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Friday, June 26, 2020

Chopping Mall (1986)

Today I thought I’d take a look at what I think is one of the best low budget movies of the eighties. Yes, I’m talking about Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall. The story is straightforward and easy to follow. A mall has just installed some fancy new robots to defend the mall and all of the valuable items contained within. There is a malfunction and the robots go homicidal not acknowledging those with proper IDs and killing rather than disabling. Some “teenagers” are trapped in the mall when their party at a furniture store goes long and they are locked in with the robots who decide they need to die.

This is basically a slasher movie with three robots doing the killing instead of a backwoods hillbilly or undead angry mutant. I feel confident saying this because it follows that formula. You get a bunch of attractive kids that show some skin as they do naughty things and then proceed to pick them off one at a time. Heck the last girl is even the virginal one who does nothing that, according to the formula, would mean she has to die. Again, if you switched out the robots with a jilted boyfriend or victim of a prank gone wrong you would have a slasher flick.

Now as far as the execution of the movie goes it is perfect. Things kick off quickly and gets to the good stuff right away. We get just enough character development to identify the roles each will play and begin to get attached enough to root for them. Hell, they keep the nicest characters around the longest so that we will be more invested in their eventual demise. This seems like a simple thing to do but trust me so many of these flicks fail to do so. Wynorski serves not only as the director but also the co-writer of the script so I give him a lot of credit for understanding what makes a movie like this work and then bringing it to the screen.

The cast is excellent. Being a big Roger Corman fan Wynorski works in some cameos from regulars like Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, and Mary Woronov. Miller is playing a character named after the one from his starring role in A Bucket of Blood while Bartel and Woronov are reprising their roles from Eating Raoul. I love both of those movies and these actors, so my inner movie nerd was very happy with this. The main cast is filled with some familiar faces with the lovely Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton headlining. Hell, we even get a Gerrit Graham sighting in a small role as a technician. All of these actors get to shine and none of them feel like they are there for a paycheck. This goes back to the excellent writing which again I want to give Wynorski and his co-writer Steve Mitchell credit for.

God Bless Jim Wynorski!
Since this is basically a slasher flick, we need to talk about kills. Here the movie shows its low budget. There are throat slashes and some laser blasting, but for the most part it is tame. That said there is one spectacular special effect that everyone who has ever seen the movie remembers. We get one of the best exploding heads that I’ve seen on screen. Honestly in my opinion it rivals even that of Scanners. So that is a highlight. Other kills include a gasoline induced torching, getting tossed off an escalator, and an electrocution while mopping.

Excellent exploding head.
While the kills are a bit tame the design of the robots aka. killbots are outstanding. They apparently made five of them with everything they do on screen short of lasers being handled with practical effects work. Not once do they look awkward or flimsy, which is amazing. They get a lot of screen time and are seen rolling all over the place so that is more than a little important. This makes the movie feel like it had a much larger budget then it really did. This might be the most impressive part of an already well made and fun flick.

Clearly, I dig Chopping Mall. It has everything that I want from an ‘80s horror flick. At least one memorable kill, a fun story, great cast, and is generally a good time. If you haven’t watched this movie yet, please correct that. I highly recommend this one.

Ó Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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