Sunday, March 17, 2013


"You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!"

Pieces (1982) is an incredibly fun and extremely trashy film, soaked in gore and teaming with sleaze.  It's the very definition of a crowd pleaser and I absolutely love it.  Sure, it doesn't make sense half the time, it has awkward overdubbing and weird dialogue, but when it rips and roars, it never fails to entertain.

Hailing from Spain, Pieces was made to cash in on the American slasher craze of the 1980s, but owes a lot of its style and mystery elements to the Italian giallo films of the 60s and 70s, which in turn themselves were part of the inspiration for their American slasher cousins.  Pieces, I guess then, would be the strange ouroboros of slasher films.  (I considered going into deeper detail and explanation on slasher and giallo films for those that aren't familiar, but I'm feeling lazy, so just go HERE and HERE for more information.  We'll meet back up here later).
Pieces opens in Boston, 1942, as a young boy named Timmy is alone in his room playing with an erotic puzzle.  When his mother finds him, she go ballistic, smacking him, smashing his mirror, and yelling for him to "go get a bag for all this trash."  Instead, Timmy comes back with an axe and proceeds to smash her skull in.  He then grabs a saw and cuts her head off.  Timmy is seriously disturbed, but he knows to play the "some big guy did it" game when the police and a concerned family friend show up.

Flash-forward 40 years later and a deranged psycho is slicing up co-eds with a chainsaw on a college campus.  The lead detectives on the case, Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) and Sgt. Holden (Frank Braña), have their work cut out for them, as almost everybody seems to be a suspect, and bodies keep piling up all over campus (minus a few parts).

They decide to bring in a young policewoman (and former tennis pro), Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George), to go undercover on campus, posing as (naturally) the new tennis instructor.  There are plenty of suspects and red herrings alike, including brutish groundsman Willard (Paul L. Smith), fey and wormy Professor Brown (Jack Taylor), the fastidious Dean (Edmund Purdom), and Kendall (Ian Sera), a student at the school who is also quite the ladies man.
Ladies and gentlemen...your suspects!
Most of the time things happen and it's not made very clear why.  After the 1942 opening, we get a comical scene of a girl named Ginnie riding her skateboard down the city street, oblivious to the pair of movers carrying a giant mirror right in front of her on the sidewalk.  She smashes into the mirror, but in the very next scene she is totally okay.  She's hanging out, laying in the grass and studying, before the killer shows up and cuts her head off with a chainsaw (complete with a perfect gush of blood from the neck). Apparently, the mirror smashing is the event that incites the killer's rampage and he kills Ginnie some days after the incident, but the way the scenes are cut together it is almost impossible to interpret that any time has elapsed between them.  Pieces main plan of attack on viewers seems to be a dual effort to both confuse and shock.

The most (in)famous WTF-scene in Pieces is later in the movie, when tennis prolicewoman Mary is out walking around by herself at night and is suddenly attacked by a Bruce Lee impersonator (actual Bruce Lee impersonator, Bruce Le) doing all these kung fu moves on her.  It's of course a misunderstanding, as Kendall shows up on his motorbike, explaining "it's my kung-fu professor.  What's the story, Chow?"  Chow's response is both amazing and confusing:  "I am out jogging and next thing I know, I am on ground.  ...Something I eat, bad chop suey.  So long!"
That is but one example of the weird dialogue exchanged in this film.  One sultry student is heard bragging to her classmates, "the most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a the same time."  Lt. Bracken has a detailed theory that "the killer is either someone on or near the campus," while Sgt. Holden makes this attempt at a hard boiled analogy: "We're just out buying clothes without labels and trying them on for size."

The most memorable and best line delivered in the movie is actually a single word screamed three times by Mary in a moment of ultimate frustration, after discovering yet another of the killer's victims.  I'll just let Mrs. Lynda Day George speak her mind:

The original Spanish language title of the film is Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche (translates as "One Thousand Cries has the Night"), which, while being a cool title, doesn't really describe the film very well.  As is, Pieces definitely lives up to its name and reputation and it's easy to allow the film's technical issues to be forgiven, as the pace and sheer intensity of the film never let up and doesn't give you time to consider some of the absurdities (how did he get that chainsaw on the elevator unnoticed?).

The stalking and chase scenes are fairly well done, with excellent cat-and-mouse pacing.  The stalking that leads to the murder on the waterbed is one of the best in the movie, taking some obvious visual cues from the Italian giallos, such as the high contrast and colored lighting and by using slo-mo.  Also, the violence is more operatic in this scene than, say, in the elevator or bathroom stall murders, which, while shockingly violent and gory, don't approach any sort of aesthetic artfulness in their execution.

The killer's outfit is also very giallo inspired, with black gloves, long trench coat, and a brimmed hat that obscures the face.  It's quite the stylish look, one that invokes mystery and menace, and can be directly traced to back to the killers in Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975).
The special effects are rather accomplished, especially for a low budget film.  All the stops were pulled and seemingly no ounce of blood was spared.  In the previously mentioned bathroom stall murder, a pig carcass was used for a closeup shot of the saw tearing through flesh.  It's remarkably effective.  The violence in this film has been accused of being misogynist, but there isn't any underlying hatefulness going on in any of the murder scenes, just over the top excess.  The lack of hateful feeling is what keeps Pieces an enjoyable viewing experience.

The moody synth score adds a lot to the enjoyment of Pieces as well.  It was included for the US and Italian release of the film and was performed by Carlo Maria Cordio, who also scored Aenigma (1987), Touch of Death (1988), Sonny Boy (1989), and cult-classic Troll 2 (1990).  The original score (which is available on the Grindhouse Releasing DVD) was taken from the Italian CAM (Creazoni Artistiche Musicali) music library (credited to Librado Pastor).  Comparatively, it is a fairly boring score, with a repetitious piano melody.  It's a good thing they switched it up for the international release.  (There's also this disco gem used during a very '80s aerobics scene).
Pretty much everyone who worked behind the camera on Pieces would work with director Juan Piquer Simón on many of his other (lesser) films, which include The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth (1977), Mystery on Monster Island (1980), Slugs: The Movie (1988), The Rift (1990), and Cthulhu Mansion (1992).  His 1983 movie, The Pod People, would be featured in a classic Season 3 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

One of the writers of the film, Joe D'Amato (going under the alias John W. Shadow), was a prolific Italian filmmaker who directed 200 films, many of those explotiation-stlyle pornography (soft and hardcore).  His non-porno credits include Beyond the Darkness (1979) and Anthropophagous (1980).
Christopher George is a B-movie icon, with his deadpan manner and macho attitude.  He would star in William Girdler's Grizzly (1976) and Day of the Animals (1977), Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead (1980), as well as The Exterminator (1980), Graduation Day (1981), Enter the Ninja (1981), and Mortuary (1983), which would be his last film.  He would die of a heart attack (complicated by his smoking habit) shortly after completing that film.  Interesting fact: his niece is Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White.

Lynda Day George was married to Christopher George for 14 years.  She would star alongside him in Day of the Animals and Mortuary (amongst others) and would also star in the possession film Beyond Evil (1980) with John Saxon.  She also had an extensive career in television, most notably as Lisa Casey on Mission: Impossible.  In Pieces, her character of Mary Riggs is supposed to be a modern multi-talented woman, but Lynda Day George isn't very convincing as a policewoman, and she's even less convincing as a tennis player (there's one very stiff and awkward scene where she plays a round of tennis, the actress playing her opponent not knowing how to play either).
Edmund Purdom was a classically trained actor who never broke through in Hollywood, so he moved to Italy in the 1960s and started a long career in television, voice dubbing work, and in B-movies.  He would star in such films as Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974), Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982, directed by Pieces writer, Joe D'Amato), 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983), and the Santa-slasher, Don't Open Till Christmas (1984), which would also be his sole directorial credit.

The big and burly Paul L. Smith is best known as portraying Bluto in Robert Altman's Popeye (1980), but he's also been in genre fare like Dune (1984), Crimewave and Red Sonja (both 1985), Haunted Honeymoon (1986), Gor (1987), and Sonny Boy (1989).  There's an extensive and entertaining interview with him on the previosuly mentioned DVD release, where he talks about everything from Otto Preminger and the Six-Days War in Israel to David Lynch and Dom DeLuise.  In Pieces, it seems he is constantly making this face:
Like a lot of directors, Juan Piquer Simón had his repertoire of actors (i.e. buddies that would be in his movies) that he would regularly use.  Frank Braña was his DeNiro; they collaborated on a total of 9 films.  Jack Taylor worked with Simón a couple times and has an dense filmography that extends from Jess Franco (Eugenie [1970], Female Vampire [1974]) to Roman Polanski (The Ninth Gate [1999]).  Ian Sera doesn't have much of a filmography outside of his films with Simón and if he's known at all today, he's known as either the-guy-who-gets-the-raw-deal-at-the-end-of-Pieces or the "It stinks!" guy from The Pod People.

Speaking of the ending to Pieces, it is something that can only be described as bat-shit crazy.  It's a jawdropper that comes completely out of left-field and has to be seen to be believed.  It will grab you.

Final Thought:  "Pieces.  It's exactly what you think it is!"  So see it already.

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