31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #18: Chopping Mall (1986)

Posted: October 18, 2018 in Movie Review

18. Chopping Mall (1986)

Director: Jim Wynorski

Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Nick Segal, Suzee Slater

Ever worry that Alexa or Siri will one day decide to place your house on lockdown and murder you with poison gas? Of course you don’t, but that hasn’t stopped inventive minds from coming up with countless tales about artificial intelligence turning homicidal against us humans. There are standard-bearers such as “The Terminator” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But there are other gems out there as well. While they might not be as iconic, they are no less relevant to the conversation. In an age where we’ve become more dependent on electronics than ever before, movies like 1986’s “Chopping Mall”… which we hope will always remain pure fantasy… are becoming more relevant all the time.

A new security system has just been put in place at a shopping mall: three security robots armed with the tools to stop shoplifters in their tracks using purely non-lethal measures. Yep, nothing can possibly go wrong with these robots! Oh, well, except of course in the event of a lightning storm that screws up the computers controlling the robots. That’ll give them a new set of directives. Fortunately for the general public, this doesn’t happen while the mall is open for business, or the movie would be a much larger bloodbath. Hmm… Pity.

Those who will find themselves in the killer robots’ path are eight teenagers, some of whom work there, who decide to throw a party inside one of the stores. Though the movie isn’t very long at all, it feels like it takes forever to slog through the first half-hour or so before the robots begin their attack. Before we get there, we’re mostly intended to get to know the kids, most of whom are either assholes or annoying valley girls. The two that don’t fit these descriptions, Ferdy (Tony O’Dell) and Alison (Kelli Maroney of “Night of the Comet”) are portrayed as the more virginal members of the group, and are the film’s main focus.

The action gets underway when Mike (John Terlesky) gets caught while out looking for cigarettes for Leslie (Suzee Slater). He’s followed in death soon after by his girlfriend, this time in full view of everyone else. Naturally, panic ensues, and the chase begins. It’s around this time that Rick (Russell Todd of “Friday the 13th Part 2”) shows courage and takes more of a leadership role. It was refreshing to see actor Russell Todd in a more fleshed out role. Where before I’d seen him play a pervert who gets offed by Jason Voorhees way too easily, this time he gets to be more of a badass. He also gets the film’s greatest one-liner, suggesting that the group “send (the robots) a Rambo-gram!” Really, all of the teenagers who survive the robots’ initial volley become better as the movie progresses, but Rick got the best character makeover.

The robots’ reprogramming apparently resulted in more than just a change in their directives. Protector 1, Protector 2 and Protector 3 now all can shoot frickin’ laser beams from their heads! Surely this ability wasn’t already built-in, given its lethality. The movie never bothers with any such explanation. You’re just supposed to roll with it, and as a result “Chopping Mall” is better for it.

The group is whittled down to just Alison, forced to take on the remaining robot all by her lonesome. She’s pretty observant and resourceful even in her state of absolute terror, mixing together something flammable using what she can grab off the shelves around her. After the nice recovery from the slow opening, “Chopping Mall” almost loses me again during the final act. When the movie appears set to deliver on a bittersweet conclusion, we abruptly switch gears to a more upbeat finale with the whole “See! I wasn’t really dead!” reunion with Ferdy. It’s not that wanted to see Alison miserable at the end, or that I thought Ferdy deserved death. My disappointment stems from having felt genuine surprise at the thought that the movie might be gutsy enough to kill the likable Ferdy off.

The acting in this movie is a damn sight better than a lot of the 80s movies I’ve been watching during this marathon. Even veteran character actor Dick Miller (who also made an appearance in “Night of the Creeps”) is able to do a lot with the briefest of cameos. There’s a lot to love about “Chopping Mall,” from the actors, to the death scenes, and most especially the robots. They have such an interesting design, and project just the right amount of dread. Even though you know these things have to be stopped eventually, they seem genuinely indestructible in the early-going. How I felt about the ending ultimately wasn’t enough to affect my overall opinion, and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from checking out “Chopping Mall” for themselves.

 

 

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Interesting, but real human psychos are, of course, always more frightening than mechanical ones.
    However, still wouldn’t want to be cornered and slaughtered by a robot.

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