Chopping Mall (1986)

If you’re not from Pittsburgh, let me tell you about Century 3 Mall. At one point, it was the biggest, most modern mall in the area, dug into a former slag heap with 50 plus tons of concrete poured to ensure its three levels would stand. It had everything — Wicks ‘n’ Sticks, a food court, a cutlery store that sold throwing stars, a store called Heaven that had Japanese comic books and punk rock posters — even Richard Simmons showed up to precariously dangle from the third floor of the mall as everyone sweated to the oldies.

It was a magical time to be alive, but if you go to Century 3 Mall today, all that remains are 30 some odd stores from the heights that the mall had once reached —  five department stores and over 200 stores and services. It’s a sad blight today, with rainwater collecting in buckets all over the place, stained carpets and shuttered storefronts.

A sad Easter Bunny sits in what once was a bustling shopping center.

I tell you all of this to tell you that at one time, before the internet and social media, we went to the mall. My childhood mall was called Beaver Valley Mall and I remember our priest once yelling in a sermon that more kids thought BVM meant the mall than the name of our church — Purification Blessed Virgin Mary. This is also the same priest who told the story of the movie Alive once a month or so, with no meaning at the end, only discussing how they loved God, prayed and had to eat one another. This tale would always begin with, “The story is told…”

But I digress.

Chopping Mall is the second movie Jim Wynorski directed after The Lost Empire. Mentored by Roger Corman, it’s a cheap and quick little picture that still has moments of great entertainment quality. Kind of like a shopping mall.

Park Plaza Mall has had some theft issues, so they install the security team of the future: three robots programmed to take out thieves with tasers and tranquilizers. Of course, nothing could go wrong, right?

Rick (Russell Todd, Friday the 13th Part 2), Linda, Greg, Suzie (Barbara Crampton, We Are Still Here), Mike, Leslie, Ferdy and Allison (Kelli Maroney, Night of the Comet) have all stayed late after work and are partying in one of the furniture stores in the mall. These kids are super comfy with one another, because they’re basically soft swinging as they have sex on beds and couches right next to one another. Only Ferdy and Allison, the geeky kids, refuse to copulate.

Meanwhile, a lightning storm strikes the mall and reprograms the robots, which kill a technician (Gerrit Graham, Phantom of the ParadiseTerrorvision) and a janitor (Dick Miller, playing a character named Walter Paisley, a name he also used in A Bucket of BloodThe HowlingTwilight Zone: The Movie and Shake, Rattle and Rock!). Mike and Leslie are killed almost instantly, with her head blown to bits while the others all arm themselves with weapons to try and kill the robots.

Like Shakespeare, everyone dies…except for Ferdy and Allison. You’ll thrill to robots with treads rolling all over a mall, shooting lasers, beeping and booping and being like mini-RoboCops.

If the mall looks familiar, it’s because Commando and Fast Times at Ridgemont High were also shot at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. It’s even mentioned in the song Valley Girl by Moon Unit Zappa! The exteriors in the movie are the Beverly Central Shopping Centre, where Scenes from a Mall was set (and Eraserhead was shot on the industrial wasteland that existed before the mall was built).

My favorite part of the entire movie is when the Blanks (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov) show up, reprising their roles from Eating Raoul! It’s totally unexpected and such a weird left turn. It’s not like they’re well-known characters, but any time Bartel and Woronov — two of my favorites — show up in a film, I’m excited.

While this film was originally known as Killbots, that title failed at the box office and the movie was re-released months later with its new title, one suggested by a janitor!

Sadly, malls are just about dead today. You can’t even find a video store in one to buy or rent this movie. You can go to Amazon Prime to stream this movie, though.

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