Drive-In Mutants: Chopping Mall (1986)

Drive-in-MutantsEvery month we discuss some of the best and worst cult films ever made, from the hits, classics, underground, grind house, and utterly obscure, from Full Moon, and Empire, to Cannon and American International, it’s all here, minus the popcorn, and car fumes.

choppingmall_posterCHOPPING MALL
Concorde Pictures
Directed by:
Jim Wynorski
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd

The Plot is Afoot! The Park Plaza Mall just signed on to install a high tech trio of robotic guards that patrol the grounds until dawn and disable any potential thieves until the police arrive. When lightning strikes the technology, the robots malfunction and begin hunting down eight employees that have decided to party in the mall overnight.

With the robots on the hunt, the eight employees do their best to outwit and outlast the murderous robots and perhaps survive until dawn when the sealed doors finally open. But with the robots capable of working together, while shooting deadly lasers and electric darts at the helpless friends, staying alive is going to be more difficult than either of them ever imagined.

The Damage: Make no mistake this is a silly movie, but a damn fun one that clocks in at barely eighty minutes. So if you just want to see killer robots murdering people good, you’re going to get what you invest your time in. These robots look like something out of Dr. Who, and yet they pose a formidable threat against their perceived foes. Sure, this is a horror movie set in a mall, it has an iconic poster, and it has killer robots that eviscerate the intruders, but deep down it has a great sense of humor about itself.

There’s even a montage in the opening of the movie that sets the premise of the mall being the central setting where director Jim Wynorski does nothing but offer up goofy scenarios that you’d normally see in a mall during this decade. A young boy with an ice cream cone is trampled by shoppers in an elevator, a young man with boxes falls while riding the escalator when he sees a line of beauty pageant contestants, a young boy is riding through the mall on a skateboard, there’s a teen girl struggling to deliver food to her friends that she spills on them, and a dad and his son fight over an arcade game.

choppingmall0There’s also a noticeable amount of product placements for Coca Cola. In either case, the premise is simple. The mall is futuristic—despite looking like every other mall from the eighties–and it’s locked down at night and opens in the morning, no exceptions. During the after hours, despite the locked down structure, the robots are activated to patrol the grounds non-stop and disable any intruders or thieves until morning. Sadly thunder strikes the technology, causing the robots to malfunction. You figure with all the money spent they could afford a surge protector. The robots then become murderous and relentless, and begin stalking eight employees of the mall who have decided to stay after hours to party and indulge in teen sex and alcohol use.

This is after they murder Gerrit Graham, and Dick Miller, who plays a crusty janitor. I think Mr. Miller was contractually obligated to be in every horror movie in the eighties as some sort of oath to a demigod or something. Either way, Miller’s appearance cements the film as pure schlock that promises a short but fun sci-fi slasher romp. “Chopping Mall” is so deviously tongue in cheek that you can’t really accuse it being itself. At one point the characters are preparing cocktail bombs for the robots and Kelli Maroney’s character sees a convenient display for road flares reading “Why get caught in dangerous situations?” The opening even features a lot of witty banter when one of the presenters for futuristic guard robots protecting shopping malls is speaking to his audience. I’m not even sure why there is a need for a trio of technologically advanced robots to protect sneakers and sweaters, but lo and behold, this is “Chopping Mall” and its unabashed premise.

choppingmall2I think these robots should be guarding missile silos and power plants, but again, you’re better off considering this a science fiction tale where everything has deadly robotic guard drones that can murder you. I imagine there are four of these robots patrolling a swap meet in a back lot making sure no one fights over a plastic clown figurine or else they shoot then with face melting laser beams. “Chopping Mall” is another one of those low budget horror classics made out of convenience and a small budget, hence why it’s mostly just a one setting film. Thankfully the setting is large and filled with a variety of corners and open spaces, but like “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl o Rama,” “Nightmare Sisters,” and “Dawn of the Dead,” you can tell the mall setting is primary because lack of funding made it impossible to film anywhere else.

Everything occurs in this mall, right down to obligatory sex scenes, and some really cheesy moments where our characters arm themselves with weapons to battle the robots. I was never in a mall of this kind, but did malls in the eighties really have stores where they sold semiautomatic rifles, and shot guns? You figure with a mall using guard robots capable of murder they’d lock up the store tightly or something. It does make for a good slow motion shot, nevertheless, and oddly enough no one on the outside ever hears the war ensuing. While the villains themselves are pretty straight forward, it’s never really made clear how to defeat the robots. Sometimes it takes a few gun shots to bring down one robotic drone, while another needs to literally be blown up within in a huge store in the finale to be taken down once and for all.

choppingmall-chaseAnd how did the robots develop lasers when the inventor presenting them indicates that they’re only built to disable and stun intruders? Either way while after the movie I’m sure there were lawsuits aplenty, they were probably more forgiving once the zombie apocalypse presented itself, and people were able to hide out in the mall with the robots being embraced as heroes.

Blood: Despite the fact that the movie’s primary villains are killer robots, director Wynorski never skimps on the blood. There are a ton of really gruesome murders here, from crushed throats, bashed in heads, and electrocutions. Probably the most ambitious and gruesome death is with character Leslie whose head literally explodes when the robots blast her with lasers. Co-star Crampton also suffers a horrific death when her character Suzie is set ablaze by the robots and is burnt alive.

Boobs: The movie is oddly light on T&A even considering Barbara Crampton and Mary Woronov are featured, but Wynorski does eventually allow one of his actresses to flash the audience. The gorgeous Suzee Slater pulls a PJ Soles enticing her boyfriend Mike, who steps out to get her cigarettes, to come back soon by pulling down the sheets revealing her bare chesticles. She even leaves the store eventually and Wynorski zeroes in on her behind. It’s a brief but great moment by Slater who is surprisingly sexy in her brief role. Even her death is the best of the bunch.

choppingmall1Beast: Though the poster boasts the clawed hand of a robot, the villains in the film are in fact killer robots but more of the slow and vehicular variety constantly seen in the eighties. They are merciless and deadly though with killer lasers, darts that can stun or electrocute, claws that can crush people or lift them high in the air, and they can also work together and even outwit the characters at certain points. The robotic drones aren’t the most iconic eighties horror villains, but they sure ruthless and spare absolutely no one in their efforts to protect the locked down mall.

The Rundown: When I was a young boy my parents used to drop my brother and me off with my aunt who worked a nine-to-five job at our local video store. I must have crossed paths with the “Chopping Mall” poster a thousand times a week, and it stuck with me for a long time. Wynorski’s science fiction slasher is glorious schlocky B movie goodness with comedy, some excellent death scenes, and a creative concept, all around. It’s a camp classic as it deserves to be.

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