Friday, 3 August 2018

Chopping Mall (4 Stars)

Sometimes a film is just ahead of its time. In 1986 Jim Wynorski made "Chopping Mall", his second film. It's a film about robotic security guards. A year later the idea was copied by "Robocop". The security guards in "Chopping Mall" are fully robotic, without a human intelligence to guide them. They are intended to patrol a shopping mall after closing hours, identify unwanted intruders, stun them with tasers, then call the police. The creators of these new robots are so convinced of their effectiveness that they don't even bother using extra human staff to observe them on their first day in operation.

There's a thunderstorm which results in their computer processors being short-circuited, but I wouldn't have trusted them anyway.

Anyone who's allowed to be in the mall after closing hours can show the robots his identity card, but the robots' creators haven't reckoned with human error. After a robot knocks over a janitor's bucket he's so angry that he doesn't show his identity card, he just gives the robot the finger. The robot tasers him and he falls over on the wet floor, where he's electrocuted to death.

The second problem, which takes up the rest of the film, is that a group of horny teenage boys, junior office workers in the mall, have stayed in after closing time to make out with their girlfriends. The robots' programmers didn't reckon with that either. Obviously they don't know anything about teenagers.

There are eight teenagers: four boys and four girls. The robots don't bother asking for identity cards any more, they go on a killing spree. It's a typical last-man-standing scenario. Will any of the teenagers survive? Which ones? It's obvious from early on who will survive; it has to be someone presented sympathetically. I don't criticise Jim for making the outcome predictable. On the contrary, in films that follow the pattern of a particular genre predictability is what the audience expects.

I do have to ask, though: if the robots were only intended to stun intruders, why have they been equipped with futuristic death rays?

Kelli Maroney is the leading actress. How did she get the part? Jim Wynorski says that he wanted to date her, and he thought he would have a better chance if he gave her a role in his film. At least he's honest about his intentions. What he hasn't said is whether he was successful. Did he get a date, or even more? If I were the reporter for a film magazine it's the first question I would ask.

I said that there were four horny teenage boys in the mall, but that's not quite correct. There were three horny boys and one nerd who was dragged along on a blind date. While the other three boys were rolling around on the sofas in the furniture store in various states of undress, Ferdy was sitting watching a horror movie with Kelli. I like him already. It's what I would have been doing. If I've summed Jim Wynorski up correctly, it's what he would do on a first date as well. If I were a reporter and Jim had answered Yes to my first question, my second question would be "What film did you watch?"

Luckily for the boys, the film doesn't take place in a normal country, it takes place in America, the country where guns are available to everyone, regardless of his political views, his criminal record and his mental health state. The boys find a gun shop in the mall and steal all the guns and ammunition they need to defend themselves.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the robots are almost impervious to normal gunfire. The mall should have stocked bazookas.

The girls join in the fight. My readers already know that I believe in equality for women. I believe that women have just as much right to shoot killer robots as men.

My third question to Jim Wynorski would be "Did you pick Kelli's outfit for the film?" At first glance it looks like she's conservatively dressed, but look again. That's the deepest cameltoe I've ever seen in any film, and the digital remastering emphasises it.

The interviews that Jim Wynorski has given about the film are fascinating, and not just for what he's said about Kelli Maroney. As I mentioned above, this was only his second film, so he was still lacking in experience. He says that before he started the film Roger Corman sat down with him to talk about filmmaking. Roger wrote down his tips and advice on a yellow notepad. Jim says that he learnt more in this one hour than in three years of film school. Jim still has the handwritten notes today, but he doesn't need the notepad any more because he's memorised everything.

I've tried to find out what the advice was that was given on this day, but evidently it's a secret that Roger Corman only shares with his closest friends and associates. I hope that one day all will be revealed.

On its original release "Chopping Mall" was hardly noticed by the public and was a commercial flop. Now, 30 years later, it's considered a cult classic. It was ahead of its time.

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