Film reviews and more since 2009

Chopping Mall (1986) review

Dir. Jim Wynorski

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

Part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.

Reviewing a film like Chopping Mall is no easy feat. Where do I begin? Do I talk about the high-tech robots, who inexplicably turn evil and begin killing anybody in their path? Do I get in the weeds about how the technology used to program these robots remains vague throughout the movie? Do I talk about the undeveloped teenagers who are supposed to serve as characters? It’s anybody’s guess.

Some might say Chopping Mall is a commentary on the Reagan Era excess of the 1980s. Others might simply cite it as a silly, superfluous horror film that capitalized on the robot craze. No matter how you slice it, if you go into Chopping Mall half-expecting a good time, you will probably be awarded in your pursuits, so long as you don’t dig too deep nor anticipate anything too subversive.

The sub-80 minute thriller takes place entirely in the Park Plaza Mall, which has just installed a state-of-the-art security system in the form of three robots programmed to apprehend thieves by way of tasers and tranquilizer guns. What could possibly go wrong? After a tongue-in-cheek press conference from mall owners introducing these new robots (aka “Protectors”) to Park Plaza, we meet Allison (Kelli Maroney, Night of the Comet) and Suzie (Barbara Crampton), coworkers at a pizzeria in the mall, who join their boyfriends, Greg (Nick Segal) and Ferdy (Tony O’Dell), respectively, along with two other couples for a late-night rendezvous in the shopping center. They make use of the furniture at a large furniture, if you catch my drift, but soon realize they’re not alone. Outside, a storm rages on, and lightning damages the control system for the three Protectors, causing them to malfunction and kill any human they find.

Let’s talk about these Protectors for a minute. Even post-malfunction, their behavior is massively inconsistent from scene-to-scene. While it’s reasonable (within the confines of a low-budget 80s horror film, of course) to believe that they’d seek to kill any human being they come across, they also inexplicably turn crafty. They’re able to hide bodies, harass humans, such a as poor janitor, and play dead. They also have all the clunky charm of a bad toy of the era. They’re bulky, black hunks of machinery with red laser eyes and robotic voices.

The human characters… well, they’re present, if nothing else. Screenwriters Wynorski and Steve Mitchell have not a modicum of interest in making them transcend characters. They will contribute to the inevitably large body count, effectively serving their purpose.

I’ve always enjoyed the setting of a mall for a movie, as the pictorial elements ordinarily lead to some fun on-location interactions for the characters. There is something immeasurably enjoyable about watching a handful of simple humans run around in a dark, empty mall. Chopping Mall does get redundant as the situations involving the Protectors become more outrageous. The lack of gore and memorable characters gets in the way of a movie that excels at being a fun midnight romp but ultimately little else.

NOTE: As of this writing, Chopping Mall is available to stream on Pluto TV and Tubi, free of charge.

Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, and Barbara Crampton. Directed by: Jim Wynorski.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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