The younger generation of today and the generations still to come will never fully understand the cultural importance the shopping mall served in the ’80s and ’90s.
Shopping malls were the absolute place to be, especially for teenagers and young adults. You could attract the attention of your peers, socialize with your friends and check out the latest fashion trends. It was like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram but with an Orange Julius stand.
1986’s Chopping Mall tells the tale of a group of rebellious young adults that decide to take their mall game up a few notches by partying at the mall after hours on Friday night. But our hormone-fueled antagonists end up in the fight of their young lives against Park Plaza Mall’s three new security robots. Robots that have gone haywire thanks to a lightning strike to the computer system that controls them, essentially turning the security robots into Killbots!
The Killbots more than earn that nickname by picking off their human opposition one by one. But there are two kills that really stand out from the rest in Chopping Mall. First is the best head explosion this side of Scanners, when Leslie (Suzee Slater) has her head blown up by a Killbot laser. Then scream queen Barbara Crampton gets in on the fun when her character Suzie is burned alive.
The star of the show is Kelli Maroney’s Alison Park. Alison is the prototypical horror movie “good girl”. Alison reluctantly went to the after-hours party at the urging of her friend Suzie. And while the others were fornicating in the furniture store, Alison was watching an old monster movie on TV with her blind date, the unfortunately named Ferdy Meisel (Tony O’Dell). Horror Movie 101 dictates that Alison must survive and Chopping Mall does not deviate from that line of thinking. Alison, who shows resourcefulness and moxy in the middle of all the Killbots chaos, is easily the most likable character in the movie.
Other stars of note in Chopping Mall include Dick Miller, John Terlesky, and Russell Todd. Miller has an electrifying cameo as a mall janitor. The gum chomping Terlesky, who would go on to star in the 80’s hidden gem Deathstalker II, has the distinction of being the first partygoer eliminated by the Killbots. And Russell Todd’s Rick Stanton would get the martyr’s death as Rick sacrifices himself to take out a Killbot. I recognized Russell Todd from Friday the 13th Part II… he didn’t survive that movie either.
When they aren’t trying to outrun their robotic stalkers, Alison and her friends try to take out the Killbots with items procured at the mall’s hardware and sporting goods stores. Being armed with guns, “do it yourself” molotov cocktails and propane tanks give the human side of this “man vs. machine” battle a fighting chance and ups the action level in the process.
All of the action in Chopping Mall is punctuated by composer Chuck Cirino’s synth score which compliments the movie’s tale of technology gone wrong perfectly and in my estimation is among Cirino’s best work.
Chopping Mall manages to cram elements from multiple movie genres into its short 77-minute runtime. Then it covers it all with just the right amount of 80’s cheese and throws in some gratuitous nudity on the side, which is not a big surprise considering the film was directed by the boob-loving, Jim Wynorski.
The end result… Chopping Mall is a unique product of its time, much like the shopping mall itself.