The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Chopping Mall (dir by Jim Wynorski)


This 1986 film tells the story of what happens when one local mall decides that it’s had enough of thievery and vandalism.

First off, automatic locks and shutters are installed.  What that means is that, at a certain hour, anyone who is inside the mall is going to be trapped there until the morning.  Secondly, three robots are used as a security force.  They’re called Protectors and they roll around, looking for thieves and keeping people safe.  Don’t worry about getting mistaken for a thief, of course.  As long as you’ve got a badge, the protector will just say, “Thank you and have a good day.”

It all seems perfect but …. what if the robots malfunction?  What if they ignore the badges and just start killing anyone unlucky enough to be trapped in the mall for the night?  Surely, that could never happen, right?

Of course, it does happen.  Thanks to a freak electrical storm, the Protectors come to life and set out to keep the mall safe from intruders.  First, they kill the technicians that are supposed to keeping a watch over them.  Then, they kill a janitor named Walter Paisley (played, of course, by Dick Miller).  Then, they set off after the six attractive people who were having a sleep-over in one of the stores.

So, what did I learn from Chopping Mall?

Well, I was tempted to say that I learned not to shoplift but actually, no one in the movie gets in trouble for shoplifting.  I guess the main thing I learned is not to walk around the mall in my underwear because that definitely seems to be something that will cause the Protectors to blow up your head.

I also learned that, if you’re tapped in the mall with a bunch of killer robots, the best place to go is the sporting goods store because that store not only has a lot of automatic rifles but also an unlimited supply of ammunition.  Of course, I already learned that from Dawn of the Dead but it’s always good to be reminded….

Anyway, Chopping Mall is a lot of fun.  It’s undeniably dated.  Just the fact that everyone’s life revolves around a mall tells you just how dated it is.  I guess if they made the film now, it would have to take place at an Ikea store or maybe an Amazon warehouse.  But the fact that the film is dated is a part of what makes it so much fun to watch.  Seriously, it’s amazing all of the stuff that apparently used to go on at the local mall in the 80s.

Despite the fact that they have a bad habit of killing people, the Protectors are actually kind of cute.  If nothing else, they’re unfailingly polite.  You have to love the fact that they’ll wish you a nice day even after they’ve killed you.  Surprisingly enough, the humans are just as likable as the Protectors.  For a film about killer robots, Chopping Mall is surprisingly well-acted by a likable cast.  Russell Todd, who was the best-looking man to ever be killed by Jason Voorhees, is in this film and he’s as broodingly handsome here as he was in Friday the 13th Part II.

Chopping Mall is a good mix of humor and thrills and robots and exploding heads and Dick Miller.  This is 80s mall horror at its best!

Cinemax Friday: Demolition High (1996, directed by Jim Wynorski)


A group of terrorists take over a high school and announce that, unless their demands are met, they will launch a nuclear missile at a nuclear power plant which I guess will cause double the nuclear destruction.  Since they already have a nuclear missile, it feels like also threatening to blow up the power plant is definite overkill.  With the school now full of terrorists and explosives, it’s up to one student to kill the terrorists one-by-one and save his classmates.  It’s Die Hard in a High School (cool!), with the Bruce Willis role being taken on by … COREY HAIM!

That bit of casting tells you both why Demolition High doesn’t work and also why anyone would be watching this direct-to-video “action” film in the first place.  The 25 year-old Haim plays Lenny Slater, a high school student who knows Kung Fu because he grew up in the Bronx.  His father (played by Alan Thicke!) moves to a small town, both to become a police chief and to hopefully keep Lenny from getting into any more trouble.  Lenny’s all trouble, though, and terrorist leader Luther (the great Jef Kober) is about to discover that he’s invaded the wrong high school.

If I had watched this film in the 90s or even the early aughts, I would have laughed at how bad Corey Haim is as an action hero but today, knowing all we know about his life and how Hollywood essentially enabled his worst tendencies and then abandoned him when he become too self-destructive to work, it’s not as easy to watch an obviously troubled actor who has gone from being a big star to appearing in a direct-to-video Die Hard rip-off.  Trying to disguise the fact that he’s too old to be playing a high school student, Haim wears a flannel shirt and an earring and has a bowl cut.  Whenever he talks to his classmates, you expect him to say, “How do you do, fellow kids?”  As heavily edited as the fight scenes are, it’s still obvious that Haim had no idea how to throw a punch.  On the plus side, even while obviously addled by drug abuse, Corey Haim was still a better actor than Stephen Seagal.

Demolition High is pretty dumb but it was directed by Jim Wynorski so at least there’s some inside jokes.  Gerrit Graham and Dick Van Patten both have small roles and Alan Thicke gets to tell an FBI agent to “Think with your heart, not with your badge.”  Wynorski also cast Melissa Brasselle as Tayna, a sexy terrorist who wears black leather.  He deserves some credit for that.  (When the film was released on video, Brasselle was featured on the cover, not Haim.)  Some of the techniques that Lenny uses to take out the terrorists are creative, if never really plausible.  In this case, Lenny is helped by the stupidity of the terrorists.  It’s not every evil terrorist who is clumsy enough to stumble head first into a table saw.

Demolition High was apparently successful enough to be followed by a sequel, Demolition U.  I’ll look at the movie tomorrow.

Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989, directed by Peter Bonerz)


The sixth Police Academy film opens with another crime wave.  Considering that the Police Academy Class of 1984 was supposedly the best to ever graduate, they don’t seem to have done much to clean up the city.  This time, a series of robberies are being committed in the Wilson Heights neighborhood.  Since Captain Harris (G.W. Bailey) and Lt. Proctor (Lance Kinsey) don’t seem to be capable of upholding the law in their precinct, the Mayor (Kenneth Mars) orders Harris to work with Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes) and the usual gang of Police Academy graduates.

Carey Mahoney is still missing in action but Nick Lassard (Matt McCoy) has transferred up from Miami and has taken Mahoney’s place as the resident smartass.  Also returning are Sound Effects Man (Michael Winslow), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), Tackleberry (David Graf), and, after having been absent for the previous two films, Sgt. Fackler (Bruce Mahler)!

I cannot believe I’m saying this but Police Academy 6 turned out to be better than I remembered.  It’s just as stupid as all of the other Police Academy films but everyone seems to be having a good time and Matt McCoy no longer feels out of place as Mahoney’s replacement.  Bruce Mahler’s return as Fackler also means a return to the physical comedy that he excelled at in the first two films and the total incompetence of Harris and Proctor is handled better here than it was in the previous few films.  A welcome addition to the cast is Gerrit Graham, as the childish head of the robbers.  (Whereas the previous few films at least tried to pretend like the criminals were a potentially serious threat, City Under Siege presents them as being as clownish as everyone else in the film.  It’s a better approach because it’s not as if anyone watches a Police Academy film expecting to see something like The French Connection or Fort Apache, The Bronx.Police Academy 6 is a stupid, stupid movie and the jokes are as juvenile as ever but, along with Part 3, it’s still one of the better sequels.

Police Academy 6 was the first Police Academy film to not be a box office hit.  It would be followed by one final sequel, Mission to Moscow, which I’ll take a look at on Saturday.

Shattered Politics #46: Used Cars (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


Used_Cars_film_poster

“Do you think we like being associated with the President of the United States?  I mean, we run an honest business here!” —

Jeff (Gerrit Graham) in Used Cars (1980)

As a film lover, I’ve sat through so many disappointing commentary tracks that, when I come across one that’s actually fun and informative, it causes me to like the film even more.  One of the best commentary tracks that I’ve ever heard was the one that Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and Kurt Russell recorded for the DVD release of the 1980 comedy Used Cars.

The film — which was an early credit for both director Zemeckis and screenwriter Gale — tells the story of two rival used car lots.  The bad guy car lot is owned by Roy L. Fuchs (Jack Warden).  The good guy car lot is owned by Roy’s brother, Luke Fuchs (also played by Jack Warden).  The top salesman at the good guy car lot is Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell).  The film shows what happens when Luke dies and Rudy tries to prevent Roy from taking over the lot.

The commentary track is distinguished by just how much Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell seem to truly enjoy watching and talking about the film.  Kurt Russell, in particular, has an incredibly engaging laugh and his sense of fun is contagious.  However, for me, the most interesting part of the commentary track came when Bob Gale explicitly compared Rudy Russo and Luke’s daughter (played by Deborah Harmon) to Bill and Hillary Clinton and then even starts to do a surprisingly good imitation of Bill’s hoarse Arkansas accent.

What made it interesting was that the comparison was absolutely correct.

Politicians are salesmen.  Much as politicians will say anything to get your vote, the salesmen in Used Cars will say and do anything to get your money.  Politicians sell promises that are too good to be true.  Rudy Russo and Roy L. Fuchs do the same thing, claiming that their used cars are just as good and safe as a car that’s never been owned before.

In fact, one of the major plotlines in Used Cars is that Rudy is plotting to make the move from selling cars to buying votes.  There’s a vacancy in the state senate and Rudy is planning on running for the seat.  All he has to do is come up with the $10,000 necessary to buy the nomination from the local political machine. (I imagine it would be more expensive to buy a nomination today.)  Luke agrees to loan Rudy the money but, before he can, Luke goes on a test drive with a former race car driver.

The driver works for Luke’s evil brother, Roy.  Roy knows that Luke has a heart condition and he specifically sends over that driver to give Luke a fatal heart attack.  Just as Rudy is trying to sell a car to a costumer who is skeptical about whether or not he should pay an extra fifty dollar for something he doesn’t want (“$50.00 never killed anyone!” the customer insists), Luke staggers into the office and dies.

(The shocked customer agrees to pay the extra fifty dollars.  Ever the salesman, Luke grabs the fifty before he dies.)

With Luke dead and his estranged daughter nowhere to be seen, Roy is next-in-line to take over Luke’s car lot.  So, Rudy hides the body and tells everyone that Luke is down in Florida.  Both he and his fellow salesman, the hilariously superstitious Jeff (Gerrit Graham), conspire to make as much money as possible before anyone discovers the truth.

How do they do it?  Illegally, of course!

First off, they break into the broadcast of a football game and do an ad.  Then, they use strippers to attract customers.  And finally, Rudy comes up with his master plan, interrupting a televised address from the President of the United States.

“You can’t fuck with the President!” Jeff says.

“Hey, he fucks with us…” Rudy responds.

Seriously, I love Rudy.

In fact, I really liked Used Cars.  It’s a good combination of broad humor and clever satire and both Kurt Russell and Gerrit Graham give such likable performances that you can ignore the fact that they’re both playing total jerks.  (In fact, I would argue that one reason that we love Rudy is because he’s so honest about being so crooked.)  Not every scene worked perfectly.  The scene where Rudy and Jeff interrupt that football game goes on forever and, after a spokesmodel’s dress is ripped off, becomes so uncomfortable to watch that it actually takes the film a while to recover.  But then, after that, you get the interruption of the President’s speech.  You get Jeff freaking out over whether or not red cars or unlucky.  You get some fun driving school humor.  And, of course, you get a cute dog that can do tricks and helps to sell cars.  The film recovers and, ultimately, Used Cars is a celebration of small businesses everywhere.

And you know what?

I really hope Rudy did make it into the state senate.

We need more Rudy Russos in government.

And we really need more commentary tracks featuring Kurt Russell!