Released Mar. 21, 1986
Rated R – 1hr 17 min
Directed by Jim Wynorski
Starring Kelli Maroney, Barbara Crampton, Tony O’Dell
A shopping mall installs a state-of-the-art security system, complete with three automated robots and steel shutters that seal the place tight from midnight to sunrise. On the first night of operation, an electrical storm shorts out the rooftop control unit, turning the security droids into haywire killbots. Meanwhile, four young couples have arranged an after-hours party at the furniture store. You see where this is going.
Made at a time when that decade’s iconic cultural elements were at their peak, Chopping Mall is 80s as fuck. Only the lack of a pop soundtrack keeps it from full overload. We got big hair, clunky robots, automatic firearms, boobs, cigarette machines, unexplained lasers, exploding heads, the guy who won’t stop chewing gum, digital calculators, neon signs, and corny one-liners, among other things, not least of all being the setting. If that doesn’t make it sound like there’s fun to be had, you can just turn back now.
I’ve seen many hundreds if not several thousand horror movies in my life, and Chopping Mall is one that always managed to get past me. It was one of those boxes at the video rental store that really stood out, with its shopping bag full of body parts and its snappy title, but my mom just wasn’t enthused about getting it for me. Can’t imagine why. Over the years, I never managed to stumble upon it again – never saw it on cable and it never caught my attention during my DVD collecting days. That is until I was browsing through the Hoopla library, and there it was. It was time to watch what I had been assured was a lost 80’s classic.
Classic is definitely a reach with this one, but it certainly qualifies as overlooked. It’s a check-your-brain-at-the-door good time, but that’s 80’s horror in a nutshell anyway. The plot is ridiculous twice over – it’s not just the outlandish premise, but how seriously Chopping Mall takes its killer mall robots. There’s no meta self-awareness or sense of irony here. This ain’t Sharknado. Now, while it might be earnest, that’s not to say that it’s somehow grim. This movie’s still here to party – it just approaches partying as serious business.
The acting is decent enough to not be bad, which helps to tether this preposterous thing to reality. Kelli Maroney, the cheerleader from Night of the Comet, is actually pretty good as resourceful final girl Alison. Genre favorite Barbara Crampton is simply in generic scream queen mode with her supporting role. Dick Miller – Mr. Futterman from the Gremlins movies – has a small role doing the same surly blue-collar shtick here too. There’s a bizarre couple – played by Paul Bartel & Mary Woronov – in the opening sequence that I found to be completely baffling. Apparently, they were reprising their roles from a film called Eating Raoul – which I’ve heard of but have never seen – but I couldn’t tell you why they’re here. They have no bearing on anything and are never seen again. It’s an odd thing to include, but so are killer mall robots that shoot lasers from their eyes.
As far as B-movie horror flicks from that decade are concerned, Chopping Mall is above average, if only just barely. It’s silly enough to be notably amusing, but is benefited from capable direction and playing its absurdity with a straight face. Yeah, it has what can be considered some throwback values, but this was over 30 years ago – that’s how looking backward tends to work. Those elements can potentially stir up a hornet’s nest of a cultural conversation, but it’s also not 1986 anymore. They make for an extra layer of humor that didn’t initially exist, and that’s good enough for me.
So, to anyone who gets a silly grin or a warm sense of nostalgia when they think of the 80’s, seek this out if you haven’t seen it. If not, steer clear – this is likely too cheesy for your palette.