Posts Tagged ‘Film Review’

Scorching the Retinas – Catching Up on the 80’s

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Chopping Mall (1986)
Director – Jim Wynorski
Writers – Jim Wynorski and Steve Mitchell
Runtime – 77 minutes
Concorde
Lightning Video

chopping mall dvd

Following up from my Maximum Overdrive piece in which I admitted to not watching nearly as many genre flicks from the 80’ which I may have liked I’d like to introduce another film. Chopping Mall has received quite the buzz as of late. Whether this is from the fact that it features a horror scream queen great, Barbara Crampton (Re-animator, From Beyond, Puppet Master – the Littlest Reich) or that it ultimately features a ‘man versus machine’ scenario I’m not entirely sure, though one thing is for certain. I can’t boast watching it anywhere near close to its original release date and to my knowledge it hasn’t been remade/rebooted yet. I honestly don’t know why it’s taken me this long to discover/experience Chopping Mall, I could use a myriad of lame excuses, but I’ll just blame life (it’s easier this way).

This all changed however when the wife was kind enough to splash for a horror collection (how I love those) which featured this film as well a handful of others, most of which I’ve laid eyes upon and each with their own specific appeal. Sight unseen I’d comment that this film (most notably the robots within) appears as if a montage of influence from Robocop (the original – 1987), Short Circuit (“Johnny Five is Alive” – 1986), Battlestar Gallactica (naturally, the original series from 1978) and perhaps even the ‘Daleks’ from Doctor Who (who first appeared in 1963 a handful of episodes after the legendary series commenced). But after a little research I can see that this came out around the same time as Short Circuit. Perhaps it did, then, garner huge influence from the ‘Daleks’ and the ‘Cyclons’? There’s only one way to know for sure, a viewing is in order. And what better time than now.

Chopping Mall originates in a mall, The Park Plaza, (as if the title alone doesn’t offer that type of information) in a time when smoking was allowed, even in the stores, and each mall had its own identity. A far cry from the cookie cutter capitalist compounds our cities boast today. The film’s opening scene displays the need for security and Stan Simon (head of a huge conglomerate) has the answer. An automated patrol after hours. Sounds ideal, right? What could possibly go wrong? After all, Stan guaranteed a ‘no-kill’ policy following a slew of concerns and questions following on from a brief video to show the robots true potential.

killbots #2

The “Killbots” taking a nap, or are they?

With the ”Protectors” all set to roll out the mall is set to herald a new age for retail security. However, what Stan and his team of tech geniuses couldn’t have considered in their wildest dreams was the intervention of a group of horny teens, copious amounts of alcohol, and an orgy- like event held on the premise’s furniture outlet after hours. To add to the mix the city is lit up, embroiled in a lightning storm. As luck (or something else adding to this films’ viewing experience) would have it the mall gets struck, several times. And although nothing seems awry, there definitely is as a tech in the malls security headquarters soon finds out. One of the “Protectors” sparks into life and skewers the unsuspecting as he peruses every minute detail of his favorite centerfolds every curve.

Cut to the collective of teenagers grunting, grinding and making various squealing noises under covers (which no doubt will be scrubbed clean of incriminating DNA before the next day’s business) and the odd couple out.It’s blind date night and the locale is that which typifies lust and carelessness and comes complete with its own unique ‘jungle’ soundtrack and a monster movie featuring over-sized crustaceans plucked from the 30’s.

Very early on the viewer is assaulted with a various smorgasbord of elements which scream 80’s. Tight jeans, form-hugging tops and that’s just the male leads. There’s role reversals and plentiful nods to a myriad of other films, high octane crime features, from around the same time. Naturally, ‘hair’ is huge, and explosions are more frequent than character actions (in certain situations) which make sense. But this is a movie and there is a story line which must be followed. And I’m happy to report I’m glued. Admittedly, the unabashed, bountiful, flesh on display certainly helps and the characters introduced fall neatly into folders (who’ll die first, who’ll be the hero/heroine and who will survive, or not) which any long-time fan of the genre will be able to guess at within no time whatsoever based on age old slasher rules. As a side note I believe chewing gum with the mouth wide open is not just rude, it’s punishable by something (lets face it, probably not as harsh a punishment as a grisly death) and in this instance it is for which I am eternally grateful.

chewing gum

I love you, but only because you chew gum with your mouth wide-the-fuck-open!

The movie progresses and surprise, surprise (ha, no Cilla Black here, thank the Dark Lord. A reference for my British readers) our teen collective finds themselves trapped. But it gets better, the “Protectors”, or ‘Killbots’ as they have now been lovingly termed, have only one thing in mind; Carnage and Mall Security (that’s two, and I’m an idiot!) Cue ‘cat n mouse’ antics, kill scenes and hysteria courtesy of level-headed, peer-pressure queen bee, Suzy (played by Barbara Crampton of From Beyond, Re-Animator and Puppet Master; the Littlest Reich fame).

Any fan of cult movies will perk up at the homicide one-liners spat by the film’s antagonists “Thank you, have a nice day”. To which I can only assume that Paul Verhoven and his creative buddies still vehemently deny the similarities to Peter Wellers infamous sentence, as Robocop, to this very day. However, the robots here appear much more like ‘Johnny Five’, complete with tracks (which I would like for my car, as living in the Midwest during the winter months sucks) and spindly arm attachments. Though they converse with the blunt politeness of a ‘Dalek’ (I was right!), are there any fellow sci-fi nerds here, or is it just me? I’ll refrain from my comments on Asimov and his laws of robotics regarding this film as this has a certain air of levity about it unlike Asimov’s mammoth texts. Although it does hint at the same premise that one day machines will adapt to the level where they don’t need prompting, guidance or maintenance and this is where the similarities to James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) come in, that and the same relentless pursuit of the film’s antagonists.

this is a killbot

Now, this is a “Killbot”

Naturally bravado reigns supreme and those brandishing massive egos live (or not) to regret their actions. Did I mention Chopping Mall features a sporting goods store which sells assault rifles (was this ever a thing?) obviously these are utilized to great effect by those who have only ever seen their abuse in films like Rambo and Dirty Harry. Hilarity ensues, bad decisions are followed through and our heroine shows why relying on rampant, uncontrolled, testosterone isn’t always the best option.

Chopping Mall sports a multitude of dialogue to elicit smirks, groans and face splitting grins and even a stunning Segway early on, which I’ll not ruin, suffice it to say smoking is not good for you! Numerous character interactions produce instances of nothing but random quotability in everyday life (if you are anything like me). Standout moments include, but are not limited to, “Fuck fuchsia, its Friday” and “Computers, huh? Let’s go crash the fucker!”  But it’s the resourcefulness, adaptability and ingenuity of the small collective (drastically dwindling number) of teens which make this film fun, probably no thanks to marathon viewings of MacGyver (nowadays we suffer the rehashed version, but also reruns, if you’re lucky enough!)

Keeping up with genre trends Chopping Mall showcases a surprisingly delectable head explosion (ala Scanners (1981) and Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend (released the same year) and even Dick Miller (RIP) of Gremlins fame makes an appearance, if only for a few minutes.

head explosion-choping mall

Hey Suzee, these prices blow my mind!

Overall Chopping Mall is a film I’m surprised wasn’t recommended to me earlier. It stands out amidst others in the same arena based on its characters, its delicate balance of gallows/dark humor and suspense, the story (which is admittedly easy to follow), the films pace and the all the explosive action, over-sized firearms, flares, Uzi’s and all. But beneath all that its loving depiction of the 80’s which although I was too young to remember, I miss. And quite honestly, I can’t think of another genre film based in a shopping mall other than Romero’s infamous Dawn of the Dead and all its subsequent remakes. For these and so many more reasons, which I don’t wish to bore you with lest this transform into a monstrous diatribe, I deem this a must watch. Rediscover what made the 80’s so much fun! Which leaves only one thing left to say…

“Thank you, have a nice day!”

Cult