For many horror superfans, the genre never got better than the 1980s. The combination of big box office hits in the genre in the late 1970s plus the dawn of the home video revolution meant that scary movies absolutely exploded throughout the ’80s, giving us everything from marquee classics to weird little VHS curios that still attract fans decades later.
That explosion means that just about any scary concept from the time got its share of the spotlight, and that includes malls, that bastion of teenage shopping and partying that became a cultural staple of the era. These gleaming, sprawling landmarks of capitalism pop up all over 1980s movies, which means that horror definitely got there too, building on the success of Dawn of the Dead in 1978 and the ’80s horror boom to give us mall horror that still plays like a fun relic of its time.
Revisiting Chopping Mall, the Most ’80s Horror Movie Set in a Mall
Any movie made in a mall in the 1980s can serve as a fascinating time capsule of the era, and that’s definitely true of horror films as well. For my money, though, if you want the most 1980s horror movie that takes a place in a mall, not to mention one of the most 1980s horror movies ever made? Look no further than Chopping Mall, now streaming on Peacock.
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I mean, the title alone is enough to get you excited, right? It’s a movie about people getting chopped up in a mall that knows it’s a movie about people getting chopped up in a mall, so there’s already a sense of fun running through the whole thing. But this isn’t a movie about a human killer chopping people up in a mall. No, we’re talking about one of the most ’80s movie things imaginable: robots!
Yes, in this film, we head to a prosperous mall where the owners are concerned about theft, so concerned that they contract with a new security company to install state-of-the-art patrolling robots in the building. The robots’ job is simple: patrol the mall at night, ignore anyone carrying an ID badge that says they’re a mall employee, and take out any would-be thieves through non-lethal means. It’s a perfect system, and I’m sure nothing’s ever going to go wrong, right?
Well, cut to one rainy night, when a group of young people –– featuring ’80s horror icons like Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton –– decide to stay late for a Friday night party in one of the department stores. Sure enough, the robots go haywire, and what started as a fun evening of drinking and sex soon becomes a sci-fi-horror nightmare.
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So, what makes it so great beyond the clearly wild, over-the-top ’80s premise? Director and co-writer Jim Wynorski and his cast clearly have a great grasp on the kind of film they’re out to make, even in the final film version that was cut down to less than 80 minutes. There’s something beautiful in the simplicity of this plot, once you get past designing the robots and securing a mall to shoot the movie in. It’s a straightforward slasher movie in terms of rhythm and pacing, at least at first, and then by the end things basically turn into Predator but with a killer mall robot. In other words, it’s wacky and violent and pure fun, and everyone seems to be in on that.
But even here, we can find more interesting things to mine, particularly if you’re a weirdo like me who goes back to a film like Chopping Mall again and again. This is a film, produced in the midst of the Reaganomics era, set inside a monument to consumerism, about how far a corporation will go to protect their investments at all costs. It’s a movie about free, happy young people subjected to byproducts of corporate greed, fighting back the only way they know how in the 1980s: with guns and explosions. With its very short runtime, the film doesn’t spend a whole lot of time digging into these ideas, but it doesn’t need to. It’s there right in the text of the conflict, and it makes Chopping Mall hum with a whole different facet of life.
And hey, killer robots are always fun, especially when they’re not after you.
Chopping Mall is now streaming on Peacock.