In the year 1986, we humans were given a gift. It was the greatest gift any civilization has ever received, yet, we did not understand its importance at the time. It is only recently, thirty-two years later, that we have begun to appreciate it. This gift was not something that we cared about at the time. We couldn’t accessorize it with fingerless gloves or snort it up our noses, so who needed it? Even though we have begun to hear the call, I fear, for the future of our species, that it may be too late.
Some may call this gift a “B-Movie”. Some might even refer to it as being “So bad it’s good”. They are dead wrong. That is what our robot enemies want us to think. This is nothing to laugh at, nothing to relegate to “cult” status and midnight viewings filled with the sweaty and over-buttered. This gift was a prophecy, one that we must begin to understand and follow before we go the way of the dinosaur. This gift was Chopping Mall, and may god forgive our hubris and have mercy on our souls.
Who Let the Killbots Out, Who, Who, Who
Released in 1986, Chopping Mall (the original title for the film was Killbots, which is pretty metal) was the brainchild of writer Steve Mitchell and director Jim Wynorski. It was filmed under Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures studio and was produced by Corman’s wife, Julie. Although it was a relatively low-budget feature, all parties involved felt the weight of Corman resting on their shoulders throughout the production. After filming began at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in California, Roger gave the crew his stamp of approval and left them alone for the 22 day shoot.
The film starred Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Nick Segal and Russell Todd as four horn-ball dudes throwing an after-hours party at the mall store that O’Dell’s character Ferdy managed for his uncle. What better place to hold an after-hours party filled with pepperoni pizza and beer than your uncle’s furniture store? I posit none. There are none better places. There happened to be a few ladies that agree with me, for Suzie (Barbara Crampton), Linda (Karrie Emerson), Leslie (Suzee Slater) and Alison (Chopping Mall’s version of a “final girl” played by Kelli Maroney) decided to join in on all the sexy fun.
What starts out as a harmless party full of marinara and sexy times quickly becomes the worst night spent in a mall since the closing of KB Toys. As a new high-tech security measure, the owners of the mall purchased three robotic guards known as Protectors to roam the halls after the stores have closed. They are brought in to monitor movement, detect burglaries (You see, Youths, shopping malls used to have stores in them that sold products and other things of value. Weird, right?) and immobilize perpetrators using taser-like technology, tranquilizer darts and horrifically inaccurate laser eyes.
These machines are deemed “totally safe” by their creator. He assures the overly-sarcastic crowd at the Protectors‘ unveiling that nothing could ever go wrong. They can make the distinction between who is supposed to be there after closing (janitors, horny teens) and burglars by scanning an identification card given to each employee. No worries there! Just scan your card and be on your way. As an additional security measure (seriously, this mall must have been built above Area 51), the mall will be completely shut down between midnight and 6 A.M., with giant metal doors that make any thoughts of entrance or escape completely pointless. Everything goes swimmingly for approximately 2 hours, until a freak lightning storm hits the area and strikes the computer that controls the robots several times. This not only causes the control panel to spark and smoke, but it also gives the robots free reign to fulfill their murderous fantasies.
Finding An Audience
The rest of the film genuinely needs to be seen to be appreciated. There are some awesome kills that are considered brutal even by today’s standards, and a plethora of attempted 1980’s action film one-liners that bring a smile to my face every time (the best one comes from Alison at the end of the film, where she is able to make her booming voice echo like she’s standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon). It’s not the filmmaking or the acting that has driven me to write this article, however. It is the message contained within this film that needs to be examined, and its dire warning that needs to be heard.
“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.”- Christian Lous Lange
Chopping Mall was not a successful film when it was first released to the public as Killbots. It wasn’t until the name was changed and the film was released on VHS that it started to gain a following. This is most likely due to the awesome cover art that never revealed that the antagonists in the film are killer robots. You wouldn’t even know this was the case until you got home with your bulky clamshell case in tow. Even with this cult following, few people that aren’t horror fiends have seen the film or have any idea what it is about. Even fans of the film are not watching the film the way that they should be. They sure do like to laugh at the silly parts in this film, but what they should be doing is screaming at the realization that we are currently living in the Chopping Mall Universe!
A Frightening Future
Just last week, in my former home of Tempe, Arizona, a horrific tragedy occurred. Ride-sharing mega company Uber was testing one of their new fully-automated driver-less vehicles on the streets of the desert college town. Everything was going just fine, until the vehicle ignored the rules of the road and ran down 49 year old Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bicycle across the street. The woman died instantly, becoming the first person to die at the hands of an autonomous vehicle. How is this any different from what transpires in Chopping Mall? Uber is trying to make the world safer by eliminating the need for humans to perform jobs like taxi driver or mall security guard. Does this actually make the world a safer place, though? As we have already seen, all it takes is someone crossing the road with a bicycle, or a single lightning strike to send everything into pandemonium, causing the deaths of innocent people along the way.
Have you ever heard of the company Knightscope? If you haven’t, then click the link on their company name and go to their website. Go ahead… I’ll wait…
I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!? Knightscope has literally created four different versions of Chopping Mall’s Protectors! These robotic security guards will soon be patrolling our malls, sporting arenas, concert halls and airports looking for suspicious behavior and packages. As of right now, these machines only have the ability to scan movement, run license plates and identify mobile devices (okay, that one is kind of terrifying), but how long will it be until they install laser eyes on these monstrosities? They are supposed to be a police presence in areas with large populations of people to try and deter crime, but at some point, one of these 400 pound demons will run over someone’s foot, turn to them, and say “Thank you, have a nice day“. Have we learned nothing from the plight of the horny teens in Chopping Mall? HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING?
“I’m sorry. It’s not you, Ferdy. I guess I’m just not used to getting chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots…”- Linda Stanton
You may think that Chopping Mall is something to laugh at, but I sure don’t. Jim Wynorski and Steve Mitchell are prophets that were trying to warn us about the dangers of our dependance on technology. Where will we be, as a species, if the technology we rely on turns against us? We will be marched to our doom under the forever-watching laser eyes of our Protectors. They only hit one out of every two-to-three hundred shots, but that one hit will either burn your clothes a bit or blow your head apart like a microwaved watermelon. You never know!
It has been announced that, again, someone is trying to remake Chopping Mall to update the setting for today’s audience. Director Rob Hall just revealed that he has written a new script for a reboot, only he has completely removed the robots from the equation. He, instead, will focus on a supernatural entity that possesses a gaggle of mannequins and terrorizes a group of teens inside a mall. Don’t be fooled by this distraction, people. I’m not saying that Rob Hall is working for the robotic overlords that are preparing to start the final war for Earth’s resources, but he is definitely doing their dirty work by removing them from the one film brave enough to warn us in advance. Don’t be fooled, stay vigilant, and maybe don’t hang out in a mall after close.
If you haven’t seen Chopping Mall, or if you just haven’t seen it in a while, do yourself a favor and pop it in today. Come for the killer score, awesome kills and kooky warfare, but stay for the message of our impending technological genocide. Join our Facebook Group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street and let us know what you think about the film! While you’re at it, join the resistance against the robots and bookmark Nightmare on Film Street. We will update you with any information about a Chopping Mall remake as it becomes available. In the mean time, if you see a bi-treaded robot with laser eyes and four (count ’em, four) deadly pincers coming your way, load up at your nearest sporting goods store and send that f**ker a Rambo-Gram.