13 Terrifying Films About... Shopping?
Article By: Ben Raphael Sher
Shopping is one of America’s favorite pastimes. For many, there are few places more comforting than a supermarket, a shopping mall, or a department store. Some find our culture’s obsession with consumption downright frightening, and it is from this social anxiety that horror movies and TV series about shopping spring. This week’s Friday 13 goes on a tour of several beloved shopping institutions that become palaces of terror. By the end of it, you’ll be relying on Amazon.com and Nordstrom online.
1. The Twilight Zone: "The After Hours" (1960)
One of the earliest shopping horrors is this classic episode of The Twilight Zone. Marsha finds herself trapped in a confusing and nightmarish situation when she tries to buy her mother a simple gold thimble at her local department store. An elevator man directs her to the store’s gloomy ninth floor, which is empty except for a few mannequins, an ominous psychic saleslady, and one gold thimble. When Marsha tries to return the thimble, which turns out to be scratched, the department manager tells her that the ninth floor never existed, and she sees that the lady who sold it to her is a mannequin. Long story short, Marsha eventually discovers that she is also a mannequin who lost her identity while taking a 30 day vacation walking among humans. Anybody who has spent the day at Ikea will likely relate to this episode.
2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George Romero’s epic masterpiece Dawn of the Dead may well be the greatest movie about shopping ever made. Amidst a zombie apocalypse, a group of friends decide to seek shelter in a gigantic shopping mall. The zombies have gotten there first, because “This was an important place in their lives.” But our protagonists kill most of them, and then find that they have all of the food, designer clothing, weaponry, and elevator music that anybody could want. Pretty soon they realize that having nothing to do but shop all day can get surprisingly depressing, and before long the zombies infiltrate, along with a gang of bikers who want to have a bloody battle over who gets the goods. Romero asks if relentlessly seeking to consume brains is that much more malevolent than relentlessly seeking to consume cardigans from The Limited. This film’s 2004 remake is one of the few good ones. But nothing, nothing, can compare to the original.
3. Chopping Mall (1986)
The other seminal mall picture. A group of teens decide to camp out in the closed mall and throw a party. Before long, they find themselves stalked by the mall’s state of the art robot security guards, rendered homicidal by a lightning storm (“Kilbots,” as the film’s original title described them). In the film’s finale, its final girl, Alison, lures its final kilbot into a paint store where it gets trapped in a pool of paint thinner. She throws a flair, which responds to the ubiquitous toxic chemicals and explodes her rival. In the history of the world, this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in a paint store. Kelli Maroney, who plays Alison, also starred in the hugely memorable sci-fi/comedy shopping extravaganza Night of the Comet (1984). She plays a valley girl who responds to the news that she has miraculously survived the destruction of humanity by raiding the mall to the tune of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
4. Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989)
Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge is the great unsung mall horror movie, unfairly overshadowed by Chopping Mall, possibly because of its lame and inexplicable subtitle. An evil corporation burns down Eric’s house, with him inside, in order to build a shiny new mall with a professional piano player and an underground labyrinth. During the mall’s grand opening ceremony, Eric makes a mask out of a mannequin’s face and seeks bloody revenge on his killers and his girlfriend, who dared to get a job at the mall like all of the other lemmings. Along the way he impales Morgan Fairchild, the town mayor, while she wears a sequined gown. Pauly Shore plays a frozen yogurt clerk, the perfect job for him! This mall horror flick is unique in that it takes place during the mall’s business hours, sending shivers down viewers’ spines by imparting the knowledge that it’s never safe to shop.
5. Needful Things (1993)
Satan comes to the small town of Castle Rock disguised as Max Von Sydow. He opens a store that carries everything that its occupants most desire (i.e. a valuable baseball card for a kid; the high school jacket that an aging sad sack wore when he was happy). Of course, they pay with their souls. Satan asks his shoppers to play nasty little pranks on each other, and eventually the town is at war. Anybody who remembers stories about people running each other over to get the last Tickle Me Elmo on Christmas will realize that Needful Things, based on a novel by Stephen King, doesn’t stray far from life’s truths.
6. Invitation to Hell (1984)
In this early Wes Craven TV movie, a sweet family moves to suburban California so that dad can start a promising career at the subtly named Micro-Digitech corporation. All of their neighbors pester them to join the Steaming Springs Country Club, headed by the irresistibly glamorous yet overbearing Jessica Jones (Susan Lucci). Dad, creeped out by Jessica’s persistence, opts out of joining the club. However, mom and the kids (one of whom is played by Soleil “Punky Brewster” Moon Frye) take part. Slowly, dad begins to notice changes in their behavior. Mom becomes unusually wild in the bedroom, Punky begins speaking with demon voice, and, most prominently, Jessica demands that the family go shopping for all new, high chic black and white ‘80s furniture. Only then do we know that Jessica Jones is The Devil, and that the Steaming Springs Country Club is a doorway to hell. Havoc involving a spacesuit, lasers, and lots of dry ice is wrought as dad tries to save his family from evil Reaganite excess.
7. Hide and Go Shriek (1988)
There’s just something creepy about furniture stores. All of those unoccupied bedroom sets and living room layouts in one space just reek of…loss. A group of foolish teenagers decide to have their graduation party in a huge furniture store after business hours. The usual sex, booze, and party games ensue. During an erotic game of hide and go seek, the nubile ones learn that they’re being stalked by an androgynous serial killer who likes to wear the clothes of his victims (victims aren’t the only ones who like to shop!)
8. Hellraiser (1987)
Unlike many of the movies on this list, Hellraiser does not take place in a shopping destination or have a lengthy shopping sequence. However, the entire Hellraiser saga would never have begun if Uncle Frank hadn’t perused a flea market and come across a strange, beautiful puzzle box. Frank’s shopping trip creates unspeakable terror for everybody in his entire family, much like when one’s uncle brings home a karaoke machine. The Hellraiser series returns to the theme of horrific shopping in the trashy but fun Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992), in which a sleazy nightclub owner unleashes cenobite wraith once again by buying the infamous Hellraiser sculpture at a trendy New York gallery.
9. The Mist (2007)
Small town supermarkets suck because you run into everybody you know there, and then you have to make small talk about their kids. Even when you don’t get trapped in the store by overwhelming mist that contains squid-like beasts, grocery shopping always takes much longer than originally intended. So imagine how the small town folks in The Mist feel. They must decide which is more harrowing: Bloodthirsty monsters, suburban inter-personal dynamics, or the religious fanatic musings of Marcia Gay Harden. All come together in a highly effective, claustrophobic shocker.
10. Intruder (1989)
Working at a supermarket can prove just as perilous as shopping at one. A group of after hours stockers discover this when they find a maniacal serial killer stalking them amidst the boxes of Lucky Charms. Writer-director Scott Spiegel (co-writer of Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn) and writer-producer Lawrence Bender keep tongues firmly in cheek without sacrificing scares, suspense, or (particularly) gore. They have a blast taking advantage of all the weaponry found in your average supermarket, like butcher knives, meat hooks, and, most memorably, a meat slicer. Look out for cameos by Ted and Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell!
11. Elves (1989)
Where to begin? Kristen’s grandfather is a former Nazi who, in collaboration with a gang of neo-Nazis, has created a genetically engineered elf that must impregnate Kristen in order to bring back the supremacy of The Third Reich. He buried the elf in the woods behind his house when he realized that the child it created with Kristen would be the Antichrist, who would then take over the world. Kristen and her friends hold a witch-y ceremony in said woods and unleash the elf, before breaking in to a local department store to have a slumber party. The elf kills the department store Santa and any others he comes across. Santa is replaced by a chain-smoking drunk (played by Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty), who seeks to solve the previous Santa’s murder. Grandpa and the neo-Nazis come to the department store to kill the elf, and the elf still wants to mate with Kristen to sire the Antichrist. Oh, also, Kristen’s younger brother wants to sleep with her as well. An inspirational Christmas classic.
12. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)
Mickey Rooney, who protested the original Silent Night, Deadly Night in 1984, plays a devious toy maker (and abusive father). He sells killer playthings like army figures that shoot real ammo, a face sucking Santa Claus, and fake hands that actually crawl. A little boy watches his stepfather succumb to the hungry Santa toy, and renounces toys forever. His mom, Sarah, tries to help him get over it by bringing him back to Mickey’s shop. Like many, she fails to realize that, sometimes, shopping is not the solution to all of life’s problems! Eventually, Mickey’s “living severed hand toy” stimulates a man with its finger while he makes love to his girlfriend, a robot tries to copulate with Sarah while moaning “I love you, mommy!,” and Rooney goes ballistic while wearing a Santa suit. Somewhere, Judy Garland is watching, smoking, and laughing.
13. Army of Darkness (1992)
Surprisingly, given the ubiquity and general oppression of Wal-Mart and its ilk, Army… is one of the few horror movies about discount superstores. After surviving Evil Dead II, Ash finds himself working at S-Mart, in housewares. He enters a time warp and ends up in the Middle Ages, where he comes upon a castle haunted by many evils. The citizens call him the prophet who can save the kingdom by finding the Necromonicon. Unfortunately, when he finds the book, he reads its magic words wrong and unleashes an army of the dead. The film’s truly grand finale takes place back at S-Mart, where Ash must confront one last demon, taking full advantage of the superstore’s diverse merchandise and the United States’ lenient gun control policies.