Directed By: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell, Russell Todd
Tag line: "Buy or Die"
Trivia: Director Jim Wynorski provided the voices of the three Protector robots
Had I seen director Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall when it was first released in 1986, odds are I would have enjoyed it. It’s a cheesy movie, but it does have a few things going for it, including its setting (a shopping mall) and cast of characters (some of whom I took a liking to almost immediately).
Alas, this was the first time I ever watched Chopping Mall, and while it does have a certain nostalgic charm to it, it ultimately fails as a horror movie.
Four couples: Greg (Nick Segal) and Suzie (Barbara Crampton); Mike (John Terlesky) and Leslie ()Suzee Slater); Rick (Russell Todd) and Linda (Karrie Emerson), who are married; and Ferdy (Tony O’Dell) and Allison (Kelli Maroney), who only just met, hold a party at the mall furniture store where several of the guys work. What they don’t know is their shindig is about to be crashed by a trio of high-tech security robots, which were unveiled a few hours earlier. Programmed to keep the mall safe from intruders, the robots instead go on a killing spree when their main computer is struck by lightning. Locked in for the evening, the couples have no choice but to stand and fight, hoping beyond hope that they can survive until the mall opens the next morning.
Right out of the gate, I was feeling good about Chopping Mall. The opening credits sequence, which featured (among other things) mall patrons playing arcade games and eating at the food court, reminded me of my teenage years, when my friends and I would spend our weekends hanging out at the mall (which, incidentally, is exactly where you would have found us in 1986). I also enjoyed the film’s various cameos; aside from Dick Miller’s brief appearance as a foul-tempered janitor, the presence of Dick Bartel and Mary Woronov reminded me it’s been way too long since I’ve seen Eating Raoul. In addition, the central characters in Chopping Mall are something more than your standard movie teens. Along with Kelli Maroney’s Allison and Tony O’Dell’s Ferdy, who were essentially the leads, I liked the young married couple, Rick and Linda, mostly because ‘80s films of this ilk rarely featured a husband and wife who truly care about one another. Tossing these two characters into the mix with the usual collection of horny teens was a refreshing change of pace.
So why didn’t I fall in love with Chopping Mall? The problem was the killer robots; in a nutshell, I didn’t find them the least bit scary. In fact, they looked like Johnny 5, the heroic droid from Short Circuit, only with a lot less personality. Even by ‘80s standards, these robots were far too clunky to be state-of-the-art security devices, let alone out-of-control killers, and despite the damage they do (In what is easily the film’s best special effects sequence, one character’s head explodes into a hundred pieces), I felt no tension whatsoever when they rolled onto the scene.
Chopping Mall will undoubtedly appeal to fans of ‘80s cheese. All others should probably steer clear of it.