Chopping Mall: Cheap Thrills and Exploding Heads in Aisle 4

By the mid-1980’s, the slasher film craze was running out of steam. Though some series – A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play – were just beginning, the subgenre suffered from an excess of indistinguishable releases. Take a stroll through later ‘80’s releases and what you’ll find are more self-aware horror movies. Perhaps sensing that the subgenre was played out, filmmakers increasingly embraced the narrative blueprint for laughs. Enter Chopping Mall, a 1986 release that straddles the fence between intentional and unintentional laughs. ‘So bad it’s good’ or just plain ‘bad’?

Synopsis

Park Plaza Mall has a new state-of-the art security system – three high-tech robots. But the teenage mall staff don’t seem too worried. They have plans to stay in the mall after-hours for drinking, partying, and sex. However, things quickly go awry when the security robots malfunction and go on a killing spree. Now trapped behind thick steel security doors, the mall staff must fight to survive until morning.

Chopping Mall is Dumb, But It Knows It’s Dumb

In spite of its twist on the familiar, Chopping Mall deviates little from the slasher formula. For its hour and 17 minutes, Chopping Mall liberally mixes ‘stalk and slash’ violence with a little gratuitous nudity and sex. Characters are either cannon fodder or ‘final survivors’ for the third act. Even non-horror fans should have little trouble distinguishing between the character archetypes. Promiscuous characters die first, leaving chaste characters to live to the end. And yes, there is a ‘Final Girl’.

The movie never takes itself very seriously.

Though Chopping Mall is derivative, writer and director Jim Wynorski knows it and has a little fun with the formula. Tonally, Chopping Mall has more in common with later-1980’s slasher movies like Intruder or Slaughter High than Friday the 13th. The movie never takes itself very seriously. No, not all the humour works. This is broad humour that will never be confused with The Evil Dead or What We Do In The Shadows. But there’s some relatively fun death scenes, including the second best ‘head exploding’ scene in horror movie history. When taken in conjunction with its short runtime, Chopping Mall does enough right to never overstay its welcome.

Chopping Mall is a Premise Begging for a Remake

When Hollywood binged on ‘80’s horror during the 2000’s remake craze, Chopping Mall got passed over. Of course, it’s hard to fault studio executives for sticking with brand familiarity. Despite their underwhelming performances, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street remakes still promised brand name recognition. In contrast, Chopping Mall is an obscure slasher movie with a ridiculous premise that wasn’t executed very well. Yet buried in the gratuitous nudity and violence is an idea that could work even better today.

…a Chopping Mall remake could tap into very real ears about potential consequences of all this connectivity.

Today, we live in a technologically advanced and highly interconnected world. Everything is ‘smart’ – from our phones to our home security systems. With a few taps of the finger, you can adjust the temperature of your house and start your car from the comforts of your couch. At even a basic superficial level, a Chopping Mall remake could tap into very real fears about potential consequences of all this connectivity. What if a ‘smart’ system like Google Home or Alexa became sentient and then malevolent? In the hands of a really good filmmaker, Chopping Mall could even dig deeper into anxieties about creeping surveillance, targeted ads, and consumerism.

Chopping Mall a Minor But Fun Slasher Option

In the grand mosaic of ‘80’s horror, Chopping Mall is a pretty insignificant movie. Truth be told, it’s a later slasher movie that best qualities as a C-level subgenre entry. It doesn’t even reach the heights of minor hits like My Bloody Valentine, The House on Sorority Row, or Just Before Dawn. Nonetheless, Chopping Mall benefits from its lighter tone and more playful execution of familiar tropes. And somewhere in this big dumb movie is a hidden gem of a premise just begging for a clever update.

FINAL VERDICT: SO BAD IT’S GOOD

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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