manage to survive the night.
The film opens with a promotional film provided by Secure-Tronics showing one of their Protector robots chasing down and incapacitating a criminal and raises the first of many questions, “Why are they showing this promotional piece to a group of people in the mall on the very night the Protectors are first engaged?” If this was for investors to raise money it certainly wouldn’t be held inside a mall and if it is supposed to be some kind of briefing to the local retailers you’d think they’d give them more than a few hours’ heads about this security alteration. The robots gain “sentience” when the mall receives multiple lightning strikes and if you’ve seen Short Circuit you know that is the most common cause of robot self-awareness.
The movie’s chief victims consist of Rick Stanton (Russel Todd) and Linda Stanton (Kerri Emerson), Greg Williams (Nick Segal) and Suzie Lynn (Barbara Crampton), Mike Brennan (John Terlesky) and Leslie Todd (Suzee Slater), and Ferdy Meisel (Tony O’Dell) and Allison Parks (Kelli Maroney) who all work at the Park Plaza Mall and have unfortunately decided to stay late and party in one of the furniture stores where three of them work. When the robots first awake they kill off the security technicians, one of them played by the brilliant Gerrit Graham and a hapless mall janitor played by Dick Miller, with an array of weapons that don’t seem all that non-lethal or at least not as non-lethal as the people from Secure-Tronics implied. The Protectors are equipped with knock-out darts and Tasers, which would normally be considered non-lethal unless said Taser was deployed in a puddle of mop water to electrocute a janitor, which to be fair that is something Secure-Tronics may not have foreseen, but these things also have fucking laser beams that can explode a person’s head.
The kills perpetrated by the Protectors and their lasers are also vastly inconsistent; when Leslie is chased through the mall we see her taking multiple hits by the robot’s lasers but until she gets the head-exploding shot all the lasers seem to do is scorch her panties. Are there different laser intensity settings? And if so why would a “kill setting” be part of a security device that has been stated as being non-lethal? Maybe the lightning strike amped up the juice but that still doesn’t explain its inconsistent intensity. Worse is that one minute they are taking out Leslie with a headshot but then the next minute they are launching a barrage of laser fire at the rest of our heroes with about as much luck as your typical Stormtrooper.
Overall the Protectors are pretty badass as they slit throats, explode heads, emulate or toss their victims to their deaths, and they seem darn hard to stop as they look to be completely bulletproof (our heroes, of course, break into a sporting goods store to arm up with shotguns, machine guns and a .44 Magnum) and even when hit with an exploding propane tank these robots are able to get back into fighting form in no time. So who could possibly survive such a lethal arsenal of robotic mayhem? Well as this is basically your standard “Dead Teenager” movie you can pretty much spot the Final Girl from the outset when we get Rick pairing off with Linda, Greg with Suzie, and Mike with Leslie while we have poor innocent Allison, who didn’t want to go to the party in the first place, ending up on the couch watching Attack of the Crab Monsters with Ferdy, who also originally had no interest in attending this late-night fun.
Chopping Mall is certainly no classic of the genre, the acting as a whole is below par and a film being “self-aware” still doesn’t excuse rolling out the standard tropes as if on a schedule. I for one would love to see the “panicky girl” retired from this genre as it has gone beyond annoying and in this film, it’s especially egregious as we get Allison and Linda dealing with a freaked-out Suzie as they travel through improbably large air ducts where she goes into fall on hysterics about the situation, but then she also wants to go and help her boyfriend Greg which when she does it ends up resulting in her death. If you are going to use a lazy horror trope at least remain consistent, her character made not one lick of sense.
Another strange script decision is at about the three-quarter mark Ferdy comes up with a plan to make their way to the security office and smash the computers that control the robots, but when Greg is killed enroute, their plan is abandoned and the final robot is taken out with a trap in a paint store set up by Allison. Greg was integral to their plan’s success and thus his death made it unfeasible, right? The reason the group abandons this sensible plan of destroying the control center remains a bit of a puzzler as covering a floor with paint and oils in the hopes of destroying a robot, one that has previously been shown to be resistant to both explosions and flames, is a little odd if not downright stupid.
As mentioned the acting isn’t very good here with the exception of Kelli Maroney as Allison, her turn as the younger sister in Night of the Comet being a personal favourite of mine, and I liked that her hair and wardrobe seemed to be an homage to Linda Hamilton’s character in the first Terminator movie. Bad acting and cliché-riddled script aside there is enough good stuff on display here for me to recommend it; the action is fun and the stunts and deaths themselves are pretty impressive considering the budget Wynorski and Corman had to work with, but any watcher would best enter a viewing of this film with properly lowered expectations, and with maybe a few beers on hand.
Chopping Mall (1986)
Replacing the standard machete-wielding maniac with killer robots makes this film stand out from amongst the countless other “Dead Teenager” movies was a nice move by Wynorski, but the same clichés and overall weak cast prevent this from being a classic of the genre.