Chopping Mall [Killbots] (1986)

All, right, all right, I admit it:

I like this one.

Even if it was directed by Jim Wynorski.

Jim, of course, is responsible for one of the worst films I’ve seen, The Thing Below, and has had a long and very busy career making cheap exploitation films, frequently involving monsters and girls with large breasts.

Emphasis on the latter.

But somehow his second film, Chopping Mall, is one of those B-Movies which achieves something not far from cheap exploitation film perfection.  Built around a simple premise and a great location, it offers a fairly straightforward sort of teen horror comedy, with lots of action and suspense — with a bit of post-modern referencing going on in the background for all the hardcore film fans out there.

So what’s so great about Chopping Mall?

Well, for starters, it’s got Killer robots.

And, let’s be honest, killer robots will make almost any movie better.  Particularly the exploitation ones.

It also has Walter Paisley.

Remember him? the nebbishy janitor from A Bucket of Blood?  He’s here, stuck mopping the floor after mall hours, complete with a name tag so you know exactly who he is.  He’s played once again by Roger Corman and Joe Dante favorite (and frequent cameo star), Dick Miller.

Mind you, he only gets a few minutes before the robots get him.

Now the basic plot should be familiar to anyone who watched a horror film in the Eighties.  A group of young people decide to get together for a big party.

Only, instead of a lonely cabin in the woods, they pick the local mall.

To be precise, the furniture store where three of the guys work, which has plenty of beds and couches available so those horny youngsters can make out and drink beer after the store closes for the night.

I guess Camp Crystal Lake was booked.

Unfortunately, this is the night the new security robots go online.  And we all know that what every mall needs is a gang of scary looking robots to roam the place after hours, subduing anyone who doesn’t belong there.

I mean, it couldn’t possibly be a bad idea, right?

Unfortunately, the lightning that brought Johnny 5 to life in Short Circuit hits the mall office, only the polarity must have been reversed: instead of friendly and naive robot buddies, they turn into bloodthirsty killers and proceed to wipe out everyone in the mall.

Well, except those randy teens.  When they go after the kids, the kids team up and fight back.

After all, if you’re being attacked by a gang of killer robots, can you think of anywhere you could find more weapons that in a big shopping mall?

Which gives us explosions, fire, a bit of gore, and a lot of clever plans and improvised weapons — most of which don’t work particularly well.

And what more could you ask of any great exploitation film?

Other than a couple of pairs of naked breasts, that is?

Which we’ve got here as well.

Now I need to note that the robots don’t actually have chainsaws, sawblades, knives or axes, so there isn’t any chopping going on.  Instead, they have tasers, lasers and can fire tranquillizer darts.  They do a bit of damage with their claws, but they don’t look particularly strong, so I suspect it was a deliberate choice not to use them much.  After all, they were built using commercially available reachers and believe me those aren’t strong!

I doubt if they “borrowed” the lightning-brings-robot-to-life idea from Short Circuit as they both came out the same year.  However, it is intriguing that Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend also came out in 1986.

I guess it was a good year for robots getting brought to life.

The original title, Killbots does seem a far better description.  However, their assignment was to make a horror film set in a shopping mall, so I suppose all that really matters is that they got the word “mall” in the title.  Roger Corman’s daughter Julie produced this one — and, as it was her first production job, she and Jim were trying very hard to please Daddy.   This may account for why the film turned out so well, but I’m sure it helped that they had Keli Maroney (who had a brief moment of fame in films like Night of the Comet and Fast Times at Ridgemont High) in the lead, as well as cult Favorite Barbara Crampton, fresh off her role in Reanimator.

But it is the nice little postmodern touches that really make this film work.  After a short opening in which one of the Protector robots takes out an intruder, big letters proclaiming “the end” appear and we learn we’ve just been watching a promotional video for the security company.  Angus Scrimm — best known as Phantasm‘s Tall Man — has a brief cameo as “Doctor Carrington” (the scientist from The Thing from Another World) while Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov reprise their roles as the Blands from Eating Raoul in a series of improvised sarcastic asides.

At one point, two characters watch Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters, and there are posters for Corman films scattered all over the mall.

Which is not merely postmodern, but good advertising as well when you stop to think about it.

Oh, well.  It’s a silly little film and you can’t think too hard about it.  But, while it isn’t a great film it is a lot of fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously,

Even if it does manage to make those robots seem very threatening.

This is as perfect a midnight movie as you are likely to find.  Although I will warn you:

You may find yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable around your Roomba…

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