Sunday, December 29, 2019

Chopping Mall (1986)

... aka: Killbots
... aka: R.O.B.O.T.
... aka: Robots
... aka: Robots asesinos (Killer Robots)
... aka: Roboty smierci (Death Robots)

Directed by:
Jim Wynorski

Sick of paying human security guards and want to do your part in contributing to unemployment? Well, Secure-Tronics Unlimited has you covered! Their new Protector One Series robots can do the job and they won't be glued to their iPhones or sneaking off to take a nap. Equipped with all manner of handy weapons, the short, squatty 'bots may look non-threatening but they're equipped with lasers, powerful pinchers and sleep darts that can neutralize intruders in under 30 seconds. To prevent them from ever harming innocents, they've been programmed to tell the difference between workers and intruders. Just show them your security badge and you'll be on your way. Not to mention, they're awfully polite ("Thank you. Have a nice day"). Despite some skepticism, the six story Park Plaza Mall is about to employ these guys to do the late night rounds. Secure-Tronics head of development Dr. Stan Simon (Paul Coufos) has even given a reassuring endorsement: "Trust me, absolutely nothing can go wrong!" And if we've learned nothing in the past few years, it's that if someone starts out a sentence with "Trust me..." we all should, right?. In addition to the bots, Secure-Tronics has also installed time locked steel security doors that are locked from midnight until dawn. It's virtually impossible to break into the place... or to get out. What could possibly go wrong?

Some early twenty-somethings, who behave exactly like your average immature sex-obsessed horror movie teens, plot to stay overnight in the mall to drink beer and have sex in, uh, the same room (!) Apprehensive new girl Alison Parks (Kelli Maroney), who works at a mall restaurant, is invited by coworker Suzie (Barbara Crampton) to go on a blind date with nerdy worrywart Ferdy (Tony O'Dell), who helps run his uncle's furniture store. The group is rounded out by obnoxious gum chomper Mike (John Terlesky), his spoiled, big-breasted girlfriend Leslie (Suzee Slater), Suzie's boyfriend Greg (Nick Segal) and couple Rick (Russell Todd) and Linda (Karrie Emerson), who've just gotten married and opened their own auto repair business. Late at night, lightning strikes the building, messes with the master computer and turns all three of the malfunctioning robots into killing machines who can't tell the difference between employee and criminal.

After laying waste to a few technicians and a janitor, they go after the younger cast, who both try to survive the night and find a way to escape. There's a gun shop in the building, which leads to lots of gun vs. laser fights, plus a decent amount of explosions and death by claw, strangulation, electrocution, getting set on fire, being thrown over a balcony and more. The best kill, and the only moment of actual gore, is a pretty good exploding head.

As per the director's usual, the in-jokes and nods to other B movies are virtually nonstop. There's a plug for the Wynorski-edited book They Came from Outer Space, cameos from lots of Corman movie alum, posters for other Corman productions (and Wynorski's first film, THE LOST EMPIRE) on the wall of a restaurant, clips from Attack of the Crab Monsters on a TV set, a store called "Roger's Little Shop of Pets" and characters carried over from other Corman productions and popular cult films, including Dick Miller playing an ill-fated janitor named Walter Paisley and Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel in their Eating Raoul personas. There are also cameos from "Lawrence Guy" / Angus Scrimm (who can barely even be seen and has just one line of dialogue), Gerrit Graham (as one of the murdered techs) and Mel Welles (as a slovenly cook).

Though this starts out fun and is technically well-made, it eventually gets bogged down in the formulaic second half after the better known actors have put in their cameos, this suddenly starts taking itself completely seriously and the remaining characters have little else to do other than bicker, scream, do dumb things to get themselves killed and run around in circles firing guns. Even Crampton, the most talented of the younger stars, doesn't help matters because her panicky character becomes so annoying you'll be cheering when she's finally torched. I'd imagine this would have been a lot more fun and memorable had Miller, Woronov, Bartel, Graham, etc. been featured more prominently than the dull, generic "teens" we spend most of the time with. There's also the nagging feeling they could have been more imaginative with the killing methods. You can only see so many people getting shot with a laser or strangled with a flimsy robotic hand before yawn-inducing repetition sets in.

Though I'm not entirely sure why, this is the most popular of all of Wynorski's 100+ films. It could be that it's been embraced as a nice alternative to the usual slasher flick by fans. Or that it has that snappy and fun-to-say title, which was actually chosen after the original release title Killbots failed to attract many movie goers. Or that it has a fantastic poster and tagline ("Where shopping costs you an arm and a leg!"). Or even that other people simply find it more fun than I do. While I didn't completely dislike this, I found the dialogue less witty than usual for a Wynorski flick and that it lacked the cheerfully cheesy personality of some of the director's better efforts.

Arthur Roberts, Ace Mask and Lenny Juliano, all three of whom appeared in Jim's remake of Not of This Earth (1988), have small roles, as do Angela Aames and Toni Naples. Producer Julie Corman, David Del Valle and Rodney Eastman can briefly be seen as shoppers. The budget was 800,000 dollars (which isn't all that low for an 80s B movie) and filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, which was also used for PHANTOM OF THE MALL (1989) and (more famously) Fast Times and Ridgemont High (1982), Commando (1985) and Terminator 2 (1991).

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