5 out of 5
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Note to self: am not allowed to become a Jim Wynorski fan, as it’s going to encourage me to start down a 150+ movie career, with lots of Witches of Breastwick-type erotica I’m not especially in to. And yet, given how perfect Chopping Mall is, man, it’s tempting to see what else Mr. Wynorski has worked on…
In some other B-horror reviews, I’ve knocked down flicks for their, by my standards, inappropriate use of T&A. I sort of poke my way around the criticism without clarifying what is the appropriate use, because, sure, I’m not sure I know until I see it; accepting that bared boobs are a part of the genre, I know I’ve watched some movies and not felt grossed out by it, so… what’s the secret? And why am I starting the review this way? Well, it’s a small detail, I suppose, but once that can often unseat an otherwise good movie. So when a movie does it “right,” and the flick itself is also moving on all gears, fireworks go off and I want to sit down with my parents, and grandparents, and kids, and neighbors, and point to the nakedness and say: “See? This is how it’s done.”
The ‘secret’ is context. Chopping Mall’s ladies aren’t peeped at through a hole in the wall, or have their tops and bottoms torn off in the middle of an attack, pausing for the camera. The glimpses are brief – they’re cheeky – and they’re in the context of healthy, open relations between young adults. The teen gaggle of the film have decided to stay and party after hours at the mall at which they work, gathered in a furniture store, and each couple is allowed to get it on in whatever manner they’re comfortable, without judgement from the others or the viewer: one couple is going at it; one couple is making out; one couple is watching a movie on the couch. There’s no slut or virgin shaming – although, yes, the frisky couple dies first – and, bonus, these characters actually seem to have dottings of personalities that required their actors to do more than just show up. Deep personalities? No. But still, just this bit requires more attention than the usual B fluff offers, and that’s something that does, indeed, carry through to the rest of the movie.
Which can be summarized as: robots go crazy and kill humans. Wynorski doesn’t play around with distracting us from this: the movie opens with a security firm’s promo clip for their new robo-security droids which are to protect the mall, and within minutes thereafter, the doors are locked and lightning strikes the droids’ control tower whilst our unsuspecting teens party away. Cue 77 minutes of an inventively used budget, actors who emote just the right amount – with personalities well divided along the heroic / panicked spectrum – and a director who knows that the thing to do is to just keep it moving. So just like we get right down to business, there’s no time wasted on getting the teens up to speed: one death is all it takes, and now the robots are acknowledged as killers, and they’re on the run. When the eye lasers start a’blastin’, you know things are going well, and when the first successful gore gag hits, it’s a fantastic surprise and, if you’re like me, you’re completely sold from that point on. The movie isn’t all that bloody thereafter, but it doesn’t need to be – in exchange, the film keeps throwing in fun twists on kills and attacks against the robots, and grants everyone – guys and gals – the intelligence and wits to arm themselves and fight back. Several ending sequences are especially inspired, and go for broke with explosions and stunts in a way that was totally unexpected for an $800,000 Corman (Julie Corman) production.
B-movie gold, y’all. And this was back-to-back with Re-Animator for Barbara Crampton, so that just gives it further horror cred in my book.