Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chopping Mall (1986) Review:

By at least the mid 1980s, horror films were a dime a dozen. For every famous slasher icon, more than one knock off was featured quickly after just to cash in on the idea Friday the 13th (1980) style. The genre was beginning to get diluted and it caused many popular franchises to slowly fizzle out. However, if you create a film that is self aware in its ridiculous premise, there's a chance that it won't appear to be such a cash-in. Of course this all has to be done in a way that isn't overly dumb either. That's when Roger Corman comes in. The enthusiast of everything cheap and fun, Corman was the backer to this 80s film. With a budget barely hitting $1 million, this science fiction horror film is now mainly known for its cheesiness. What is it that makes it cheesy? It's practically every technical aspect of it when looked at closely enough. The title alone should be enough to signal how over-the-top things will be. Chopping Mall (1986)? It wouldn't seem that difficult to figure out what the story is about.

Kelli Maroney & Tony O'Dell
After a security systems group installs and assigns three of its new "killbots" to the biggest mall in the state, it is decided with no further testing that during night hours it will be safe to work among the machines. That is until the same night they are positioned, a freak lightning storm activates them making them go on a killing rampage. Caught in the crossfire of these robots are a group of teenagers looking to have a good time. Although Roger Corman isn't explicitly attached, his wife Julie Corman is and their signature cinematic fingerprints are all over it. Directing this feature is Jim Wynorski, an exploitation filmmaker who just started working for Corman at the time. Writing the script was also Wynorski and Steve Mitchell in his first credit. For what it's worth even at an early stage in their careers, the story is self-aware in how childish the premise is. It seems to take itself just as seriously as other campy monster films that came before it dealing with malfunctioning technology.

This also includes the typical script flaws one would see in a horror film. Is it predictable - surely. Is it apparent to who's is going to die in what order - it's fairly obvious. Characters also make very stupid decisions, ones of which require very little brainpower. If that kind of thing annoys you as a viewer then stop right there. They are problems and they do affect the overall experience but it doesn't make it unwatchable; just cliche. An element however that makes no sense is that this mall has a gun shop. My how times have changed. What mall would do that now? Aside from this though, the scripts positives are more on character focus. Does it develop its characters well enough - not entirely. However what does stand out are the two main leads Ferdy Meisel (Tony O'Dell) and Alison Parks (Kelli Maroney). Compared to the rest of the cast, they are the least popular and confident in their group of friends. This is different than normal because most horror films would have it the other way around.

It is because of their uneasiness at first that makes them more entertaining to watch. The rest of the characters played by Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Nick Segal, John Terlesky and Suzee Slater are fine for what they do, but they are pretty much all stock and very little substance. There's also an appearance from cult actor Dick Miller playing a custodian. What there really is to admire are all the technical feats this film was able to perform on such a meager budget. The killbots look like hefty props to move around and although they look very inefficient when it comes to articulation, they do stand out. They are physical objects, of which were majority the only way to get creatures on set prior the 1990s. The way at which these robots kill people aren't completely innovative but they do have a few tricks up their sleeves. Their most powerful weapon being their head lazers. From a visual perspective they look adequate on screen. It's just amazing how good they are when they look so clunky.

The Killbots
For cinematography, Tom Richmond managed this aspect of the film. Richmond who has several credits to his name doesn't portray elaborate set pieces here. Instead many shots have the actors in an actual mall. Unfortunately it's not a very engaging looking mall but it does fit the bill. Richmond's best known credit belongs to Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses (2003). Adding to the movie's cheesiness is composer Chuck Cirino's film score. Working numerous times with director Jim Wynorksi, Cirino has had his fair share of experience in the movie making industry as well. Since this is during the 1980s and the budget for this production was so small, one could only expect a synth powered composition. No other instruments exist in the music and that's okay. Considering the premise deals with killer patrol robots, the clinky electronic music suits it appropriately. The film score itself doesn't have a reoccurring main theme but the tracks are catchy enough to enjoy when they are heard.

While it may not be anything that hasn't been seen before, it's a quick cheeseball film that has a silly premise, fun practical effects and goofy music. However if B-list actors, cliche characters and violent robots aren't interesting then don't even bother. It should be relatively entertaining though.

Points Earned --> 6:10

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