October Horrorshow: Chopping Mall, aka Killbots

I think it’s about high time to feature a flick from the Roger Corman stable. Chopping Mall, also released as Killbots, from 1986, doesn’t have Roger Corman’s name on it anywhere, but it’s definitely one of his. It was produced by Julie Corman, who has been married to Roger for almost fifty years, and it’s an underfunded piece of shit.

Directed by Jim Wynorksi, from a screenplay by Wynorski and Steve Mitchell (who wrote for the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons around the same time), Chopping Mall is about a trio of automated security robots that have become murderous after a power surge scrambled their circuits.

It’s the 1980s, and there are killer robots stalking a shopping mall. A film like that writes itself, right? If the mall looks familiar to any viewers, that’s because it’s the Sherman Oaks Galleria in the San Fernando Valley. It got more work in the ’80s than James Caan, having been featured prominently in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Commando, Innerspace, Back to the Future Part II, and Night of the Comet. Times have been tough recently, however. After a couple of blank decades, the latest listings on the mall’s IMDb page include some Asylum flicks and a brief run as the location for an extreme Japanese game show. But there are some rumors that the mall will be appearing on either Dancing with the Stars or The Celebrity Apprentice.

Back in the movie, a group of young and horny retail employees from the mall decide to throw a couples party in a furniture store while the mall is closed at night. The plan is to get drunk and have sex on everything with a plush top. It’s exactly the type of plan 19 and 20-year olds would come up with, and makes me miss my youth even more. Nevertheless! The group has chosen the worst night possible for their amorous adventures.

Chopping Mall plays out like a slasher flick, and I think that’s a good thing. Instead of a cabin in the woods, there is a modern shopping experience. Instead of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, there are remote-controlled prop robots cobbled together from wheelchairs and what looks like spare parts from kitchen appliances. When it came to cutting corners, there was just no competing with Roger Corman. Most of the scenes at the mall were even filmed at night. It dovetails nicely with the script, but I have to believe that filming at night was a prerequisite for keeping the budget small, since businesses wouldn’t have to be compensated for having their foot traffic ruined by a production crew.

How much did Wynorski have to work with? About 800,000 bucks, apparently. That’s embarrassingly small, and makes itself known every single time one of the robots is on screen. Even more so when they begin shooting laser beams.

This is a fantastically shitty movie. Corman could have opened the taps a little more on his films, and they would have been miles better. But he is a miser who squeezes every last drop of blood from a film in disregard for all else. I can’t think of another filmmaker who is so capable of producing better, yet whose internal cheapness is impossible to overcome. I’m amazed he’s been so successful, because he is the antithesis of the old adage that one has to spend money to make money. Roger Corman is highly respected in Hollywood, and he is known for nurturing the careers of many high-profile filmmakers and stars. But to me, he is the American version of Enzo G. Castellari or Fabrizio De Angelis. If there was any desire to tell good stories, that artistic drive has been washed away by a slavish devotion to gathering pennies.

As for Wynorski, who actually directed this film, he seemed to be having fun. Despite this being a horror flick, it has a lighthearted sensibility about it. All one has to see to confirm that is the title sequence montage, which features little snippets of 1980s mall life. Rounding out the fun is a decent amount of gratuitous nudity and an exploding headshot. We love exploding headshots here at Missile Test, and the shittier they look, the better. What a wonderful movie! I hate to have to write this, but Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than Chopping Mall, if only because Chopping Mall was denied the resources it needed. I’m not saying it could have been the next Terminator, but a little more money could have kept this flick from starving to death before my very eyes.