Monday, October 16, 2023

Angel of Muzak

I've spent most of my adult life assuming I'd seen Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge, mostly because it was so often summoned in conversations as "you know, that '80s mall horror movie with the escalator death." The number of conversations I've had where I just continued talking about The Kiss (the OTHER '80s mall horror movie with an escalator death), never realizing there were TWO '80s mall horror movies with escalator deaths, well, in hindsight, there were a lot of miscommunication.

Quick Plot: The town of Midwood's long nightmare of shopping in the rain has come to an end. There's a new mall opening!

The teens scoop up part-time jobs, while mayor Morgan Fairchild struts around with a multi-tiered perm and even bigger shoulder pads to match her confidence in capitalism. There's new fashion on sale and arcades to roam. Pauly Shore serves frozen yogurt with sides of gross props because in the '80s, it was a requirement for any goofy dark-haired sidekick to love horror prop humor. Things are going so well that nobody REALLY notices how some of the mall's more immorally minded employees are turning up dead in wild ways.

Mall restaurant Melody and local newspaper photographer Peter are the exception. Melody is already on edge, having recently lost her beloved boyfriend Eric to a mysterious fire. Eric was a fine young man who happened to live on property needed for the mall's construction. Surely there was no connection!

A cobra-in-the-bathroom bite, skateboard accident, and of course, impalement by miniature scaled model of mall later, and we have one very satisfied Emily. I don't know much about its origins (the screenplay is credited to Friday the 13th: The Series alumni Scott Schnied and Tony Michelman, Frederick R. Ulrich, and eventual Evil/The Good Wife showrunner Robert King), but director Richard Friedman seems to be having a LOT of fun. There are even hints of a pre-Josie & the Pussycats subliminal capitalist messaging. All this in the same mall set used for Chopping Mall? You can't get me to Shudder fast enough. 

High Points
I don't know that I've ever been so enthused by a CAR CHASE in an '80s horror film, but when you toss pedestrians in the way in an indoor mall parking garage, I am IN

Low Points
The ingenue is rarely the most layered character in any story (particularly one with "Phantom" in the title) and while Kari Whitman is appealingly sweet as Melody, the film never gives her enough time or complexity. Her declaration of being in love with Peter comes out of nowhere, which is a shame when there certainly was an opportunity to explore what it means to move on from modified widowdom

Lessons Learned
A reporter's instincts can get out of hand quickly

Removing a body from a cemetery is both illegal AND sacrilegious

Major stockholder means major profit

Golly did I have fun with this one! It's got everything you want in an '80s mall-set horror film, including Morgan Fairchild in a cobalt blue sequined V-neck evening gown. Have at it!

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