The shopping mall is an obvious and long-standing embodiment of commercialism, subject to critique. As such, it’s hardly surprising that the mall is also a popular site for horror films. Although… this may also come down to its appeal as a cheap nighttime location to shoot a film. I have recently watched a few flicks set in malls, but each has its own reason to be set there.
First up, Dawn of the Dead (1978): This horror classic sets zombies up as the ideal consumer; to paraphrase: they don’t know why they have come here, they just know that this is where they want to be. A clear indictment of mall-culture, this film mixes horror with humour. This movie stands up quite well.
Second, Chopping Mall (1986): This B-grade horror follows all of the clichés of the 80s horror pastiche. Starting with a bizarre opening montage exploring the mall in all of its glory, including a beauty pageant, this film doesn’t really seem to have anything to say. The mall is a place for young people to work and play. Cute killer robots stalk attractive young people. Only the virgins shall survive! This movie is bland and uninspired.
Finally, Elves (1989): This tasteless monstrosity of a movie clearly uses the mall as nothing more than a cheap setting for a grotesque plot involving Nazis, incest, and one elf (no other elves in sight) as well as a homeless mall Santa. Imagining that there is some relevance to Christmas and the mall setting is giving this film too much credit; the mall is just an empty vacuum for characters to be lined up and killed, Christmastime a gimmick that never really makes sense. The tone of this movie is all over the map, but taken altogether it’s just unpleasant to watch. It was a real dud that I had hoped would go well with our gingerbread house making.
This selection of films, by chance, also seems to reflect shifting attitudes towards the mall itself. It has gone back and forth from a dangerous opiate to the people, as seen in early films like Dawn of the Dead (1978) and later films like They Live (1988), to nothing more than a regular blight on the landscape of modern life; another empty space. With e-commerce and boutique shopping now the norm, the mall languishes as a monument to another era, populated by discount shopping and bad food.
As we have largely moved on from the mall as a culture, these films become less relatable to audiences, but they remain an interesting time-capsule for our fears.