Chopping Mall

“Thank you. Have a nice day.”

A mall full of Johnny 5-alike security robots gone insane, stars Kelli Maroney- the ditzy sister from Night of the Comet– and best of all, is directed by Jim Wynorski, who’s best film is probably Return of the Swamp Thing, this is just the sort of ’80s trash I need to feed my soul.

Chopping Mall features Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov- Roger Corman vets and masterminds behind Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000– so it can’t be all bad. It helps that for scream queens we also have Rebecca Crampton, who got head from a head in Re-Animator, and Karrie Emerson as the tomboy gearhead who can fix cars, and hopefully fuck up killbots.

In the 80s we had beauty pageants at malls. No we didn’t!

We meet Paul & Mary- playing their cannibalistic characters from Eating Raoul– as they attend a demonstration of security robots. The robots chase down a thief and taser the shit out of him, but when shown a security pass, leave you alone. Like all technology in the ’80s, they are commanded from a control center run by nerds in white labcoats. And as we meet our teen robot fodder- Alison (Kelly Maroney) the new girl at the pizza place, Nerdy Ferdy who’s guaranteed not to be a total slime beast, his feather-tressed jock pals, and the aforementioned scream queens- lightning strikes the computers running the robots, and since this was before surge protectors, they turn into malevolent murder machines.
That’s why it is imperative that all your electronics have surge protectors, and you only use Monster cables. They cost ridiculously more, but if you’ve seen Chopping Mall and Maximum Overdrive, you know that they are just waiting to turn you to mincemeat and take over the planet. So it’s a total bargain. The dude at Best Buy totally saved my ass with that info. It doesn’t take long for the Killbots- which was the film’s original title, before they came up with the punny replacement- to kill their nerdy keepers and begin patrolling the mall, with the new prime directive of Kill All Humans.

“Don’t tase me bro!”

The Killbots are also cockblockers, and interrupt poor Ferdy from getting anywhere with Alison. Of course the jocks get their easy poontang, which seals their fate in movies like this. Killers can smell sex, even if they’re killbots. And they seek those targets first. Unlucky for the big titty girl whose name I can’t recall, and her jock douche boyfriend. He gets it first, when the robots use their gripper claws- which suspiciously look like those grabbers sold to short and old people on infomercials- to tear his throat out. Tittygirl #1 flees in terror, and we learn that the robots not only have tasers but LASERs, which they shoot her in the ass with. I am not kidding. There’s a little spank-mark on her undies where the laser seared her buns. The movie doesn’t skimp on the blood or the boobs, and as her friends watch in horror, her head gets blown off. It’s no Scanners but it was impressive, and unexpected.


“Let’s go send those fuckers a Rambo-gram!”

From then on it’s a free-for-all, and the killbots go on a blasting spree. But this is a red-blooded American chopping mall, which means there’s plenty of weaponry to fight back with. The boys head to the gun store and the girls go through the heating ducts to a department store, and go for the lighter fluid. Grillin’ and killin’ the American way! The robots look like they’re made of cheap plastic, but they soon turn out to be bulletproof bad-asses, which even such iconic totems as the 12 gauge and .357 Magnum cannot damage. And the mantra of “kill it with fire!” gets turned back on the teens themselves.

You’ll notice that the worst deaths are given to the girls, in true exploitation fashion. Sure, we see a janitor- the ubiquitous Dick Miller no less- get electrocuted, and a guy gets thrown off a railing, but the girls get their heads exploded and burned alive. Only the tomboy Linda escapes, probably because the director thought she was a lesbian. The kids try everything from propane tanks, fire extinguishers, and the ever popular one-liner in their fight, but soon only Alison remains. She’s got experience from Night of the Comet, where she fought space dust zombies, so she manages to trap a robot in a paint store- apparently the explosive kind- and kill it with a road flare and using the robot’s own catchphrase against it.

“Have a nice day! P.S. You’re terminated fucker”

Overall, Chopping Mall is a bit low-budget and sleazy, definitely not in the same realm as classics like Night of the Creeps. But it manages to be funny and gory, and get a few zingers in there. Ferdy is played by Tony O’Dell, the most annoying of the Cobra Kai in The Karate Kid, Part II. I was quite amazed with his ability to play a non-douche in this film. It is a sad thing that he has retired from acting, swept from the cast lists much like Daniel-san’s leg. The robots are a bit cheesy-looking, but so were the H-K’s in Terminator 3, so I can’t hold that against it. This is solid ’80s horror sleaze that will titillate you and not make you feel so dirty you search for a sani-wipe.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? I, Robot?
Quotability Rating: Good – “Fuck the fuchsia, it’s Friday!”
Cheese Factor: Fondue-licious
High Points: Exploding head!! Best credits ever!
Low Point: Not enough Paul Bartel & Mary Woronov!
Gratuitous Boobies: Hell yes. Fake ones and real ones.

Wall-E – Johnny Five with a Chaplin chipset

It’s hard not to like Pixar, especially if you like animation. They may have practically invented the 3-D stuff that criminally sounded the death knell for traditional animation, but they’ve brought such life to the medium that it makes you cast a look askance at what Disney’s been doing since Walt died- the same thing over and over.

He packs a lot of expression in those binocular eyes.

Wall●E is another fantastic entry in a series of movies that have kept raising the bar since Toy Story came out back in 1995. Cars was a mediocre entry for adults, but if I’d seen that when I was a young boy obsessed with Matchbox cars and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, I’d have loved it. So I can’t fault them too much for catering to Nascar fans; they even made driving in a circle seem exciting, so Extra props for that. Pixar’s latest movie’s title is a nod back to their beginnings-a little computer-generated movie called The Adventures of André and Wally B., which was the pinnacle of computer animation at that point. We nerdlings sat in slack-jawed awe at its magnificence. From screenshots in Atari magazines. Without the youtube we had no way of seeing it, but it’s up there now.

Wally B.: Pre-Pixar Lasseter movie, c.1984.

Wall●E isn’t about bees, it’s about a little trash compactor robot, the last of his kind left to clean up our mess on Earth in the far future. All his little buddies have broken down and he scavenges them for parts to dutifully keep making neat little cubes of trash on our poor used-up planet. His one friend is a little cockroach, also seemingly the last of his kind. Wall●E leads a mostly lonely life, doing his job and saving little bits of trash that amuse him, like a Rubik’s Cube, and his most prized possession, a VHS tape of Hello Dolly that he watches every night.

Wall●E falls for a pair of blue eyes.

Until one day he sees something he’s never seen before- something lands and ejects another robot, a sleek white little egg-bot named Eve. Her mission is a mystery as she scans every square foot of the planet, with Wall●E following close behind, eager for a little robotic companionship. Things play out with little dialogue, just bleeps and blurts and the occasional word. Like a silent film romance between Chaplin and a flower girl, it draws us in through their non-verbal cues and through some terrifically expressive voice acting. Wall●E’s been compared to Johnny Five from Short Circuit, but he makes the 80’s bot seem like Short Round with the symphony of expressive notes in his repertoire.

(Click image for enormous version)

The adventure really begins once Eve is called back from her mission, and we find out what happened to humanity. It’s a hilarious and pointed satire on consumer culture, where the planet was run by the CEO of Buy ‘n Large (played with the usual hilarity of Fred Willard), and 700 years later we’ve evolved into Cabbage Patch people riding around in hoverchairs with TV screens, cell phones, and a constant supply of Slurpee meals. This remains in the background enough to keep Wall●E and Eve’s story in the forefront, and without making the message too strident. (Though I imagine Fox News will try to make some sort of controversy about it.)

(Click image for wallpaper size version)

At 103 minutes, it was a bit long for a kid movie, but it never dragged once. The pacing is perfect, and if you thought kids would squirm and squall at a movie where a robot and a cockroach bleep at each other for half its length, you’d be wrong. Our theater was surprisingly quiet- the kids were enraptured by this simple story. And no one will be rushing out to buy pet Madagascar hissing cockroaches that will end up in shelters, at least. So, Pixar’s done it again. Not once was I bored. It’s a little on the smarmy side in points, with Hello Dolly, but it’s natural sweetness, not a high-fructose overload.

Pixar can even make cockroaches cute.

I’d go see it again today, just to stare longer at its rich backgrounds and simply stunning animation- they’ve raised the bar once again, and shown that Brad Bird isn’t the only guy in their studio who can make a movie just as exciting for kids as adults. Ratatouille and The Incredibles are two of my favorite animated movies, but The Iron Giant is hard to top. Wall●E doesn’t top it, but sits right alongside. It does, however, make you want to drag whoever at Disney greenlighted Beverly Hills Chihuahua and throw them in a trash compactor.

There’s also a hilarious Tex Avery-style short by Pixar called Presto, about a hungry rabbit dueling with his magician onstage, before the film. It’s not as madcap as Tex, but it’s funny and original, getting a lot of mileage out of its premise.

80’s Trash of the Week – Heartbeeps

I’ve always liked Andy Kaufman. Even before the resurgence in interest after Man on the Moon, I remember liking the Latka character and some of the crazy stuff he managed to pull on Fridays. He made few movies, including Marty Feldman’s memorable monk movie, In God We Tru$t. The other one was this peculiarity, where Andy and Bernadette Peters play two robots who fall in love and escape the factory to form a family. Randy Quaid plays one of the workers at the factory tasked with bringing them back. Sadly this flop put a kibosh on the Tony Clifton movie Andy was doing.
I remember loving Heartbeeps as a kid, but now my first thought is “I hope Andy really needed the money.” He plays a variant of his Latka character, the familiar high-pitched voice and innocence, but instead of bizarre foreign customs he spouts stuff like “my pleasure center is malfunctioning!” and “this is very illogical and against the litany of robots.” He does the best that he can with a script that looks like it was written over a weekend on a cocaine binge after being given the concept by a producer’s 13-year old kid.

Even in the future, GM makes crap.

Heartbeeps begins with two workers in a robot factory bringing a broken model to a storage area. The robot is named Val and looks a lot like an aluminized version of Andy Kaufman, and sure enough it’s him in make-up. They drop him off next to a robot named Aqua (Bernadette Peters), and the two begin talking in that light mockery of stereotypical date talk. He’s a companionship model with special files in stocks and bonds, especially in lumber commodities. She’s a garden party conversationalist, for real- a Southern belle-bot specialized in chit-chat at parties. They’re looking out a window in the factory at the mountains and trees, and when a lightning storm breaks, they clutch each others’ hands. I was expecting the lightning to damage their circuits or imbue them with life, but apparently they are just sufficiently advanced to have emotions. Randy Quaid says along the way that they have “more circuits than we know what to do with,” so let’s assume they’ve achieved artificial intelligence, a term that would have induced head-scratching when the movie came out.

Bernadette, I hope you were well-paid.

The robot we’re introduced to first is the Crimebuster Deluxe, a robot tank with flamethrowers and machine guns, who talks sort of like the guy who did toy commercials back in the 80’s, or the trailer voice guy nowadays. He’s sort of a Dirty Harry-bot, only substantially less funny. Most of the humor in this movie comes from a robot doing human things and saying them with goofy high-tech words like circuits and sensors. Jokes include him smelling a skunk, mistaking a bunny and a ’57 T-bird for criminals and blowing them up, and so on. He’s in the shop for repairs for over-reacting, like torching a granny pushing a baby carriage on the shooting range.

Cheaper than Jack Benny, but as funny as a malignant tumor.

Val and Aqua decide to escape, along with Catskill the comic-bot, because Val wants to examine the trees on the mountain they’ve been watching outside. Aqua likes the beautiful sunset and goes with him. They steal a repair truck and build a little robot they name Philco, Phil for short, to tow a wagon full of spare parts for the trip. He’s their baby-bot, and sort of looks like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, which would come out 5 years later.

I hope the props department ran this over with a truck.

The best joke happens when they disguise themselves as trees to sneak past the Crimebuster, and confuse his logic circuits by saying that robots can’t be criminals. A marvel of writing there. He tells them to wait for the authorities, and starts playing the “Girl from Ipanema” muzak, also used as the elevator scene in The Blues Brothers.

We are a hedge. Move along.

Director Allan Arkush, who was also the man behind the horror that is Caddyshack II, gets his buddies Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov to cameo in a small party scene, but he doesn’t seem to take any advice from those very funny filmmakers. He worked on Rock ‘n Roll High School, but the uncredited work by Joe Dante and Jerry Zucker is probably what we remember best. The robots sneak into the party and use their skills to serve canapés and entertain the guests. Catskill tells horrible jokes at the party and throughout the film, puffing his fake cigar. He’s the best design, and just looks funny. Later they make the excuse that he was telling “low power jokes” to save power, but I think the writers were more amused by the idea of a Henny Youngman-bot than I was.

That’s not a Brillo pad, it’s my toupee! (better than any of his jokes)

Crimebuster shows up to break up the party, and Paul Bartel gets a line befitting his usually snooty character. I barely recognized his wife Mary Woronov, who played the evil nurse in Rock ‘n Roll High School, but she’s the hostess, playing the California swinger type that they’ll kill in their best movie, Eating Raoul. They’re the high point of the movie. Bernadette and Andy aren’t given anything to work with, and can barely emote in their plastic masks.

“At least a mask hides your shame!”

From there they end up at a junk yard looking for spare batteries, and they meet a cute nerdy couple. One thing the film manages is to make the people mostly uncaring and cold; even the nerds are dispassionate when Crimebuster shows up, guns blazing. They jump on his back and disable him quickly, and are more excited about his circuit board than anything else. They even have a pet raccoon which covers its eyes during the very short battle. If only they had a chimp to do it as well, oh what hijinks we would have. Maybe they’re not uncaring, maybe they just don’t give a shit about their performance in a movie they know will be sickening to endure.

Nerds still wear glasses in the future

Val and Aqua get attached to Philco and want him to be the best he can be, so they want to program him for a purpose. The nerds tell them they have to go back to the factory for that, and they start on the trip- except their batteries are almost empty. Philco can’t make it, so Catskill, in a sacrificial act for the only thing that likes his jokes, swaps batteries with him. The Jewish comic-bot becomes Jesus.

The racketycoon chile says “watchin dis movie put a bamboozle on yo’ headbone!”

The last robot family trudges toward the factory, but Val and Aqua’s batteries run down before they can make it, and they are frozen in a touching pose when they are picked up by Randy Quaid, thrown in the back of a truck and sent for “circuit wash” so they’ll be good little robots.

We’ll always be together in electric dreams

But lo and behold, after a flash-forward, we find out that they “never were quite right.” and were junked. So they do get to live happily ever after, in nerd heaven. Or do they… of course Crimebuster is back on the loose as well.

Destroy the last robot family!

Wow, was this painful to watch again. Us nerdy, robot-hungry kids would watch any crap on HBO back in the 80’s, and this was in heavy rotation. The jokes just aren’t very funny, and seeing two robots walk through the woods while bickering in technologized spoofs of stereotypical relationship banter is pretty excruciating, even for a piddly 75 minutes. Even when you adore the cast, and are the “corny joke guy” among friends, Catskill’s jokes are painfully unfunny, except when he veers into insult comedy at the party. As a kid’s movie it’s not that bad, but nowadays even a piece of crap like Transformers will be better than this, which may actually be considered child abuse in some states. My idea of a remake? A movie version of Robotron: 2084 where we exterminate robot clones of these, and save the last human family.

The only sequel I’d watch.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 6
Quotability Rating: Zilch
Cheese Factor: High
Could it be made today? Bicentennial Man was close
Gratuitous Boobs: Not even robo-boobies.
High Points: Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov slumming.
Low Points: Everything else

If you must buy it, buy it here.

80’s Trash of the Week: Runaway

It Is The Future… where every home has a robot, Tom Selleck saves us from Gene Simmons, who has made evil microchips that turn projectors and erector sets into deadly killing machines.
All the good parts condensed into a trailer.

I can be pretty forgiving of a movie that makes me nostalgic. I saw Runaway back in ’84 as a 13 year old idiot, and it was the greatest thing ever. Robots, computers, boobs, and Gene Simmons. Now just a few years earlier, the horrible KISS album Unmasked came out and shattered our childhood dreams that KISS were exactly like they were in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, demons from another dimension who bring us Rock and save us from monsters. Before the blessed internet, the movie was the only way we could glimpse what Gene Simmons looked like in human form. If he was truly human… we all knew he had a cow’s tongue grafted on, so perhaps his make-up was really a tattoo, or a birthmark.

According to the wikipedia, Runaway was meant to be “the sci-fi blockbuster of the summer,” but Michael Crichton’s dreams were smashed like a poseur band under KISS’s boots when James Cameron, the one true god of the action film, came out with another little killer robot movie called The Terminator. Crichton would have to shut up about the d-d-dangers of technology until 1993, when he stole Charles Pellegrino’s idea about getting dinosaur DNA from amber. So we have James Cameron to thank for not another retread of Westworld coming out every few years. Crichton’s other bad 80’s film, Looker, which was about making CG “models “of perfect fashion models and then killing them, will be the subject of another week’s review.

This movie starts out bad and gets progressively worse. It has a few interesting ideas that it executes clumsily, and it’s hard to believe that it’s made by the same guy who gave us the pretty damn good 70’s movie Westworld, also about killer robots. Futureworld had come out already, so maybe we were sick of killer robots that looked like Radio Shack leftovers. Either way, watching it now is like getting teeth pulled.

It begins with Tom Selleck and his female partner (see, in the future we won’t be as sexist as Michael Crichton’s novels) show up at a corn field to catch a runaway robot that looks like a Tonka truck.
The wily robot runs all over the field, and the cops, as a robot version of Animal Control, can do nothing better than chase it on foot and tackle it. It of course, explodes. That’s what technology does. Later, they show up at a hostage situation where the home robot has a gun and shot its masters. There’s a baby inside, so Selleck dons chain mail and some oven mitts, grabs his trusty laser, and heads in to kill Rosie the Robot, who looks a lot like an old projector with wheels on it. Sort of like Battlebots would be, years later. So maybe they got that right.

To Selleck’s discredit, he plays the part completely straight.

Our hero is pretty bland and has no personality, except hating robots (despite owning one) and being afraid of heights. This and the spy flop Lassiter pretty much buried any hopes of a Tom Selleck action hero career. Even with the porn ‘stache. Magnum, P.I. always had some humor, and this movie would have benefited from a little. As usual, Crichton takes his nervous-nelly technology-fearmongering incredibly seriously, with such awfully written exchanges as:

Ramsey: Lemme tell ya the way the world is. Nothing works right. Relationships don’t work right, people don’t work right, people make machines so why should machines be perfect?
Karen: Because they’re machines.
Ramsey: Yeah, well thats not the way it is.

Pretty deep, huh?

J-NEE’s got a gun…

Once they check out the killer projector, they find a custom chip in it with a red mark on it, the universal symbol of evil. Once the token black cop inspects it, he declares it can “turn any domestic computer into a killing machine.” Dun dunt DUN! Who would do something so diabolical? Gene Simmons from KISS, that’s who. Just look at how deliciously evil he looks. He’s loving every minute of it.

That little smirk means “I was banging Kirstie Alley in my trailer.”

Yes, Kirstie Alley. Back in the 80’s she was smokin’, now she’s a smoked pork loin. Actually that’s a cruel and easy joke, but she’s a Scientologist and we show them no mercy here. I guess she’s just got a lot of body thetans now, or the cans on her e-meter were filled with gravy. But here, in the magical 80’s, she was hot stuff, with some wild eyeshadow.

If I only knew that thetans lived in pie.

In this scene, they are checking her for bugs. Not coochie-thetans, the electronic kind. It’s a clever excuse for her to get topless. In the 80’s, discerning audiences demanded at least one boob scene.

Gene Simmons’ gun pre-dates the cool RoboCop gun by a few years, but isn’t as cool. Instead of being a machine pistol, it uses Acme Cartoon Technology to sniff out its target, turn corners, and double back. Tom Selleck actually runs away from it, dodges it, and so on. We later learn that it is a mini-rocket that traces your heat signature, when the black scientist cop lights a smoke next to one they captured. Yes, he lights a smoke next to an unexploded rocket cartoon bomb that chases you all around the studio backlot to explode up your ass. The movie is that smart. They also use a fucking psychic to track where the bullet came from, to show that flim-flammery is better than science.

Hey Gene, that’s no Love Gun.

Selleck’s partner gets shot in the arm with the Wile E. Coyote gun and he demands to remove the bullet himself, since those “disarmer bots” (also looking suspiciously like a projector with stuff on it) are always screwing up. He saves her arm and she’s just fine one scene later, that’s the power of the human touch. In the next, most exciting scene, the cops get into their crappy little cars and get chased by little remote-control modems that explode under them.
They get chased because they forgot to scan Kirstie’s purse for bugs, and there’s a great scene where they jump from moving cars, with the doors open so the cars are 10 feet apart, instead of going through the windows. They shoot the bomberbots with a laser mounted on top of the other car, that uses the same sound effect as the Star Wars ship lasers.

Not the best way to swap cars, but the best way to show Selleck’s ass.

Kirstie, shaken by that idiotic chase, finally gives up “the templates” for the Evil Microchips, which look like photo negatives. They meet Simmons to trade the templates at a sushi restaurant with a racist neon logo, where his partner gets captured because Selleck isn’t paying attention.

Hai! You wan’ sushi? Yes, the face is yellow.

Simmons doesn’t just have Acme chase-you bullets, evil microchips, and remote control bombs at his disposal. The film’s probably most famous for the spiders, which look like erector set toys, and can jump on you, inject acid, and explode with a lot of sparks, “leaving no evidence.” Except acid burns and robot shrapnel in your face. My personal favorite scene is when one kills a female cop in the bathroom, because she dies like a cartoon cockroach. Her legs flail and then stick straight up like she got sprayed with Raid. Crichton should be commended for directing this touching death scene.
Dying in a toilet stall is never dignified.

They trade templates for hostages, but only give him half, so Simmons has to sneak into the police station to find out where Selleck lives. Despite looking like pure evil, and being the city’s most wanted terrorist, he just dons a uniform and uses their computers. He doesn’t even hack in on a phone line, even though he hacked the police cameras earlier. He shows up at Selleck’s house and kicks over his housebot, who talks like Cartman’s mom and looks suspiciously like a stereo system on wheels with a phone attached. Then he takes his annoying kid hostage, and to the top of a highrise under construction, because he knows Selleck is afraid of heights. Not that it stops him from going to the top of the building, hanging from underneath the freight elevator, and swinging around like an orangutan. Also, there is a Spark Factory on the top floor. Action films have a lot of spark factories in them, sort of like how every spaceship since Alien has had a Dripping Chain Room.
The intolerably long roof scene.

Simmons unwisely tells him that the spiderbots are programmed to kill the first person down the elevator, so Selleck uses their cold robotic logic against his nemesis, by making him land on the ground first. And we all know what that leads to. Explosive acid-injection! One even gets him in the crotch.

Where’s the KISS Army when I need them?
After the requisite second death scene, they all live happily ever after, and are all killed by Terminators. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this film, unless you want to shatter your nostalgic yearning to see it again. It’s badly paced and feels intolerably long, it has what is probably Jerry Goldsmith’s worst score, and Selleck and his partner are so damn boring that Gene Simmons chewing up the scenery like Ozzy on a bat’s scrotum isn’t enough to keep it interesting. Unlike The Last Starfighter, it lacks the charm necessary for me to overlook its faults. It was deservingly overshadowed by The Terminator, whose effects and pacing make it look like a TV movie in comparison. The spiderbots are kind of neat and they manage to make them look better than little tinkertoys in a few scenes, but this is a relic best avoided.