Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chopping Mall (1986)

First of all let me say that any film with a title this fun has got to be worth a look at least one. But when you have a film that has both a great title and an even catchier tagline, you've got to go for the gusto. This film is probably the best example of the two from a film coming out of the mid 80's (the exception, of course, being the tag line for The Mutilator).

This is one of those video box covers that stayed with me throughout the course of my young years. Every single mom and pop store and grocery store video section had this, I mean, it was everywhere. There was something about the art that just intrigued me but enough to where I shyed away from it. Maybe it was because it was of its suggestive gruesomeness? Maybe because something that cool was actually that scary? Seriously, when have you ever seen a film's one-sheet look this great? I remember finally picking it up back at the old H-E-B grocery store that was on old Highway 83 in Weslaco, Texas back when I was in my teens and took a good look at the back. Nothing to fear, I told myself. I didn't see anything all too graphic so I was pretty sure I was safe. Little did I know that I wouldn't actually pick this one up until much later on.

I found my Lightning VHS copy at a pawn shop when I was living in Missouri back in 2003. I'm not sure as to why I never sat down to actually watch it but nonetheless, it was in my then-budding horror collection so that was all that mattered. When it was finally released by Lions Gate (though I swear by everything in my that Anchor Bay had released it first), I took a Friday night and sat down to finally sit through this. Let me tell you, I was quite tickled.

First of all, any film that opens up in the annals of an 80's shopping mall, complete with not only cameos by the wonderful Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov but playing reprising their roles as the Blands from Eating know that you're in for something interesting. The plot is actually very simple: Robots are created to replace, rather, enhance, security at the local mall. Some kids find a way to stay trapped inside for the night to party on, have sex, blah blah blah. Little do they know that the robots are in full swing, and ready to kill. Their mission? Break out of the mall without dying in the process. Sounds very run-of-the-mill for that time period, right?

In one sense of the word, it is, but on the other hand, it was pretty original for the time it was made and released. Sure, we had seen a horror film set in a shopping mall before (Dawn of the Dead), but this one was a little different. First of all, it screams 80's and that for me was enough to keep me hooked. Any film that has posters for films like Slumber Party Massacre in their backgrounds gets props from me. It's the whole boys-wanna-make-it-with-the-girls-and-the-jock-guy-has-the-hot-slutty-girl-the-average-guy-has-the-average-girl-and-they-both-want-to-set-their-nerdy-guy-up-with-one-of-their-girlfriends routine that we've seen in other films. But just like Hide and Go Shriek, it works. Hottie Russell Todd (who was so underused in Friday the 13th - part 2, which, surprisingly, Lions Gate incorrectly credits him on the back of the DVD cover as being in the first film) along with two other cuties to make this one a particularly entertaining piece to watch.

I will say, though, that I was disappointed in the fact that both the title and film's tagline are completely misleading. No one gets "chopped" and nobody loses an "arm and a leg" though it was pretty cool to see that the one of the kills in the film depicts a rather cool head explosion ala Scanners (Thank God, too, Miss First Victim was quite annoying). The rest of the kills aren't all that great, but it didn't seem to bring the rest of the film down. Kinda makes you wonder what it would be like to be really trapped in a mall with all your friends with killer robots after you. Horror fans know that the original title of the film was Killbots and the behind the scenes featurette with the director and original designer of the bots give a little insight about how it all came to pass. It's actually quite good, though it runs a bit short.

The bottom line on this one is that you're going to be disappointed if you're expecting something over the top, especially with the title of the film being as cool as it is. Because the film's negative was in legal limbo during the time the DVD was made, a VHS master was used as the source (I wondered why there was a Lightning Video logo at the end of the presentation). Even with that said, the picture quality and sound aren't bad at all. I didn't even know it was a VHS master until the last moment of the DVD so that should tell you something. The trailer is on there, though, it doesn't leave much to the imagination and in my opinion, gives just a tad too much away. But I love how the trailer ends, with the Blands rolling their eyes at the camera which gives the slight misleading notion that they are in the core of the film rather than the five minutes they actually have screen time. But that I will overlook.

Because this film seriously reeks of 80's, it's worth a look and if you're a completist, this should already be in your collection. Some of the dialogue is ridiculous but the overall tone of the film and the (partial) originality of the script make this one of the better 80's teen horror films not to be set in a campground. And it's one of the better ones to be set in a retail scenario (again, I include Hide and Go Shriek). Just...go get it.

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