‘Chopping Mall’ (AKA ‘Killbots’) (1986) Review

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“Have a nice day.”

I hope all of you readers in the US had a great Thanksgiving yesterday! While there aren’t many Thanksgiving themed/set horror movies there are a few – Blood Rage, Home Sweet Home, Thankskilling – and I thought about watching one of those this week. But given we do these Fear Flashbacks on Friday and this one happens to land on Black Friday, something more… commercial seemed in order. And as many people are likely to head to the mall this Black Friday I couldn’t think of a better film to celebrate the actual experience of shopping on Black Friday than Chopping Mall.

I may have stretched things a little bit.

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Chopping Mall is one of those 80’s ‘slasher’ type films that somehow never made it into a regular rotation for me and my horror loving friends, and I’m not sure why. It’s got a great pedigree – produced by Julie and Roger Corman, directed by schlock legend Jim Wynorski, starring Night of the Comet‘s Kelli Maroney, Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton and even featuring a cameo by Eating Raoul‘s Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov! It’s also got nudity, some okay gore and at running at a lean 117 minutes there’s very little filler. It should have been a favorite, but I don’t think I’ve watched in at least twenty years.

The Medium
Chopping Mall is streaming for subs on Shudder and Amazon, free on Tubi and Vudu (with ads), as well as for rent on Amazon. A Blu-ray release from Vestron Video (an arm of Lionsgate) came out in 2016 with a ton of extras – might be worth checking out.

The Movie
So, despite the wonderfully evocative poster – which makes the film seem like a standard slasher flick – Chopping Mall is more firmly in the ‘technology run amok’ category of horror films. The Park Plaza Mall has just installed a new security system featuring the use of guard robots known as Protectors. The ‘high tech’ robots can disable any intruder with tasers and tranquilizer darts AND they can clear debris in an emergency with powerful lasers. None of this can go wrong, as the robots can scan ID badges to separate the good guys from the bad guys and everything is run from a central control unit at the top of the mall.

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Paul and Mary Bland (Bartel and Woronov reprising their Eating Raoul characters) are less than impressed.

Meanwhile, a group of young people who work at various places in the mall are planning an after-hours party in the furniture store. They plan on being out before midnight, when the metal shutters close off the mall completely and the robots begin their patrols. Before then they’ll drink a lot of beer and have a lot of sex – typical 80’s slasher teen stuff. While six of them are already in couples, there’s also Ferdy (Tony O’Dell) and Allison (Maroney), who are being set up. They actually hit it off over a late show screening of Attack of the Crab Monsters.

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A freak (and extremely low-budget) lighting storm comes out of nowhere and scrambles the robots programming, turning them into murderous kill bots! The robot design is chunky 80’s fun, looking like something that might have shared a shelf with ROM or a Transformers knockoff. The robots are a creation of Robert Short, who went on to work on Beetlejuice (and who most recently worked on the Legion TV series), and while not particularly realistic, they’re at least believably solid and heavy looking. And they do appear to motor around on their own when they finally begin their patrol.

Which is when the killing starts. (Well, starts in earnest – a couple of poor technicians get their necks crushed before that.) Two of the group are quickly killed when they venture out of the store for cigarettes and we get treated to a laser-induced head explosion. (The poor woman’s head appears to be full of brick dust, however.)

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Most of the rest of the film involves the survivors attempting to exit the mall before the steel security doors seal them in with the robots for the rest of the night. This is all less horror movie than low-budget action/sci-fi stuff – with the women trying to escape through the air vents and the men arming themselves with weapons at the mall gun shop (the hilariously named Peckinpah’s). You’ll be surprised to find out you could apparently purchase an M16 at the mall in 1986. There are shootouts, explosion, laser blasts and booby-trapped elevators. Poor Dick Miller gets electrocuted in a pool of mop water. Barbara Crampton – criminally wasted as a freaked out party girl – gets set on fire while the others merely watch. I think there’s at least one more head explosion.

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This is a Roger Corman production and Jim Wynorski would go on to direct more than 150 low-budgt films like Scream Queen Hot Tub Party, Ghoulies IV,  and The Bare Wench Project. All I’m saying is that Chopping Mall is not high art. It IS, however, pretty entertaining. There’s always something interesting happening on the screen, even if it’s not particularly well shot, acted, lit or edited. It’s FUN, and Maroney in particular gives it everything she’s got as Allison (who turns out to be a surprisingly good shot). At 77 minutes the film never outstays its welcome.

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The Bottom Line
Chopping Mall is ridiculous, low-budget, robot-murdery fun. No, it’s never going to be an entry in the annals of great horror movies, or even good horror movies, but it’s more than worth the 117 minutes of your time it takes to watch. And way more enjoyable than actually going to the mall on Black Friday.