Now listen up whippersnappers. Back in less sophisticated times when a person had to actually leave their home in order to buy things and everyone was only 60-70% sure they knew what ‘digital’ meant, there were places called Video Rental shops. I have many a fond memory of being brought to Chartbusters by my dad to rent a VHS to watch over the weekend. A big part of what made it so fun was just wandering the aisles looking at the box art to movies I had never heard of and would never watch, and the horror aisle invariably had the best boxes. Rather than a hastily slapped together Photoshop effort, in those times artist would be commissioned to come up with something for the box and it’s apparent that often they wouldn’t have much more to go on than the film’s title. Having discovered that this particular film is available in its entirety on Youtube, today I’m going to view one of the most memorable movies from my time as a dumb kid being scared of boxes; 1986’s Chopping Mall!
Chopping Mall is a B-Movie horror straight from the Roger Corman wheelhouse, produced by his wife Julie. What that means for the uninitiated is that it was made in about two weeks and the budget was cobbled together with spare change found down the back of sofa. It is about killer robots chasing youths around the mall, so you can see how I literally had no other option but to watch it. It was in fact originally titled the equally delightful Killbots, and was released under that title, but no one was going to see it so the producers had it pulled. They believed people thought it was like Transformers. On the advice of – I kid you not – the guy who changes the light bulbs in their office, they changed the title to Chopping Mall and the rest is…well not history. It sure is something though.
The beginning of the movie has the 3 robots being unveiled to an audience in the mall during what looks like the dead of night. People were visibly nodding off in the background of the scene, which isn’t really a good omen. The robots, who we are ostensibly supposed to be frightened off, are adorable by the way. They look like Wall-E with their little tank tracks. I want one for Christmas. They come equipped with darts and tasers and the like, with the man unveiling them insisting that they don’t kill people and that, and I quote, “nothing can go wrong”. Oh good. The audience asks a couple of questions, but nobody brings up the most obvious ones, like “How are you paying for this?” or “Why does a mall need to be defended by robots?” or “No seriously, how are you paying for this? Did they fall off the back of a van on its way to the Pentagon or something?”
We now move on to the part of the movie where we meet our dead-meat teenagers. I mean, teenagers would be the norm two of them are married and own their own mechanic shop, but the others are all working retail, so they’re early 20s at the very least. All you’re slasher movie stereotypes are along for the ride. You’ve got three lads all working in a furniture store, Nerdlinger, Meathead Jock and Other Guy, plus Mechanic Man and the girls Promiscuous Girl, Other Girl, Mechanic Girl (who looks like Robin from How I Met Your Mother) and Final Girl. They’re planning a sexy bodacious young people party in the furniture store after hours where they’re planning to have lots of sex. Nerdlinger and Final Girl are being set up for a blind date and although they hit it off, they don’t get their bone on like everyone else and if you’ve seen more than two slasher films you know that means they’re going to be the last two standing because horror movies have weird attitudes to sex.
Now unlike your standard slasher villain, the robots can’t go on a killing spree because of an obsession with their mother or whatever, so a different impetus is needed for them to go bad. The computer that controls them gets struck by lightning. This movie was written by a 6 year old. Their tiny hands slit the throats of the scientists controlling them and they head off through the now locked up mall to over-zealously defend it. A surly janitor yells at one of them after it knocks over his bucket, so it shoots its tazer at the spilled water and electrocutes him to death, complete with cartoon skeleton. Fuck you robot you’re the one who knocked over the bucket, maybe you watch where you’re going next time! Meathead Jock, who by the way chews gum constantly through the film, including through sex, so he deserves to die because gross, is the first of the teens to bite it. He heads out to the cigarette machine to get Promiscuous a post-coital cigarette, when he encounters one of the robots. He tries to show it his ID card but it doesn’t scan, which is just typical isn’t it? What is less typical is that it then slits his throat. Even though robots are atypical for this genre, they make up for it by ticking as many boxes on the cliché box as possible, because Promiscuous Girl comes looking for him and she’s all like “This isn’t funny!” and then she trips over his dead body. She runs screaming back to the furniture store, just in time for everybody else to see her freaking head blown to bits by lasers! They honestly should have held off on that one because it can only by downhill from there.
As you can imagine, seeing their mate got popped like a balloon by Daleks sends everyone into a bit of a panic so they run off. Robin, Other Girl and Final Girl end up in the vents while the boys head to a sporting goods store to stock up on guns (USA! USA! USA!) They lock and load and Mechanic Guy is like “let’s send these fuckers a Rambogram” which wouldn’t really be a great telegram.
Hrmmmrmrnnruurbll. Stop. Purrrburpadurrrururu. Stop. Ghrurgurkabrrumunnum. Stop.
Honestly though they really shouldn’t have bothered because they are proper useless with these things. Stormtroopers would insult their lack of marksmanship. Eventually it looks like they kill one of the robots because it falls over. There’s a weird moment where Nerdlinger asks “what if these things can read our minds?” What are you taking about dork? Why would-robots don’t read minds. This Billy-From-Power-Rangers-Looking-Motherfucker should shut his mouth. Meanwhile, Other Girl has a bit of a panic attack because of the confined space of the ventilation shaft. Also killer robots. So she and the girls hop out in a store and start making Molotovs. You have to give this lot their due their more proactive than your usual rabble of jabronis. Final Girl pockets a flare in a THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER moment and then head out to take their own turn at killing robots. They do badly. To cut a long story short, Other Girl ends up being shot in the leg and burned alive. I said they were proactive, not talented. They do eventually lure one of the robots into an elevator and Final Girl shoots a propane tank to blow it up, thus setting up the fact that she is the only one of them who is competent. It reminded me of Jaws, but with robots, and it just made me sad because there’s no movie about Robot Jaws, so fuck you Chopping Mall.
Other Guy takes his special lady friend’s spectacular death poorly as you can imagine. He’s acting all gung-ho and violent and raring to go, so of course he’s immediately grabbed by the wrist by a robot and thrown off the balcony. Whenever the robots kill someone, they say HAVE A NICE DAY. What did I tell you, they’re adorable. Everyone runs for shelter in a shop with the shutters down, which apparently the high-tech defence bots find very difficult to get through because the Fodder Squad have enough time to have a chat. Robin says “I guess I’m just not used to being chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots” which is the greatest line of dialogue in cinematic history. Final Girl comes up with a nifty plan to take care of the robots, by moving around mirrors so the robots shoot lasers at the mirrors and they get deflected back at them. She’s obviously played some Legend of Zelda in her time. It works on one of them and he spazzes out, short circuiting and shooting lasers all over the place. Unfortunately Robin is hit by one of them and dies, and Mechanic Guy, in a rage, hops onto a cart and rides it very slowly towards the malfunctioning robot, I think to knock it over? Instead he just bumps into it awkwardly and gets electrocuted. Good job idiot. No thanks to him it blows up, leaving just one robot left to chase our last two.
They’ve had this vague plan for a while about shutting down the super computer controlling the Killbots but they never even get close to doing this so it doesn’t really go anywhere. Nerdlinger is at one point cornered by the robot. He tries shooting at it but as aforementioned this lot couldn’t hit a barn door if they were using a gun that shot another barn door at it so he runs out of bullets. Then he throws the gun at it. I’m not kidding. This movie is amazing. When that fails too he tries to throw a fire extinguisher at it but he has only weak socially awkward arms so it just falls on the ground in front of it. The robot throws it back at him, knocking him down. That appears to be the end of Nerdlinger. They really blew their budget with grizzly violence early on. Final Girl hides from the robot by dangling from the balcony, but she eventually falls through a canopy. Grazed by lazers, damaged from the fall and seemingly alone, she decides to deal with this once and for all. She jumps through the window to a paint store. She’s pretty fecking hardcore for a teenager working at a pizza parlour. She chucks a load of paint and paint thinner on the floor, lures the robot in, and launches her flare at it with a “Have a nice day” blows the entire paint store to smithereens with it inside. Sure she’s happy to survive now but when they re-open the shop in the morning all this damage is coming out of her paycheck. And as it turns out, Nerdlinger was alive after all, complimenting her on her shooting skills while holding a roll of bloody tissue paper to the back of his head, cheerfully ignoring an inevitable concussion that will plague him for years to come.