It’s a pleasant irony a film flop that found its audience through the video store is back on the big screen for Alamo Drafthouse’s Terror Tuesday. Chopping Mall offers a plot simple as it is classic — horny teens get into murder trouble. But instead of eerie woods or a cursed mansion, they’re menaced by overzealous security bots in modern America’s haunted house: The Mall. Now hollow carapaces of capitalism’s digital molt, malls were once hubs of hedonistic pleasure and torment. Chopping Mall’s opening burlesque paints Sherman Oaks Galleria (cinematic omni-mall featured in Terminator 2, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Night of the Comet, and more) as heady cornucopia of all seven sins bundled for shopping convenience.
But in this false paradise pride (and lust) goeth before a fall, and overconfidence in a new security system smacks into a Friday night furniture store orgy. It’s a film proudly sporting its 14-year-old male sensibility, with gratuitous T&A, bonkers deaths, and eyeroll-inducing jokes like Peckinpah’s Sporting Goods store, where surprisingly competent youths arm themselves to the teeth. (Yes, this mall sells furniture, guns, and an actual category of clothing called ‘Better Activewear.’) We’d expect no less from director Jim Wynorski, the man behind The Bare Wench Project and The Hills Have Thighs, though in pleasing rarity the ladies are equally competent (and idiotic) as the gents.
The film was a toss-off to meet Julie Corman’s obligation to video distributor Vestron for a mall-based horror film. Wynorski has made 103 movies, but back when Chopping Mall was on the block he had one feature under his belt. In exchange for the chance to direct, Wynorski churned out a treatment in 24 hours and a script in a month with co-writer Steve Mitchell before rushing to shoot. With clunky lines like “Let’s send these fuckers a Rambo-gram!” it shows, but gems like “I guess I’m not used to being chased around a mall at night by killer robots” come full circle to delightful.
The film is its makers’ tribute to schlock, rife with all-era B-movie gold: Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise, TerrorVision) pops up as security, Angus Scrimm (the Phantasm himself) asks questions, and Night of the Comet’s Kelli Maroney and Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton star. There's a rogue’s gallery of reprised characters, including Dick Miller as Bucket of Blood’s put-upon Walter Paisley, and an Eating Raoul coda where power couple Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel (RIP) steal the show with improvised robot judgement (“the one in the middle looks unpleasantly ethnic”).