Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Chopping Mall.
I’m just not used to be chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots.
Some concepts are just so ripe for cheesy entertainment. Take, for example, Chopping Mall. The formula is very, very easy and runs something like this: choose isolated location, which is extremely difficult to get out of. In this instance, a Shopping Mall after hours. Then, choose a group of young, hot protagonists, who all must be willing to disrobe at a moments notice. Find a reason for them to be stuck in the aforementioned location, say, a party in a closed furniture shop (which incidentally provides beds and whatnot for them to get down and dirty in). Finally add your unstoppable antagonist, which is manifested here in the form of three squat, homicidal and overly armed security robots. This formula is absolutely unfuckupable, and even someone with the very limited talents of Jim Wynorski should be able to manage to turn in a hugely entertaining film.
So, it’s with no little amount of pleasure that I report that Chopping Mall is an enormously entertaining effort. From silly start with the fake advertisement through to laughable ending, this is an absolutely awesome little turn. Which is a bit of a relief, actually, because I’d be livid to have sat through a film featuring killer robots and felt the cold, dread hand of boredom sitting on my shoulder. In all honesty, this is almost one of those concepts that films itself- if the script is tight enough, and the cast are good enough but more importantly willing to have fun, then it should almost be a criminal offence to fuck it up. Chopping Mall actually exceeds that bar by a fair amount, with plenty of hilarity, massive amounts of boob, and a host of amusing cameos. What’s more important, though, is that everyone seems to be having fun.
This is the plot: Evil capitalist company have developed a series of squat flat-headed Robots with lasers on their heads and funny little arms as security guards. They, apparently, can recognise and disable any intruder in a non-fatal fashion. So, instead of being set to guard a military installation or something that would warrant this degree of technology, they’re assigned to a mall somewhere in California. On their first night, there’s an unfortuante lightning storm, and this causes them to come alive (eat your heart out Johnny Number 5) and break their programming. In the meantime, a group of teenage douchebags are holding an impromptu fuck party in one of the closed shops. The most important three are slutty Suzie (Barbara Crampton, struggling with clothing again), even sluttier Leslie (Suzee Slater), and nerd girl Alison (Kelly Maroney). The Robots discover them and carnage, hilarity and shenanigans ensue.
Basically, the silly premise inspires the film to jam in every single 80’s cliché available. So, we’ve got our heroes breaking in to a sporting goods store to nick guns, and Alison holing up in a pet shop having to stay still and silent under extreme duress while the robot harmlessly trawls around feet from here. It’s also nice to cameo spot here, and there’s an entertaining Dick Miller turn as a janitor trying to reason with the robots as they are both “working stiffs”.
Design wise, the robots aren’t great to be honest. Even I could spot that they’ve got severe peripheral vision problems and worse than that have caterpillar tracks which, much like the Daleks, means they’re buggered in the face of an insurmountable obstacle such as a flight of stairs. Their arms are also totally laughable scrawny wee Meccano looking things, and the pointy claw end just adds to the hilarity. Nevertheless, they’ve got an entertainingly diverse way of killing people, and Chopping Mall does indeed feature one of the all time most spectacular exploding head scenes. You can’t be rude about any film that does that.
Really, though, this little film has pretty much everything that I want from a silly slice of 80’s Schlock: boob, gore, and comedy. Strangely, though, I almost think that the comedy here might be intentional, as the script contains several lines which are flat-out funny. A shining example is Alison’s explanation as to why she’s such a good shot: “My Dad’s a marine”. This is so out of place, and delivered in great dead-pan style by Maroney that I can only believe that the script actually intended to be a horror-comedy.
As such, the acting is more important than you would otherwise think. Crampton is a classy horror actress, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her put in a bad performance, and Chopping Mall is no exception, while Maroney, effectively the lead, is more than capable of carrying the weight of the script on her shoulders. She’s on-screen for most of the shenanigans, and is a pleasingly nerdy presence, but most importantly, she’s actually quite likeable in the part. The various male actors (Tony O’Dell is the most important as nerdy Ferdy) don’t really hold up as well, but then again they’ve not got any help from the script.
Overall, this is a hilarious little slice of schlock. It was very early in Wynorski’s career, and I can see why he became one of Schlock king Roger Corman’s go to directors. He hasn’t, that I’ve seen, ever hit these heights again, but I do seriously recommend rooting this one out, simply because it’s never less than hugely enjoyable and is wholly worth it for the head exploding sequence by itself. Chopping Mall is easily available out there, and I recommend watching it with a few beers, because it is, as they say, a blast.
I’ve got a few schlock efforts in the bank at the moment, and I’ll be back a bit later in the week with one of those, probably Pervert! which is a pretty dodgy attempt to capture the magic of the Russ Meyer films for the 21st Century, except done without an ounce of the flair of Bitch Slap (I’m still searching for the “new” Bitch Slap, by the way).
So, until next time,
Good dirty fun this one. I’m still struggling with the format for the new vault, and think I’m going to abandon that approved picture. It creeps me out.
I remember the poster for this from back in the day, but can’t say I ever watched it. Sounds silly fun to me.
Yeah it is. It’s about Robots killing stupid teens. That’s pretty much it, but the exploding head scene is on Youtube and is fucking incredible!
You know, I used to see this sitting on the video store shelves all through the 80s and early 90s and never picked it up for thinking it was a slasher film. Then I saw it on USA or TBS or something as ‘Killbots!’ a far more accurate title, and enjoyed it. Then promply sought out the unedited version. Fun stuff.
Nothing else to say on it you haven’t said, other then, god bless Dick Miller.
I’m thinking an article celebrating the endless cameos of Dick Miller would be pretty interesting. You ever see him in Corman’s A Bucket of Blood?
He’s also a fave of Joe Dante’s and would actually suspect he’s in every one of Joe’s movies.
I’ve actually not seen Bucket of Blood.
He’s great in Gremlins.
Jarv, did you ever finish the Trancer series?
I completely forgot about it, actually. I’m also still finishing Planet of the Apes and Scanner Cop.
Definitely going to though.
Heh…this sounds unquestionably stupid silliness of the highest order.
Screamers should have been like this.
Good review Jarv. Besides Miller, Paul Bartel & Mary Woronov make an awesome appearance in the beginning. If I remember right they’re playing the same characters they played in Eating Raoul.
In the presentation? That scene’s awesome
I saw this (VHS rental) with a bunch of mates, plus booze… when that head splat hit we just fell about laughing – for about 10 minutes we were re-winding & replaying it. Sort of forgot we had the rest of the movie to watch. It’s perfect schlock.
Woronov and Maroney are also in ‘Night Of The Comet’ – that’s decent as well, not schlock as such though.
Nice one, Jarv.
We did the same!
Exploding head FTW!
You make this sound way more entertaining than I almost
remember it from watching it on cable in the 90’s. Also, must
have seen the edited version, nary a boob in sight.
Have you seen the BBC show called MONGRELS?
Seen promos for it on Hulu. Anthropomorphic foxes,
badgers, dogs, birds, cats, e.t.c. Worth checking out?
Mongrels is patchy Morb. It flirts with occasional brilliance- the I want to murder Justin Beiber song, or the Paedophile song, but most of the time it’s just unfunny shit.
It also makes a lot of British references that won’t necessarily translate- Nelson, the main fox, is a typical Islington Guardianista, which is almost untranslatable. Vince, the psycho, is always funny, though.
There’s mountains of boob in Chopping Mall, Morbi. You must have seen the edited one.
Never heard of it, but it sounds suitably amusing for a few beers and such.
Dick Miller in Gremlins 1 & 2 FTW!!!
Yeah, that’s exactly it. It was called Killbot in the US. Good for a laugh.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. It was called Killbot in the US. Good for a laugh.