Viking Night: Chopping Mall
By Bruce Hall
April 5, 2017
It’s hard to imagine today, but once upon a time, shopping malls were all the rage. At some point, someone realized it was possible to combine one of every kind of store known to (white, middle class, North American-suburban) man into that mighty Voltron of one-stop shopping we’ve come to know as the shopping mall. It didn’t matter whether you needed upscale clothing, crappy clothing, perfume, exercise equipment, toys, more toys, a shotgun, a selection of wicker furniture worthy of ancient kings, or just an extravagantly overpriced box of chocolates - you could find it at the shopping mall.
Yes sir, as long as you didn’t need anything practical like groceries, you could find it at the mall.
It was the hub of any decent middle class suburb, and if you were a teenager back in the 80s, it might literally be the social center of your universe. Which reminds me - you could even find romance at the mall! Well, YOU could. I was way too cool to get tied down with a nagging old lady back in junior high. I hung out at the mall all right, but I mostly watched the Mike Damones of the world live it up, while I lurked out by the Orange Julius, subsisting on their Judge Reihnold-y social scraps.
I’ve heard it said that shopping malls are a dying relic of the past, and it’s certainly true that I could give you a list of movies as long as the rest of this article - primarily from the Reagan years - that feature a shopping mall. Maybe it’s fair to say that the Mall’s once hallowed place in pop culture has definitely fallen to dust. But the strange thing is, at least where I live, every time they dynamite a 40 year old shopping mall, you know what goes up in it’s place? Another shopping mall, only these days they’re airy and spread out like a tiny little city. And there we all are, still stumbling around like George Romero’s slack-jawed zombies, disposing of our disposable as fast as we can make it.
The more things change, the more they say the same. But hey, if you wanted to be preached at, you’d be watching the last season of MASH, am I right (timely reference, I know)? I still love going to the mall sometimes, making impulse buys and eating enough carnival food to permanently raise my cholesterol fifty points. And I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for movies set in malls (ironically this does NOT include Mallrats) - particularly mall-themed horror films.
And you’ve got to be great - not merely good - to top Night of the Comet and it’s optimal blend of horribleness AND hilarity. This is why I was excited to see Chopping Mall, which automatically vaults into the top ten of this year’s Hall of Awesome Titles Super Smackdown. I had somehow never watched it, so props to Friend of the Column TylerDFC for pointing this one out (your autographed box from my last visit to KFC is in the mail). But would Chopping Mall live up to its delightfully clever title?
That depends on what you’re expecting. If you’re expecting a terrible movie that kind of knows it’s terrible, then yes. I’ll go ahead and reveal that - shockingly - you are totally correct. Also, if you were NOT expecting the movie to start out with a demonstration of highly armored, heavily armed crime fighting Mall-bots taking down a street punk, boy will you be pleasantly disappointed! This is indeed how Chopping Mall starts out, with a highly competent security demonstration at the shiny new Park Plaza shopping center, carried out by a handsome man wearing a corduroy suit and feathered hair. He’s very, very careful to specifically point out - twice - that nothing can possibly go wrong.
By the way - there’s a LOT of feathered hair in this movie, my friends. That, the high-waisted Guess jeans, the Izod polo shirts...it all seemed so cool at the time.
Anyway, things obviously go immediately go wrong. Lightning, which you’ll remember as something that never strikes the same place twice, strikes the same place thrice, immediately turning the Mall-bots into Kill-bots. Meanwhile, as the mall prepares to close, several of the teenage employees (all played by actors clearly as old THEN as the movie is NOW) are planning an after hours shindig in the Furniture Mart. Little do they know, as I may have failed to mention, that they’re locked inside the mall by massive Death Star blast doors as the Kill-bots begin their nightly patrol.
Do I need to go on? It’s a slasher picture full of thirty year old teenagers, in an isolated environment with a trio of insane robot killers. It’s the same template you’ve seen in every slasher picture ever made, with pretty much the same character archetypes. The difference is, this generic gorefest takes place in a mall and features killer robots! In fact for me, one of the most entertaining aspects of Chopping Mall was trying to figure out why the place you take your kids to visit Santa even needs a phalanx of futuristic security drones!
Lord Jesus, what kind of security issues have been going down at this mall? Was their a hostage situation at Pier One Imports? Did the Florsheim Shoes Bandit strike again? Terrorist infiltration at the Chess King? It’s that kind of delightful overkill that makes Chopping Mall at least modestly entertaining. And by “modestly”, I mean in the way the title “Chopping Mall” made me chuckle the first three times I heard it, and now it...doesn’t. Let’s be fair though; once they came up with the title, the movie simply HAD to be made.
If I came up with a stupendous title like...I don’t know...The Freaks of Dr. Skull, I would have a moral imperative to do something about it.
Hmmm. May have backed myself into a corner there.
Point being, when you have a movie called Chopping Mall, and it’s about a bunch of kids vs. a bunch of killer robots, and it’s produced by Julie Corman, wife of Roger Corman, what the hell do you want? Not unlike Death Race 2000, there’s a lot of black humor, a fair share of gore, and lots of boobs. And it’s only 77 minutes long; you can watch it while you get your tires rotated! And before you chalk that up as a backhanded compliment (it is), I have to admit - despite the fact I’ll probably never watch it again, Chopping Mall more than lives up to the limited aspirations imposed by that title. And if that’s not enough for you, then indulge yourself in what has to be my favorite part of mall-themed movies - quietly making note of all the stores that aren’t around any more.
Ha-ha! Eat it, Waldenbooks!