Saturday, May 17, 2014

Chopping Mall

Always trying to recapture my youth, I constantly look to my library of films from the 1980s, especially within the horror genre.  Because, out of all the memories of my teenaged yearswhich were during the 80smost of the good ones took place hanging out with my good friend, Ron, at a choice movie theater to catch the latest popular flick.  We'd usually partake in a little smoky-smoke before the movie or maybe sneak in as many beers as it was physically possible to hide in our waistband and jacket pockets-whatever we could do to make the movie-going experience even better.  Yeah, he and I viewed quite a few films back then, from the shittiest snoozers to some Oscar-worthy contenders.  But it didn't matter, because those were some awesome days.

Back then, it was all about hanging out at The Meridian Quad in Cupertino, which was a four-screen movie complex with an arcade house across the way.  It was the place to hang out for us in-betweeners who were just starting to drive but weren't old enough to get into clubs or buy alcohol.  Nevertheless, it was some fun times over there, whether we went inside the arcade to waste a bunch of quarters to play the latest popular video game, see a movie at The Quad, or breakdance outside (yes, that was big back then).

Alas, The Meridian Quad has since been torn down many years ago, both the movie house and arcade building are absent from that area with a Round Table and other shops in their place.  But the
memories remain, especially when I put in a DVD or Blu-Ray of a film that I remember seeing at The Quad all those years ago.

It's funny that I went on with that narrative, waxing nostalgic about the movies I had seen during the 80s and where I saw them, because Chopping Mall was a film I'd neither seen at The Quad, nor had I seen it back when it was released in 1986.  In fact, I'd only heard of it a few years ago, seeing it online or in a review somewhere.

Probably the only reason that I'd talked about seeing movies in the 80s and the type that I loved seeing was that this flick fit that description so well.  Chopping Mall was the embodiment of cinema in the 80s where horror movies had a revival, being churned out left and right.  Some were god-awful...others were cheesy and laughable, with a few being really well done.  Believe it or not, this film was all of the above.

Park Plaza Mall decides to improve their security by implementing a small group of robots to be dispatched after the mall closes to thwart any crime that may transpire.  After being put into operation at the mall, a lightning strike hits the mall's antenna, going into the central hub of the robots' computer operation and creates a breakdown into the robots' programming, making them see anyone as a threat and causing them to use lethal force on anybody who comes across them.  As luck would have it, a group of teenagerssome who work at the malldecide to have an after-hours party in the furniture store during the night the robots malfunction.  Will they be able to elude the robots' malevolence and survive the night?

First off, you may recognize the mall where the film took place, as many movies in the 80s featured this mall quite a bitthe Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High had a lot of scenes filmed there, Weird Science as well, and a couple of Schwarzenegger's filmsCommando and Terminator 2contained some pivotal scenes there as well.

Now, I'd mentioned that Chopping Mall was awful, cheesy, laughable and well-donea mixed bag of sequences if you will.  The acting, for its time, was believable with the cast having good chemistry together.  For the ridiculous subject matter, they really put on a good performance and made you believe in the threat they were facing throughout the story.  But the threat, when seen on the screen,
was sort of silly and pathetic, the robots looking like the one from Short Circuit and you sort of get the feeling that these were Star Wars rejects being used here.  The machines' primary weapon to dispatch the kids is some laser blast that they shoot out, but it's a cheap special effect that probably garnered more laughs than terror whenever this was shown in theaters.  It's really hard to take the robots seriously, especially when hearing the sounds they make and the robotic voices they use to communicate.

As horror fans, you may recognize a few familiar faces in this movieKelli Maroney, Russell Todd, and Barbara Crampton.  Maroney, who plays Alison Parks, is most notable for her role in Night of the Comet.  If you're a Friday the 13th nut like I am, you'll notice Russell Todd, playing Rick Stanton, was one of the victims from Friday the 13th Part 2.  Finally, Barbara Crampton, who plays Suzie Lynn, is probably the most recognizable as she's been in quite a few cult horror movies such as Re-AnimatorFrom Beyond, and most recently, You're Next.
One noteworthy thing I can say about this film is that I watched it with today's standards in mind.  I'd never seen this film until recently, so there was really no nostalgic value that kept me from giving this a fair shake.  As a result, I felt that it was an amusing film, capturing the free nature of the 1980s' vibe and way of life for teenagers back then.  It also reminded me of how many silly films I had seen and come to love in that era as well.  All in all, I felt that I had watched this film in my youth because it definitely would've been something that I'd have been attracted to go see.

You can almost check off a virtual 1980s horror movie checklist when seeing Chopping Mall: Girls with big, fluffy overly hair-sprayed coifs?  Check.  Guys clearly in the late twenties who are playing teenagers?  Check.  Having sexual relations in really awkward places (in a furniture store, mere feet away from each other)?  Check.  Taking the whole film into account, the characters do so many dumb things that make you yell out to the screen, telling them not to do it and bad decisions are made throughout...I mean, this flick just has everything to make a good horror movie!

One downfall this disc has is that it's a bit misleading when you look at the title and cover art.  The name alone makes you think there's a maniac on the loose in a mall, chopping people up with a machete or cleaver.  Also, the cover shows someone dismembered in a shopping bag, so you can't help thinking you're going to be watching Friday the 13th in a shopping mall.  Initially, the film was to be named, Killbotsbut they decided to go with what it's been titled...I think they should've stuck with the original title.

So, my final "bit"?

Any way you slice it (pardon the pun), you'll enjoy this movie if you're a child of the 80s like I am.  If you love horror films of that era, you'll love Chopping Mall.

Well, that's about it for now...thanks for reading and I welcome any comments that you may have.

Facebook page (Cinema Bits), Twitter (@CinemaBits).