By utter coincidence, I ended up watching two movies about shopping center security guards this week. A couple days ago I got around to seeing Observe and Report, a moderately funny dark comedy with Seth Rogen that got released in theaters earlier this year. It probably could have been a lot better, but the film featured the always lovable Ray Liotta and also had an amazing scene involving full frontal male nudity, so it wasn't completely without merit.
The other film I caught this weekend was Chopping Mall - but instead of an overweight, bi-polar pariah, the fate of the movie’s characters rested in the hands of the Protectors, a series of robots that turn homicidal after a freak lightning storm strikes their control center. Hell, maybe I should check out Paul Blart: Mall Cop this week and complete the genre trifecta. On second thought, no, I won't.
Anyways, the film's opening scene completely won me over. First off, there’s a cameo from Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their roles of Paul and Mary Bland in Eating Raoul (a great cult classic). Secondly, there’s quite possibly one of the most incredible montages of the goings-on at a mall ever committed to film during the opening credits – it really needs to be seen to be believed (hint: it’s very, very ’80s).
The rest of Chopping Mall unfolds in rather typical fashion: a group of teenage mall employees get together after-hours for some drinking and sexual hi-jinks, then start getting picked off one by one. I didn’t really recognize much of the cast besides Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and legend Dick Miller (The Howling, Gremlins) in another wonderful cameo appearance, but the remaining teens are serviceable enough in their standard slasher roles - the douchebag jock, the slut, nerd, straight-edge girl, etc.
In the kills department, for the most part it's nothing too memorable besides an exploding head, which unfortunately happens far too early on in the movie. The film blows its load much too soon; I kept hoping something else was going to top or at least match it, but there wasn't much else to write home about. The majority of the remaining deaths involve fire, electricity or more robot lasers, but aren't really wow-inducing (although one involving a slow-moving mall security vehicle ramming into a Protector is unintentionally hilarious).
As for the Protectors themselves, their production value was actually pretty impressive considering the low budget. They move around quite fluidly, shoot out taser projectiles and according to the IMDB, were voiced by director Jim Wynorski. In a nice touch of black humor, after every murder the robots say, "Thank you, have a nice day," which kind of reminded me of Robocop; I was half hoping to hear them say, "Dead or alive, you're coming with me." (even though this came out a year before Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece). I guess in theory the "killbots" could have been a little more intimidating, but given the fact that there were only three of them, had limited weapons and move at a speed of about 10 mph, they put up a respectable enough fight.
Speaking of dialogue, there are plenty of charming one-liners and other quips scattered throughout the film; among others, here are a few gems: "I'm just not used to be chased around a mall in the middle of the night by killer robots." "Let's send these fuckers a Rambo-gram." And my personal favorite, which I hope to use at the office sometime towards the end of the week: "Oh, fuck the fuchsia, it's Friday!"
As incredible as Chopping Mall sounds, it isn't entirely perfect. Although the movie ran under 80 minutes, this one dragged a bit midway through, and got a little tiresome towards the end after the 6th or 7th confrontation/chase scene. Despite its uneven pace, it's still a pleasure to sit through, especially if you like your horror movies in the shopping center setting - just think Dawn of the Dead with robots instead of zombies and thought-provoking social commentary.
Plus, it doesn't have Kevin James in it - so it's already better than 1/3 of the mall cop genre.