For many of us, our horror obsessions started at a young age and involved fond memories of the video store. There was something magical about browsing worn down VHS boxes with cheesy (or sometimes terrifying) cover art. It was during one of these memorable excursions that I was first introduced to 1986’s Chopping Mall. The mechanical hand holding a shopping bag with a face peering through stopped me dead in my tracks. After much begging, I brought my rented VHS copy home for the weekend and, thankfully, my twelve-year-old self was not disappointed. After watching it again just recently, I can definitely say that Chopping Mall held up well, even 30 years after its debut.
Chopping Mall was released on March 21, 1986 via Concorde Pictures and was produced by the legendary Roger Corman and his wife, Julie Corman. Jim Wynorski, who is notorious for making B-movies, directed and co-wrote the film with Steve Mitchell. The story was inspired by the Ivan Tors sci-fi film, Gog (1954), and was originally released under the title Killbots. The film was met with poor box office numbers, which was partially blamed on the title. It was later released as Chopping Mall, but also had about fifteen minutes of footage cut.
Chopping Mall was released on DVD via Lionsgate in 2004 and again in 2012 for a combo horror pack. Unfortunately, the transfer quality left much to be desired. Jim Wynorski announced plans of a remastered Blu-ray release over two years ago, so fingers crossed that it is still in the works.*
*ETA: Look! The Blu-ray!
In the film, the fictional Park Plaza Mall implements a high-tech security system, complete with robots equipped with weapons to help detain thieves. Shortly after, a few teenage furniture store employees sneak in dates and have a little get-together after hours. After a freak lightning storm hits the building, the new security system controls go haywire. This results in the robots using deadly force against the teens. They are soon hunted down one by one and killed in several ways, including getting set on fire, electrocution, and shot by lasers. The remaining teens soon turn on the robots, though, and it becomes a fight for survival.
With a title like Chopping Mall, it is obvious that some serious ’80s cheese will take place, and it does. The effects are noticeably cheap, with the robots built using miscellaneous materials and controlled via remote. The laser beams shot from their eyes are laughable, especially when one of the females gets shot in the ass. The setting is, of course, authentic since it takes place in an actual mall, but the one set that they did make instantly stands out. Emmy nominated music producer Chuck Cirino provided the synth score that plays on repeat, which probably wasn’t the highlight of his now accomplished career.
Released just one year after the cult classic Re-Animator, Chopping Mall was yet another stepping stone in actress Barbara Crampton’s path to becoming a bona fide Scream Queen. Her fellow stereotypical sex-crazed teenagers are a bit one-dimensional, but still likeable enough to cheer them on. Of course, some must die and when they do, most of the kills are over-the-top, including a head exploding from laser blast. Scenes like these lead to glaring plot holes, including the questions like: why a robot would have that ability if they’re not intended for deadly force? That’s when my brain says, “Shhh, it’s an ’80s horror. Just sit back and enjoy.”
Despite all of its flaws, there is just something so loveable about Chopping Mall. It is a must see for fans of campy B-horror, as there’s so much to appreciate here. Hopefully the Blu-ray release* stirs up nostalgia for older fans and finds a new audience with the younger crowd. Robots, lasers, explosions, sexed up teens… what more could you ask for?