Some films act as a perfect time capsule for the particular decade in which they were made. The Graduate comes to mind, with Dustin Hoffman’s character perfectly straddling the Ed Sullivan Show and Woodstock. There couldn’t be a better microcosm of the 1960s. But such movies need not be as acclaimed nor as artfully done. Just check out Chopping Mall, and why it screams everything 1980s:
– The cinematography makes it look just like Weird Science
– The score is all synthesizer
– Teens get together to have sex…
– …and are slaughtered because they do
– Barbara Crampton exposes her boobs
– Kelli Maroney is the heroine
– It has ridiculously silly robots (think Johnny 5 with lasers)
– Laser bolts and electric shocks are drawn in cartoon style, instead of CGI
– There’s a Rambo reference
– One of the kids from Head of the Class is a protagonist
And best of all…
– All the boobs in it are natural
Here’s what it’s about: Three young couples get one teen who works at the furniture store in the mall to keep the place open so they can have premarital sex in the store’s beds (just writing that last part makes me need to shower). He’s reluctant to do so, but his coworkers schmooze him into doing it, plying him with a date who works in the mall’s pizza place. He’ll regret saying yes as the night goes on, for a bolt of lightning has made the mall’s three new security robots go haywire, transforming them into "killbots." Slaughter, mayhem and gunfire ensue, as the teens try to escape with their lives intact.
Sound silly? That’s only because it is. Take the plot of Westworld, combine it with the setting of Dawn of the Dead, and you’ve got Chopping Mall. Just don’t go looking for social commentary, because I mentioned Dawn. And don’t expect any irony; this is as straightforward as they come, exploitation cinema at its most dated, with top naked teens played by people way too old to be teens. As for the robots, they don’t look menacing at all. This isn’t the Terminator exoskeleton here. But that works, because they’re played with a sense of humor. In fact, most of the film is played that way, with several references to Roger Corman’s film catalogue (his company, Concorde, released the film; he acted as the film’s executive producer, and his wife Julie produced it), and a humorous tone. Even though I watched a girl’s head get blown off by a laser beam, I never felt any threat or tension. Cleary, the film intends not to terrify, but to offer some good, clean head blasting fun.
Before I discuss special features, I have to say something about the print. Lions Gate apparently could not get the rights to the master, so they went with a video master from Lightning Video. Unfortunately, that means it’s full screen, which means I only get to see 2/3 of the movie at any one time. Still, this is as good a print as many of the 1980s films I’ve seen over the years, and markedly better than many of the cheapjack, grainy horror films from the 1960s and 70s I’ve viewed. Fortunately, Lions Gate amply makes up for this with a nice package of extras, when nobody in his right mind would expect any for a film that’s far from a genre classic. A new featurette, "Chopping Mall: Creating the Killbots" addresses the design of the robots, through interviews with effects artist Robert Short, director/cowriter Jim Wynorski and co-writer/ 2nd unit director Steve Mitchell. It’s an interesting piece, cutting together the conversations with footage from the film, revealing a few killbot secrets along the way. Next up is the theatrical trailer, which fortunately doesn’t give the whole movie away. There’s a photo gallery with a small number of stills from the movie. It includes the poster with the film’s original title, "Killbots," under which it totally bombed before its re-release, which means this is another film for the Horror Movie Relocation Program.
Finally, there’s the audio commentary, featuring Wynorski and Mitchell. Believe it or not, this is one of Wynorski’s more serious efforts, and he and Mitchell have a much more laidback, informative discussion than I had expected. The two share all sorts of background secrets and information, in what amounts to a nuts-and-bolts fashion. It’s worth listening to if you enjoy the movie.
Of course, if you lived through the 1980s, especially through your teenage years, you should more than enjoy this movie, if only for the nostalgia. Taken on its own, it’s still a lot of fun, as long as you turn the brain off when you turn the DVD player on. Well worth a watch.