It would probably be a stretch to call Jim Wynorski’s movies “good.” But the prolific B-movie filmmaker has found a way to stay relevant within the ever-changing landscape of low-budget exploitation movies, honing in on the key elements of various disreputable subgenres.
Early in his career, Wynorksi directed lower-profile sequels to movies that weren’t exactly beloved to begin with (Deathstalker II, Sorority House Massacre II, 976-EVIL II). Later, he worked in “erotic” thrillers (Sins of Desire, Victim of Desire, Virtual Desire), action movies (Stealth Fighter, Extreme Limits), softcore sex parodies (The Bare Wench Project, The Witches of Breastwick), and dog-themed family movies (A Doggone Christmas, A Doggone Hollywood), among many, many others. He’s also responsible for one of the greatest shark-movie title puns of all time (Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre).
But Wynorski’s greatest artistic achievement came when he was just starting out, working under the tutelage of legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman. Wynorski’s second feature as a director is the rare B-movie that lives up to the ridiculousness of its title, and must be seen to be believed. Good news: you can see it online for free, right now.
Is 1986’s Chopping Mall “good”? Maybe not, but it fully accomplishes its goals, delivering everything you could reasonably want from a movie about mall security robots run amok.
Wynorski and co-writer Steve Mitchell bring a self-aware, self-deprecating sense of humor to the movie, which is full of tributes to the rich history of B-movies (and to Corman’s work in particular). Produced by Corman’s wife Julie, Chopping Mall is set in a mall with stores that include Peckinpah’s Sporting Goods and Roger’s Little Shop of Pets, references to director Sam Peckinpah and Corman himself.
Chopping Mall opens with a presentation about the so-called Protectors, security robots that look like a cross between Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 and RoboCop’s ED-209.
In attendance at that presentation are murderous restaurant owners Paul and Mary Bland (played by Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov), the main characters from Bartel’s 1982 cult classic dark comedy Eating Raoul. The Blands’ snarky running commentary on the corporate pitch for the Protectors establishes the movie’s deadpan tone, while still providing crucial exposition about Protectors’ deadly capabilities.
“They remind me of your mother,” Paul Bland notes to his wife. “It’s the laser eyes.”
Meanwhile, a company scientist assures the audience, “Absolutely nothing can go wrong,” which is a guarantee that soon, absolutely everything will go wrong.
That’s unfortunate for the requisite group of horny young people who’ve gathered in the mall after closing for a party in a furniture store (you know, as young people tend to do). Thanks to a freak lightning strike on the mall’s electrical system, the Protectors have been activated and set to kill (the movie’s original title was Killbots).
Their first target? The security technicians supposedly monitoring them. One oblivious technician is reading a dirty magazine, while the other is reading They Came From Outer Space, a book of sci-fi stories that were later adapted into movies (edited, of course, by Jim Wynorski). That combination sums up the appeal of Chopping Mall, which offers plenty of gratuitous nudity before getting to the robot killing spree.
Wynorski doesn’t just show off the bodies of his female stars, though. The main character is assertive, independent pizza parlor employee Alison (Kelli Maroney), who isn’t convinced about the party or the potential blind date set up by her friend and co-worker Suzie (Barbara Crampton). Alison and Suzie mock the boorish male customers who treat them like pieces of meat (“It is ‘babe,’ isn’t it?” is their impression of an entitled man talking down to them), and when it comes time to fighting killbots, Alison proves the most resourceful of the bunch.
Her blind date is the shy Ferdy (Tony O’Dell), who’s honorable but still not as accurate with a rifle as Alison is. “Dad’s a Marine,” she shrugs after being praised for a perfect shot, just like her similarly perky but deadly character in 1984’s Night of the Comet.
Before Alison gets to shoot at some killbots, though, her slightly less responsible peers get their throats slit and their bodies blown to bits (among other injuries), all while the Protectors intone “Have a nice day.” Anyone who isn’t sure what they were getting into with a movie called Chopping Mall will fully understand once the Protectors’ lasers explode one tragic mallgoer’s head.
Wynorski maintains the campy tone throughout, but he also generates some genuine suspense from the menacing Protectors as they stalk the characters through various stores in the mall. The robots cut through metal doors, ride elevators, and even mess with the climate control system as the characters attempt to escape via the vents.
“They’re trying to French fry us!” Suzie cries out, as the cramped ducts heat up.
At 77 minutes, Chopping Mall has very few lulls and never outstays its welcome. Wynorski understands his mandate perfectly, and he creates a movie that his mentor Corman can be proud of. “I guess I’m just not used to being chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots,” laments Linda (Karrie Emerson) as the situation looks grim late in the movie. But for a B-movie workhorse like Wynorski, that’s just another day at the office.