Chopping Mall

What beats a lightning bolt as a plot device? It’s been used to catalyze countless sci-f plots. And that’s all that’s required to make robotic security personnel go haywire in Chopping Mall, a film that features a whole lot of mall, and not much in the way of chopping.

The brainchild of genre icon Jim Wynorski (who gave us, among other titles, Sorority House Massacre II, Big Bad Mama II, and The Return of Swamp Thing) Chopping Mall has as its source material, a narrative that has a long and storied past in the world of dystopian fiction: a clarion call about the warning of technology gone awry.

With some futurists warning as recently as September, 2017, that about half of all jobs will soon be automated, this is a deep well to draw from to this day, and puts Chopping Mall ahead of its slasher genre-mates, with which it shares some structural similarities.

In the 80s, shopping malls were coming into their own, eating up suburban real estate and becoming de facto community centers and hang-out spots, supplanting the drive-in a decade prior, and the malt shop before that.

In Chopping Mall, management for a run-of-the-mill mall install a new robotic security system. They’re basically assisted living scooters crossed with Dr Who Daleks (minus the bubbles), but with a more aerodynamic shape and slitty lit-up “eyes.” They’ve been programmed to ask questions first (“ID”), and shoot later. Unfortunately for some after-hours mall staffers, as well as some teen partiers, this functionality gets buggered and backwards by electrical short.

So let the killings begin!

Teen furniture store staff conspire to drink beer and engage in sexual hijinks after-hours (after all, they’ve got it made when it comes to beds). The crew includes the legendary Barbara Crampton as Suzie, and Kelli Maroney (Fast Times at Ridgemount High) as Alison. And there is also some fratty canon fodder and the requisite nerd.

They must test their mettle against the killer bots (this film was initially released as the more accurate, Killbots).

A Julie Corman production (she of Candy Stripe Nurses and the terrifically buggy, The Nest, which we podcasted), Chopping Mall has some cheeky, overt references to other films, such as Eating Raoul, a Really Awful Movies site favorite.

And it’s equally as fun.

***1/2 (out of 5)


It (2017)

New Line Cinema is of course, “The House that Freddy Built.” But you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s also the House That’s Rebuilding Pennywise, as It, or It: Chapter One, bears a lot of the hallmarks normally associated with A Nightmare on Elm Street (hell, the film even features a passing shot of a marquee for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child at the town cinema).

Like Nightmare, It has got a bunch of kids banding together to thwart a subterranean boogeyman (who they try and convince themselves is not real, and that their fear is illusory), pharmaceutical-popping, eerie streetscapes, a slew of ineffectual parental figures, heavy Freudian subtext, coming-of-age sexuality, a creepy backstory, and most obviously, a bunch of missing (and presumed murdered) children.

Those are the pluses.

But much like the Nightmare series began to (over) rely on Freddy, icky clown Pennywise begins to overstay his welcome, unfortunately, after an amazing opener where we’re introduced to The Dancing Clown crouching in a storm drain (with an unconscionable running time well-over 2 hours, even a terrific Bill Skarsgard performance wears thin).

Still, It’s small-town high-school backdrop rings true, and director Andrés Muschietti adroitly develops a real sense of place. The town of Derry, situated in Stephen King-land — Maine — is as much a star of the movie as its cast, a hilly New England burg with quaint shops and back-alleys aplenty.

But of course, it’s the kids who carry the day.

They’re awfully sweet, especially portly bookworm and lead detective of the Losers’ Club, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) whose unrequited love for the school’s new kid, Bev (Sophia Lillis), is especially touching. Ben’s a bibliophile whose love-of-library even out-nerds his outcast friends; he has a copy of the town charter up in his bedroom. Then there’s foul-mouthed Richie (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things), and several others to round out the bullied Losers’ Club, whose battle against their school’s goons, is just as compelling as their tilt with the evil Pennywise (Anthrax’s cover of Trust’s “Antisocial” provides the soundtrack for a really inspired rock-flinging fight between bullies / bullied).

It: Chapter One bolts out of the gate with gusto and passion. It’s also a helluva lot funnier than expected (look out for “gray water” and “gazebo” lines. No spoilers here). However, It gasses toward the latter third.

Still, there is just enough gore to satisfy gore-hounds, and plenty of visual kicks and backstory to make up for the profusion of jump scares.

*** (out of 5)