Chopping Mall, Damned River, and One Dark Night

Chopping Mall – 1986, US, 77m. Director: Jim Wynorski. Streaming: Peacock, Tubi

Damned River – 1989, US, 95m. Director: Michael Schroeder. Streaming: Prime

One Dark Night – 1982, US, 89m. Director: Tom McLoughlin. Streaming: Freevee, Tubi

CHOPPING MALL (1986) (AKA: Kill Bots) A prestigious indoor shopping mall is retrofitted with three technologically advanced security robots designed to “neutralize” criminals in the act of thievery. Unfortunately for a group of teen employees using the mall for some after hours partying, the bots are turned into kill machines when the mainframe short circuits from a lightening strike. The robots go around neutralizing the teens to death, a favorite method being laser beams which shoot out of the bots’ eyes, vaporizing anything in their path, including human heads. All of this is done tongue-in-cheek with a satirical play on consumerism and the false security of A.I.—Chopping Mall‘s themes, and an in-movie infomercial, predates RoboCop by a year, lending the film a bit more credibility. The characters are disposable airheads (the exception is Kelli Maroney’s brainy Final Girl), but the special FX set pieces are fairly impressive given the movie’s somewhat chintzy vibe. A brisk pace and knowledge of pop culture—in reference to the iconic filmmaker, the mall’s gun store is called Peckinpah’s—helps Chopping Mall grow into a decent little flick. B

DAMNED RIVER (1989) Stephen Shellen, who so gleefully danced in his skivvies in the teen sex romp Gimme an F, here seems out of his element as a psychopathic killer. Shellen is Ray, an expat working as a guide in Africa and hired by four stereotypically dumb American twenty-somethings—we know one of them is “intelligent” because he keeps quoting Byron—to aid them down some whitewater rapids. The seemingly normal Ray starts to show his true colors when his loudmouth clients begin to wear down his polite exterior. With an AK-47 in hand, Ray whittles down the threats, which is anyone who stands between him and his twisted views on freedom, justice, and the demented wildman way of life, which includes rape and decapitation. There are a few intense moments delivered in between Shellen screaming his lines and waving a gun in the air, but in the end it’s difficult to muster much emotion for characters who’re massively unsympathetic. Shellen’s performance is uneven and damages a lot of potential impact, something Kevin Bacon handled much better in the similarly themed The River Wild. In keeping up with the awfulness of the writing, after smacking Ray in the face with an oar and watching his body carried off by the river, a character mutters, “Now we’re just like you.” Damned drivel. D

ONE DARK NIGHT (1982) The dead bodies of six young women are found in the apartment of a Russian occult practitioner called Raymar. Known as a “psychic vampire,” Raymar is himself also found deceased, his body eventually entombed in a grand mausoleum. But the parapsychic killer isn’t exactly dead, a fact sorority pledge hopeful Julie (Meg Tilly) comes to realize after she accepts the challenge of spending the night alone inside the mausoleum. Raymar awakens and lets loose his telekinetic powers, which brings several of his dead neighbors back from the underworld. A large imagination and splashes of inventive special make-up FX help to lift One Dark Night above its sometimes slack pacing. The film also benefits from well-rounded characters and a sympathetic turn from eventual Oscar-nominee Tilly in one of her earliest roles. Good direction from future Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives helmer, Tom McLoughlin. B

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