After Popatopolis, I felt like I needed a reminder about why Jim Wynorski belongs in the heart of the midnight movie lover, despite his more recent SKINematic adventures. Enter Chopping Mall, the only slasher movie whose killers are robots that look like souped up and angry at the world versions of Johnny Five. Wynorski's 1986 flick - the second of the 90 films he's directed - might be the greatest thing he ever did. That might sound sad to some, but I'm determined to make this a tribute to Wynorski's fine early work, not a reflection on his tit-flicks.
If you need a synopsis, here it is. A bunch of couples - offset by nerdy guy Fredy (Tony O'Dell) and sweet girl Alison (Night of the Comet's Kelli Maroney) decide to have sex and/or petting (gotta keep one virgin in the game, right?) in a shopping mall department store after hours on a Friday night (apparently the store won't be open again till Monday...which seems kind of ridiculous). The problem, as evidenced by the film's alternate title (Killbots), are three security robots, once known as "Protectors" who are malfunctioning due to a good old fashioned lightning strike. When Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, he was clearly looking forward to this moment in history.
With that synopsis and a script that includes lines like "I guess I'm just not used to being chased around the mall in the middle of the night by killer robots", Chopping Mall pretty much sells itself to the viewer. This is the part where I'm supposed to pull a magic rabbit out of my film observing hat, and tell you how there's a deeper, underlying issue in the film that really makes me love it. But, if I were to pull that trick right now...it would be a crock of crap.
With apologies to the deep meaning lovin' crowd, Chopping Mall is exactly what you'd expect Chopping Mall to be - a tongue in cheek flick filled with carnage, poor attempts at comedy, a few nude scenes, and the horror cliches that anyone who grew up in the '80s was born to love. And it's that face value charm - the charm that comes out when you realize that Chopping Mall offers up EXACTLY what you'd expect from a film called Chopping Mall - that really makes this one a winner in my book.
Of course, expectations might run a little low for some - I'm ashamed to admit that I avoided this movie for years because I couldn't believe that it wouldn't find a way to mess up the premise - so perhaps I should point out a few high points of Wynorski's film. The cast of '80s actors doesn't include any glaringly awful performances that detract from the experience. (On the flip side, Maroney and O'Dell are actually very likable, and the gorgeous Ms. Crampton is never a bad thing to watch.) The camerawork and editing are professional, are accompanied by a synthetic musical score that fits the time period perfectly, and the whole flick clocks in well under 80 minutes - meaning it can't overstay its welcome. I know it sounds like I'm basically saying "the movie does everything OK", but don't tell me you haven't seen an otherwise exciting b-movie ruined by one or more of those things going terribly wrong before. The film also gets a boost in credibility - at least in my mind - because it's shot in the same Los Angeles mall that has hosted a ton of Hollywood productions, most notably - again in my mind - Commando.
The point? The point is that all of those things that you might expect would ruin a cheesefest like Chopping Mall are handled well by the director and his cast and crew, who were definitely having fun with such a sensational idea for a horror film. It's truly a rare occasion when such a blatant b-movie meets its potential perfectly - Remember how excited everyone was about Snakes on a Plane? I love that flick too, but it certainly missed a few marks and left a lot of bad impressions - and that's the kind of movie that I'll always throw my weight behind. If you're looking for something that you can write a term paper on for a film class, go elsewhere. If you want to see the prototype for after hours cable cinema of the late '80s, go hit up the Chopping Mall.
The Mike began his youth by demanding ghost and monster stories, and was soon given three VHS tapes by his parents - The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera, and 1958's The Blob.
Since then, he has embraced the wide world of cinema, and has always kept the bizarre, fantastic, and macabre close to his heart.