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31 Days of Halloween: Chopping Mall

Published Sunday, October 17, 2021 at 9:53pm

I guess I expected more gore, more body parts stuffed into shopping bags, maybe a knife-wielding maniac.

I say that like I've never seen Chopping Mall before, but I have, and it's not like I'd forgotten it in the meantime. Still, when you look over at that poster, don't you expect some, I dunno, chopping? Its original title was Killbots but that didn't excite audiences, so it was retitled Chopping Mall at the suggestion of a janitor (at least, that's what Wikipedia says).

Chopping Mall begins as a new, state-of-the-art security system is being demonstrated to the staff of Park Plaza Mall. The camera settles on Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov reprising their roles as Paul and Mary Bland from Eating Raoul. They've managed to open their restaurant, apparently, and are considering buying some robots of their own, but spend the whole presentation making snide comments to each other. This is the closest we'll ever get to the oft-discussed but never made sequel to Eating Raoul, Bland Ambition, and it is the high point of the movie. Not that it's "all downhill from there", but it's a good moment and the first of a series of Roger Corman-related in-jokes

The movie actually follows four couples who work at the mall and plan to have a party after hours in the time before the mall locks down and the security robots start making their rounds. It's a Dark and Stormy Night, and while the kids are partying, a lightning strike affects the robots which kill a couple of security guards and begin a merciless rampage through the mall.

The next victim is a custodian played by—is that Dick Miller? It sure is! Once again Miller appears as Walter Paisley, though I'm not clear on whether he's the same Walter Paisley. See, Miller first played the character in Corman's 1959 el-cheapo classic, A Bucket of Blood. Paisley commits suicide in that one, but he shows up again in 1976's Hollywood Boulevard and again in The Howling. All told, Dick Miller played eight times. They don't all die, but this one gets electrocuted when the electrode from the robot's taser lands in his spilled mop water.

The kids are on the make and oblivious to all of this. Allison (Kelli Maroney) has been set up on a blind date with Ferdy (Tony O'Dell) by her friend Suzie (Barbara Crampton). To be honest, I'm only listing all those names because I wanted to point out Maroney and Campton who are both great in every piece of trash they ever appeared in. Anyway, Allison is not so sure about being set up, but Ferdy's a nice guy, and they spend the evening watching Attack of the Crab Monsters while another couple have sex in the background. Eventually, the other couple leave the store (him first, and when he doesn't come back she goes out to find him) and get killed by the robots. Which is an important point: this off-the-shelf security system actually murders people, even when it's not malfunctioning. The insurance requirements must be nuts.

Eventually the kids figure out that they're in danger. The women work their way through the ductwork down to the parking level, and the men break into Peckinpah's Sporting Goods to arm themselves against the robots. Sooner or later their numbers have dwindled a bit, and they all find themselves in a fast food restaurant discussing their plight. "I'm just not used to being chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots," one of them says.

Would it surprise you to learn that they take out the robots and escape by the end of the movies What if I told you that only two characters survive? I suspect not. Chopping Mall is a good time unhampered by any pretense. The director, Jim Wynorski, is a protege of Roger Corman, and it shows. There's enough comedy and T&A in the prologue to hold your attention, and once things get going, the movie is pretty much nonstop action.

I gather that marketing was a problem for Chopping Mall, It's fun, it's silly, and it's full of one-liners, and the original title, Killbots, is too grim to fit. Chopping Mall is a nice pun which suggests that the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's still evocative of gore, and for the most part this isn't that kind of movie. All in all, I wouldn't dissuade you from watching it, but cult film fans—specifically, those steeped in the work of Roger Corman and his collaborators—will get more out of it than anyone else.

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