I mean besides a movie from 1986. Is it a horror movie? A comedy? A social satire? A parody? It could fall easily in to any of these categories. Is it a B-movie full of cheesy camp or was it intended as so much more and just ended up that way. It’s a cult film, to be sure, but is that because Chopping Mall is what it intended to be or not? Why do people like Chopping Mall?
Chopping Mall was produced by Roger Corman and his wife and directed by noted B-movie and exploitation film director Jim Wynorski. Of course Chopping Mall was only his second feature so he wasn’t the famed B-movie director yet, he was just a guy. Roger Corman has long had a reputation of directing and producing B-movies but Corman himself is quick to point out that he’s never directed a B picture, which, from his point of view, is true. During the Golden Age of Hollywood the term B-movie identified the distribution of the less publicized, bottom half of a double feature. For a long time Westerns were a common staple of B-movies, then in the 50s it was often a low-budget sci-fi or horror film that accompanied a feature. Casablanca was a B-movie that happened to get a lot of traction. So from Roger Corman’s perspective, he never made a movie that was intended to be the lesser-publicized companion to someone else’s feature – Corman made movies to stand on their own.
But the term B-movie broadened over time to mean a low-budget commercial motion picture that is not an arthouse film. It can be a genre film with minimal artistic ambition or a lively, energetic film uninhibited by the constraints imposed on more expensive projects. By the modern definition Corman and Wynorski have always made B-movies. Was Chopping Mall one of them? Well it was a low-budget commercial film, it was a genre film with minimal artistic ambition and it is very lively and energetic that has fun doing things a major studio film wouldn’t dare try. It was originally released as Killbots – a title nobody took seriously.
Chopping Mall is about a mall in Los Angeles (the Sherman Oaks Galleria was used for filming but is called Park Plaza Mall in the movie) which has brought online robot security guards. The security robots have a mind of their own and take over the mall. A group of teenage employees become trapped in the mall one Friday night and must do battle with these killbots for their own survival. That is not exactly the premise of a comedy movie – but Chopping Mall does have a lot of fun with that premise. Jim Wynorski is a director that understands the fun people can have laughing along with a genre movie. Dinosaur Island is a movie about dinosaurs that ends up as a comedy, The Bare Wench Project and The Witches of Breastwick are little more than comedies masquerading as softcore skin-flicks. Chopping Mall does share a lot of the fun dark humor that Wynorski exhibited on later films.
Cult icons Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov appear in the opening of Chopping Mall reprising their roles from the black comedy Eating Raoul. There is a scene where a girl is out looking for her boyfriend in the mall, wandering around in her panties until a security robot kills her – the entire sequence is really about her panties because that’s really what we see more than anything else. Wynorski appreciates the female form as much as everyone else and isn’t afraid to show that- it’s a tactic that makes a fun, comedic exploitation film. The gun store in this mall is called “Peckinpah’s”, clearly a joking reference to the violent movies of director Sam Peckinpah. After every kill the robots say with fun irony, “Thank You, have a nice day.”
Chopping Mall is a movie that’s as self-aware as it’s killbots and has a lot of fun with in-jokes and irony. In this sense, Chopping Mall makes for one terrific comedy.
Chopping Mall was sold as a horror film and is aptly described as such – there are plenty of horror elements and gory murder sequences. While we do see a cute girl murdered mostly through the view of her panties – those panties do end up sufficiently blood soaked. It’s a slasher movie with robots instead of a masked killer. Trapped in a mall the movie even has a sort of Dawn of the Dead element to it as these teenagers struggle to survive. Hell, there is a poor girl that burns alive which, typically, is something pretty horrific to watch.
Yeah, it’s a horror film, but it’s not scary. Maybe if the audience was a group of toddlers they would have some nightmares, but Chopping Mall is a horror film that aspires to make one smile instead of shriek in terror – and it definitely accomplishes this. Jim Wynorski has directed plenty of horror movies, but he’s never directed any SCARY movies. Ghoulies IV is technically a horror film, but that’s not scary at all, the same can be said of other Wynorski “horror” flicks like 976-Evil 2, The Bare Wench Project and Piranhaconda. Dick Miller appears in Chopping Mall as a bitter janitor murdered by killbots- he’s an actor that’s also done plenty of horror movies, but none that can every be described as terrifying (Except maybe The Howling which does offer some legitimate scares – but not in any scene with Dick Miller).
Beyond Dick Miller, there are plenty of names and faces here recognizable from great films in the horror genre. Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet), Russell Todd (Friday the 13th Part 2), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Puppet Master) and the film debut of Rodney Eastman (Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightmare on Elm Street 4). Chopping Mall does fit nicely into a welcoming family of memorable 80s horror films.