Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #375
Also known as Killbots
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: March 21, 1986
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 77 minutes, 95 minutes (original release)
Director: Jim Wynorski
Producer: Julie Corman
Screenplay: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Special Effects: Anthony Showe
Cinematography: Tom Richmond
Score: Chuck Cirino
Editing: Leslie Rosenthal
Studio: Concorde Pictures, Trinity Pictures
Distributors: Concorde Pictures, Vestron Video International
Stars: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal, Dick Miller, Gerritt Graham, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Angus Scrimm, Angela Aames, Arthur Stewart, Rodney Eastman
Suggested Audio Jukebox
 Goblin “Zombi (Supermarket)”
 Chuck Cirino “Chopping Mall”
I’ve never much been one for shopping. I was the guy who Dawn of The Dead spoke to on a personal level; disinterested in walking around aimlessly for several hours, attempting to grab a bargain. There are a number of reasons why I have always given the mall a wide berth. Firstly, I know my mind. Mincing about from store to store searching for the most competitive price is my own personal idea of hell; attempting to shave a dollar off here and there or find a sweater with a slightly higher polyester content never held a single iota of appeal to me. Secondly, money has always burned a hole straight through my pocket. I simply have no respect whatsoever for legal tender or concept of money in the slightest. Third, shoppers are a loathsome breed with no concept of awareness, personal space, or manners. Romero got it spot on when representing consumers as mindless zombies. I’m guessing he too isn’t a fan of shopping.
Now, chopping on the other hand, is something I have a vested interest in, particularly if it plays out at the mall. There is nothing which excites me more than the notion of a handful of scantily clad vixens and their gormless boyfriends each being put to the sword in turn for the purpose of my own personal entertainment. Traditionally this plays out in a ramshackle cabin in the woods, a college campus, or some other secluded vacation spot far detached from the public eye. The rules are simple and the ingredients even more elementary. Six to eight victims, at least four of those utterly obnoxious, one of them fixated with playing pranks, another two willing to engage in a spot of late-night skinny dipping or unprotected coitus, a mousy-haired virgin. The usual suspects, lined up like lemmings on a cliff-top and each grasping a number to denote the order in which they will receive their ventilation. That’s all I require being a simple man with simple needs.
In 1986, Jim Wynorski (Sorority House Massacre, Not of This Earth) had something of an epiphany. We were at the height of the slasher phenomenon; every aspiring director with a few friends and a 16mm camera would be granted access into the fast-growing elite so long as they fulfill the kill requisite. Wynorski had grown up idolizing B-Movie legend Roger Corman and saw this as his one exclusive chance to make a name for himself. Having already cut his teeth with The Lost Empire two years previous, he was primed for the challenge. Ingeniously, he decided to relocate any stalking and slashing to the mall and replace the customary masked marauder with murderous high-tech security drones, hence the working title Killbots. His timing was certainly inspired as, a few months later, Johnny Five would trundle onto the scene with his head in a book and everybody would forget about E.T.’s rough deal at the hands of the authorities. It was a no-brainer if you ask me.
Chopping Mall never really took off although its tantalizing cover art and catchy slogan “where shopping can cost you an arm and a leg” ensured it amassed a small dedicated following on VHS and be regarded as something of a cult classic. It placed eight shopaholics in jeopardy and populated its eerily deserted mall with the new line of defense against rapidly increasing levels of shoplifting. Without Steve Guttenberg or Ally Sheedy on-hand to talk them down, it was left to Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, and Barbara Crampton to attempt at encouraging the robots see sense and cut their spree short. All appeared in cameos and we really got a sense that Wynorski had learned well from his master (whose spouse was on production duties here).
The fledgling director went one better by casting the delectable Kelli Maroney as his final girl Alison. After watching Thom Eberhardt’s wondrous sci-fi B-movie Night of The Comet I found another woman to ogle over when Molly Ringwald was hand washing her stockings and Maroney had just the right amount of girl next door charm and meat on her lovely bones to encourage a knee tremble or five. If I’m honest, Chopping Mall could have been set at a yard sale and it wouldn’t have mattered one iota, so long as Ms Maroney was the one handing out pink lemonade in a cheerleader’s costume with cheeks stuffed with bubble gum. The robots were nothing if not shrewd and left her until last as they demonstrated their superiority and cruel intentions by sifting through the other mallrats.
The killbots themselves were hardly state-of-the-art but were resourceful if nothing else. Lasers like phasers, wandering pinchers, tranquilizer darts, and teasing tasers afforded all the tools they required to outmaneuver their quarry. Wynorski was disinterested in appealing to the thespian within us and his script reflected his desire to make this all about the window shopping. If I were trapped in a plaza with Maroney and Crampton, I’d be in the changing room faster than you could say “charge it” and, God bless him, so would Jim it appears. Chopping Mall was not big, nor was it clever, but it knew its key strengths and played on each of them knowingly.
It was, of course, preposterous in over-extremes but, more critically, it was never less than entertaining. Wynorski struck that balance between knowing his movie wasn’t fine art and remaining po-faced in the ridiculousness of its concept. There is something to be said for a movie which is aware of its equilibrium at all times. Chopping Mall is bad; make absolutely no mistake about that. But it’s also better than The Phantom of The Mall and deserving of a little perspective. I recall all my experiences within shopping centers and none of them have encouraged a second purchase as effectively as Wynorski’s one-off spectacular. If Maroney doesn’t tickle your fickle pickle, then subtract a digit from the overall score this receives. However if, like Keeper, your pocket change jingles at the prospect of assisting Maroney in shopping for lingerie, then head to the back of the queue.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: A little stingy with regards to grue, if truth be known, and the misleading cover art denoting an armored hand clutching a goodie bag stuffed with body parts was, like any plea to consumers, shamelessly inaccurate. The true loss leader was a marvelously schlocky exploding head (the likes of which only the eighties could ever provide), while the survivors’ reaction to their friend burning alive before their very eyes was akin to them learning of a no-refund policy and invaluable moments such as these made up partially for any redundancy of notable splatter. A little T&A wasn’t amiss either. While not ever quite sale of the century there was just enough to get your till chiming.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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