Oct 19, 2018
Welcome back to Film Buff Fridays! Don’t like horrific documentaries about child soldiers? Well, we’re back with a straight-ahead horror film for your pleasure, the fourth this week. For a few other films from the time, check out “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (Episode #201), “Surf Nazis Must Die” (Episode #222), and “Fist of the North Star” (Episode #243). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Chopping Mall” (1986), the Concorde Pictures horror film directed by Jim Wynorski and written for the screen in collaboration with Steven Long Mitchell. The film follows a group of teenagers who hide in a shopping mall after closing in order to throw a party. However, when a freak electrical storm turns the security robots into sadistic murderers, they must do whatever is necessary to survive the night.
I’ve talked a lot about how cult classics come into being, either discovered in video stores or via syndicated broadcasts, especially for films from the 1980s. The reason these two routes developed so many cult classics is that the original theatrical runs for many of these classics were restricted to only a few markets, and were simply not available to a majority of the population. This film was originally released as “Killbots” in the theaters, then re-released as “Chopping Mall”, both times in limited markets. And this film has all the requirements for a cult classic, including campy dialogue with crappy one-liners, over-the-top gore, and gratuitous sex and nudity, starring the scream queens of the day. A whole generation of fans would be born discovering this film on syndication and via home release, and it would power director Jim Wynorski to one of the longest low-budget filmographies in history using the same format. And that long tail keeps the movies coming, through licensing and broadcast deals, and now, even talk of reviving “Chopping Mall” for the modern age.
None of this makes “Chopping Mall” a particularly great film, though. You could make the very best version of a film for this genre, and it will never be a great film, precisely because it trades on cheap thrills and intentionally bad acting. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but this formula is not intended for great cinema. A film doesn’t have to be great to be entertaining, and even in wide distribution, there has been no shortage of high grossing critical stinkers that are still entertaining. “Chopping Mall” scores a lot of points when it comes to the premise, which provides a built-in, predictable elimination horror story arc, and great casting for the genre, some of whom are still working today. And I have always liked the thematic potential of setting films in malls, whether that’s Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” or Smith’s “Mallrats” or the more brooding “Nocturama” (Episode #184). I can see why a reboot would make sense in our nostalgic age.
However, the dialogue and direction are intentionally terrible, with some painfully awkward scenes, like the weird sex party in the furniture store, or when the death of one woman by fire is so very clearly a much taller and bulkier male stunt double wearing a wig. It also misses nearly every opportunity to utilize the shopping mall as a metaphor, probably because that wasn’t the tone for the film, and probably because getting access to the Sherman Oaks Galleria required signing away at least some rights in how the mall gets presented. It’s also exploitative of women in terms of gratuitous nudity, which overshadows their otherwise strong characters when it comes to taking out the killbots. Oh yeah, this is the second movie mall I’ve been to, the first being the one in Eden Prairie Center in Minnesota, where “Mallrats” was filmed. And yes, I rode the elevator!
“Chopping Mall” (1986) is a full-on campy horror film early in Jim Wynorski’s career, discovered through syndication and home releases to turn it into the cult classic it is today. I can’t say it’s a great film, critically speaking, but I will say it is entertaining with all the usual caveats for its contextual sexism. Fans of low-budget campy horror films will absolutely adore this film, but everyone else can probably give it a hard pass.
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
One Movie Punch: 6.0/10
“Chopping Mall” (1986) is rated R and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Tubi, and Hoopla.