“Pieces” — Two Great Taglines, One Bloody Mess-terpiece

Posted: August 23, 2009 in movies
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Original "Pieces" Movie Poster

Original "Pieces" Movie Poster

The obscure 1982 Spanish-lensed slasher “Pieces” (titled “Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche” in its home country) is blessed with two tag lines so good that no film deserves them both — “You Don’t Have To Go To Texas For A Chainsaw Massacre!” and “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!” And even though both statements are (how’s this for a rarity?) absolutely true, the fact is that it’s still tough to live up to a pair of slogans that frigging cool. “Pieces” gives it a good effort, though, and sometimes succeeds even in spite of itself.

“Pieces,” you see,  is a movie absolutely unconcerned with doing anything else apart from delivering the goods — the goods in this case being, of course, gut-churningly bloody mutilation and dismemberment in enormous quantity, with plenty of gratuitous nudity thrown into the mix to keep the audience in their seats even when no one is getting killed. In pursuit of that (some would say noble, I suppose) goal, director Juan Piquer Simon (“Cthulhu Mansion” and the MST3K favorite “Pod People,” among others) is willing to sacrifice anything and everything along the way—plot coherence, acting professionalism, basic safety standards, even any shred of dignity itself (upon finding out that one of his actresses got really petrified at the idea of a chainsaw in close pr0ximity to her—understandable enough—Simon had his chainsaw-wielding killer corner her, run the thing right up next to her, and filmed her  her literally pissing her pants with fear)  are all obstacles in the way of  giving the audience exactly what they’re paying for.

In a way, one can’t blame Simon and the other folks behind the scenes of “Pieces.” 1982 was, after all, the height of the slasher phenomenon, and to stand out amongst all the Michael- and Jason-inspired clones out there, you really had to up the ante, and “Pieces” sure does that. Even today the level of gore on display here is pretty damn shocking. The flick’s openly-noticeable lack of concern for anything apart from grotesque murder, though, almost undermines the sheer bloody-mindedness of their efforts, though—almost.

Our story begins in the early 1940s, when a young boy is assembling a jigsaw puzzle of a naked girl in his bedroom. He’s caught by his mother, though, who throws an absolute fit, demands he get rid of the thing immediately, accuses him of being exactly like his deadbeat, no-good father, and says she’ll be back in a minute to ransack through all his stuff and get rid of any other “filth” she finds. Upon her return, though, the boy decides he doesn’t like that idea so much and chops her to bits with an axe. When a neighbor lady arrives for a visit, the boy hides in the closet, and soon said neighbor and the police are calling on the phone (a touchtone in 1942?) and then barging in by force, whereupon they quickly find our precocious lad’s handiwork and, in short order, the boy himself, who tells them a man burst in and chopped his mother to bits while he hid himself away. They buy his story with no questions asked and arrange to turn him over to the care of some relatives.

Is your dresser decorated with one of these? The head of the killer's mom from "Pieces"

Is your dresser decorated with one of these? The head of the killer's mom from "Pieces"

Fast-forward 40 years and we’re at an unnamed college campus purportedly in the Boston (actually Madrid) area, where a young lady on a skateboard is completely unaware of the fact that a couple of movers up the block are hauling a large wall-sized mirror into their truck. She can’t stop her downhill momentum until it’s too late, though, and crashes into the glass, screaming and sending broken shards flying in every direction. Yes, folks, our killer is back in action! What’s that, you say? This has more the look or a totally random and tragic accident than any sort of premeditated killing? Well, that’s the kind of movie “Pieces” is— one where complete and utter happenstance is supposed to be taken as a part of a dastardly masterplan. It’s called “suspension of disbelief” and you, my friend, are just thinking too hard.

Soon we learn that our mystery murderer is, in fact, trying to complete his jigsaw puzzle from 40 years ago, only this time with real human body parts rather than cardboard segments. Who among the cast we are introduced to is our mystery maniac, though? The mild-mannered Dean of the college? Professor Brown, a homosexual anatomy teacher? Kendall (Ian Sera), the dorkiest ladies’ man you ever saw whose dates have a habit of winding up at the business end of the killer’s chainsaw? Willard the groundskeeper (portrayed by the great Paul Smith), a guy who loves to polish his sawblade and gives everyone the “evil eye” quite literally all of the time?

Does it really matter? Of course not, because “Pieces” never even makes the slightest effort to get us to give a damn about this purported little “mystery.” Instead, it’s doling out blood, boobs, and viscera by the bucketful. We’ve  got naked coeds sawed up at the side of swimming pools, cut in half inside elevators, sliced to—well—pieces on waterbeds, shred up in broad goddamn daylight in the middle of the park—anywhere you can kill somebody, our guy does it, and with a hell of a lot of gusto. He doesn’t care about making noise (why should he? This is evidently a college where the sound of a running chainsaw doesn’t attract much attention of any sort) or leaving a mess. He just wants to complete his puzzle by any and every means at hand.

The blood and guts are all of the “just picked this shit up at the slaughterhouse” variety, and like all abattoir-purchased gore they’re quite effective precisely because of their obvious cheapness. Fifty bucks at the butcher shop gets you a lot bigger—and better—selection of gory entrails than thousands paid to the best make-up and effects men has always been your host’s humble opinion. So kudos to Simon and the “Pieces” production team for not sparing in this department and giving us all the putrescence we can handle and then some.

While the gore is extremely well-realized, though, the same cannot be said of the investigation into the killings that becomes central to the movie’s “plot.” Our crack team of police professionals includes grizzled veteran Lt. Bracken (Christopher George of “City Of The Living Dead” and “The Exterminator,” among a million other B-movie credits), undercover agent/tennis pro Mary Riggs (George’s real-life wife, Lynda Day—who knew the cops had secret operatives working the women’s pro tennis tour?), and—the aforementioned super-poor-man’s Casanova Kendall, who Bracken instinctively trusts for no apparent reason to the point where he asks him to put his life on the line on numerous occasions and to “watch over” Mary while she’s working her undercover assignment on campus, and to whom he grants access to highly confidential police files and records without so much as a second thought. I know we hear a lot about police budget cuts and manpower shortages, but please!

Oh, wait, there I go, thinking again—and if there’s one thing you simply can’t afford to do if you want to “enjoy” this movie, it’s think.

Along the not-so-twisting-and-turning path of “mystery” that “Pieces” takes us on, we do get some truly great scenes, even if they’re all pretty unintentional. Lines like “the most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a  waterbed at the same time,” for instance, should be enshrined in movie history right up there with “here’s looking at you, kid.” And the English-language dubbing is so comically inept that the film can be watched a second (or tenth, or whatever) time through just for the entertainment value inherent in that alone. The plot holes are massive enough to drive an 18-wheeler through unscratched. A scene where the school’s “kung fu professor” (yes, you read that right) attacks Mary for no reason whatsoever and blames it on “bad chop suey” making him black out and lose his mind is more awesome than just about anything else ever filmed. Paul Smith is out of this world as the leering, psychotic-appearing Willard.   And like I’ve mentioned a million times already, the cheap gore is both plentiful and plenty sickening.

"Mr. Evil Eye" himself, Paul Smith, as Willard the groundskeeper, having a---ummm---"conversation" with the Dean

"Mr. Evil Eye" himself, Paul Smith, as Willard the groundskeeper, having a---ummm---"conversation" with the Dean

Our final verdict here, then, is that this is, indeed, exactly what you think it is. Certainly no more — clearly  nothing apart from producing the most extreme gorefest possible on pretty much no budget mattered one iota to Simon and company—but no less, either. “Pieces” is hardly a unique, original, or even particularly professional entry into the slasher oeuvre, but it sets itself one goal and one goal only and tears into it like a hungry dog with a raw steak — and you sort of can’t help but admire watching that play out in front of you.

And as for the ending—well, I’m not going to say a damn thing. I’m just not. You really have to  see it for yourself. About six times. And you still won’t understand what the fuck they were thinking. But hey—no less an authority than Eli Roth says it’s the greatest ending in movie history, so what do I know?

"Pieces" Double-Disc Set From Grindhouse Releasing

"Pieces" Double-Disc Set From Grindhouse Releasing

After being available for years only in a low-rent, direct-transfer-from-VHS, bare-bones DVD from Diamond, “Pieces” was released in a colossally cool two-disc set from Grindhouse Releasing late last year. In addition to a top-notch high-res digitally remastered anamorphic transfer, the set also boasts tons of lengthy, in-depth interviews with Paul Smith and Juan Piquer Simon, an original Spanish soundtrack  option with original score (the English-version score being composed entirely of library tracks), a massive set of productions stills and advertising poster art from around the world, a whole bunch of  hidden “easter eggs,” and, in lieu of a commentary track (whoch would, I admit, have been nice), we get a pretty cool soundtrack option Grindhouse labels “The Vine Theater Experience,” which is a live recording of a screening of the film at the Vine theater in Hollywood a few years back, and it’s a lot of fun to give it at least one listen and check out all the (5.1-mixed) audience reactions to what they’re seeing on the screen. And,  as a final added plus, there’s a great liner notes essay by legendary horror journalist Chas Balun. All in all, an extremely worthwhile addition to your exploitation DVD library.

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