1986 was a year of historically notable events. It was in 1986 that the world saw the tragic Challenger Disaster, the partial meltdown of the Soviet nuclear plant in Chernobyl and the year the Statue of Liberty got a much needed face lift. It was also the year that the Sherman Oaks Galleria of California played host to yet another movie. A movie that involved teenagers and killer mall robots. Yes, I am talking about the notorious film that a lot of us old folk will remembers sitting on the local video store shelf, Chopping Mall (aka Killbots).
The Park Plaza shopping mall has decided to let Securetronics Unlimited use there establishment to test a series of security robots called Protector 101. These robots will patrol the mall after it has closed and if it encounters any intruders or ne’er do wells, the Protector 101”s will use a slew of disabling devices on anyone who does not have the required security badge. These devices range from sleep darts, stun guns, C4 and even lasers. That’s right, C4 and lasers. The movie Chopping Mall takes place on the first night the Protector 101′s are to go on-line. This is also the same night that a group of teen-agers, some who work at the mall’s furniture appliance store, decide to take advantage of all those nifty showroom beds at their disposal and have a party after the mall has closed. During this after hours party, lightning strikes the central computer that controls the Protector 101′s, and changes them from mall protectors to indiscriminate killers. The Protector 101′s new agenda has now been modified into ridding the mall of ALL humans if they are supposed to be there or not. These six teenagers must now use their wits, road flares and automatic weapons lifted from the gun store to outwit these seemingly unstoppable killer robots. It is also when once again, teenagers learned that having sex in a horror movie almost always guaranteed your death.
Directed by sleaze master, Jim Wynorski (976-EVIL 2: The Astral Factor, The Bare Wench Project) and produced by Roger Corman, Chopping Mall is a campy, sci-fi horror movie that was originally released as Killbots. After experiencing lackluster sales the title was changed, as well as the original movie poster. Most of the film was shot entirely in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, a California mall that should look familiar to a lot of people as it was the background to a slew of ”80s movies including Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Terminator 2. Along with cameos of Dick Smith, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, the rest of the cast consists of the six teenagers sealed inside the mall. Mostly unknowns at the time, some should be recognizable. The heroine of the film, Alison Parks, is played by Kelli Maroney from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Night of the Comet fame. Suzie Lynn is played by Scream Queen, Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator and From Beyond). All the actors do a decent job for a film of this caliber with one-liners flying and cheesy dialog oozing freely.
The Protector 101′s should get a mention as well. They were created by Robert Short and modeled after the robots from the 1954 film, Gog. While devoid of any real personality aside from the their relentless pursuit of any living human, The Protector 101′s in Chopping Mall were able to reason and communicate with each other. They traveled on tracks, and actually moved fairly quickly, although some of the fun of Chopping Mall is watching the actors ”run” from the quickly gaining Protector’s…you know, the running-in-place run. The gore effects in Chopping Mall are passable if not a little on the lite side, with the exception of a decent head-explosion. Other deaths included burning alive, throat slitting, falling and electrocution. Most action sequences revolve around the teens shooting at the robots with firearms, and the robots shooting back at the kids with lasers as they plow through store front windows. The soundtrack is handled by long-time Corman composer, Chuck Cirino. Created in 3 weeks, the score to Chopping Mall was his first in MANY future film scores and consists of a heavy synthesized score prevalent in the ”80s and fits the film like a glove. Click here to listen.
Chopping Mall is a fun film that does not offer anything more than what you would expect from a Roger Corman produced film. It resonates all of the things a lot of people like about ”80s horror, which also happens to be what a lot of people hate about it. Low budget, sub-par acting, cheesy dialog, implausible scenarios, blood, and of course, nudity. The movie is full of laugh-out-loud scenes that include a girl who forgets what leg to limp on, the fact instead of hiding, the teenagers all decide to run around the mall, displaying the little known fact that mixing paint with paint thinner will make an explosion equivalent to a Bunker Buster, and having a mall that contains the Peckinpah Gun store, complete with fully automatic assault weapons. Who can watch, yet alone deliver golden lines such as “They know we’re in here, they’re trying to french fry us!“, “It’s not you Bernie. I guess I’m just not used to being chased around a mall at night by killer robots.” or “Let’s go send those fuckers a Rambo-gram!” without laughing. But all of these things are what make Chopping Mall endearing and stand the test of time. It’s a big, fat hunk of fast-paced, ’80s horror cheese and much like a lot of things from the ’80s, it never takes itself too seriously.