Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pieces (1982) review


Christopher George (Inspector Bracken), Edmund Purdom (Dean Fowley), Linda Day George (Mary Riggs), Ian Sera (Kendall), Paul Smith (Willard), Frank Brana (Sgt. Holden), Jack Taylor (Professor Brown)

Directed by J. P. Simon (Juan Piquer Simon)

***WARNING! This review contains pictures of nudity and graphic violence. Absolutely no one under 17 permitted to read this review***

In Boston, 1942, a young boy is caught by his mother putting together a puzzle that features the completely naked frame of a beautiful woman. The mother gets hysterical and demands the boy bring her a garbage bag to burn everything in his room. Instead, the boy returns with an axe that he promptly places in his mothers skull. He then takes to her body with a saw(!). The police find the body hiding in his closet and his mothers severed head in the adjoining closet. Forty years later, gruesome chainsaw murders are taking place on a college campus. The killer takes certain pieces corresponding with the pieces of a puzzle featuring a naked woman; the same puzzle from 40 years prior.

Without doubt one of the trashiest, most misogynistic movies ever to unspool onto a celluloid screen. The film itself looks grimy oozing a cancerous aura that extends to the numerous scenes of sadistic violence and extreme gore. If ever a movie epitomized the term 'sleaze', it's PIECES (1982). What's even more perplexing is that this nasty little film is directed by the same man responsible for the kid friendly monster flicks, THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976) and MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1980).

In his defense, Simon does show some flair in a few scenes but fumbles the ball much of the time. However, Juan P. Simon states that the script was written in such a way to defy logic and believability lacking any form of coherency. There are also anachronisms present in the opening sequence from 1942 such as the touch tone phone and the use of plastic bags.

In addition to the heavy dosage of sadism and flagrant nudity, there's a lot of incessantly stupid actions on the part of the actors. The often times ridiculous dubbed dialog re-enforces the overall nonsensicalness of the whole thing. The tennis scene is a riot as it's easily apparent neither Linda Day nor her "opponent" are skilled at all in the sport. The two barely move, remaining stationary, or the same reaction shot is repeated over several times.

When the killer traps his intended victim, no one seems to ever hear the loud roar of a chainsaw carving up a screaming woman on the college campus. The most gruesome of the killings involves one of the tennis players seen earlier. This sequence is possibly the most skillfully directed scene in the entire picture. The girl is practicing alone when the loud speakers suddenly explode into music. She heads for the showers and afterwards (Simon makes sure to take advantage of a shower scene here) the killer pursues her through the locker room.

Meanwhile, Mary and Kendall are outside curious why the speakers have been turned on. The girl runs into the bathroom and the killer follows sawing his way through the door (there's even a shot of the poor girl pissing her pants) then cutting the screaming girl in half. The effect of the girl being bisected was accomplished by severing a dead pig in half.

Most all the other kill scenes are shot without any attempt at logic or rationality. Shortly after the graphic display of matricide at the opening, the killer rather lackadaisically decapitates a young female student in broad daylight. Another scene has the killer enter an elevator with his intended quarry. How he is able to get into the elevator with a chainsaw behind his back with said implement virtually unnoticed is mind boggling in the extreme.

Another crowning moment of WTF? is a brief scene depicting Linda Day walking alone at night when she is suddenly attacked by a Chinese man attempting to kick her in the head before summarily falling over onto the ground. Ian Serra (Kendall) appears on a dirt bike and says, "Hey, it's my kung fu professor. What's the story, Chow?" The Chinese man is played by Hong Kong Bruceploitation star, Bruce Le. He had done several pictures for producer Dick Randall like BRUCE, THE SUPERHERO (1979) and CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (1980) also starring trash film actor, Richard Harrison.

With all the wacky shenanigans and disgusting displays of violence, the ending of PIECES (1982) is one of the most shocking and amazingly daft endings in cinema history. It's a truly out-of-left-field moment. Ian Sera, who plays Kendall, discovers what the killer was doing with all the various body parts. He was grafting his own "body puzzle" using the women as his ghastly canvas. Kendall is about to exit the scene when he stops to retrieve his coat. As he puts on his jacket, the arm of the cadaver reaches up from underneath the blanket and grabs him right square between his legs and rips his member off. Kendall's blood curdling screams cue a freeze frame of his face as the film ends.

While this ending makes absolutely no sense at all, it goes hand in bloody hand with every other bit of baffling behavior and circumstance seen prior. However, there is another way to read this scene. Since Kendall fancies himself a ladies man, attempting to bed down every girl he comes into contact with, many of those same girls end up as victims of the maniac. By removing him of his most prized possession, the women have gotten some twisted form of reparation for his promiscuity.

Christopher George stars as Inspector Bracken, the officer on the murder case. George doesn't have a whole lot to do here but this film afforded him another opportunity to star alongside his wife, Linda Day George. The two had appeared opposite each other on many occasions on both television and film throughout the late 60's leading up to Chris's death in 1983 from a heart attack. Linda had passed on the chance to star with her husband in Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) but accepted the job on Juan P. Simon's film.

George stated that she was told this was a mystery thriller and only found out after shooting had begun what type of picture PIECES (1982) was. Even still, regardless of George's disdain for having appeared in the movie, she shot an additional day of filming after her time was up and did it without complaint or pay.

Shot over the course of five weeks in a mansion in Madrid subbing for Boston, Simon was pressed to utilize his limited funds to there fullest potential creating scenes as he went along. Another uncomfortable aspect of the film is the mixing of sex and death, or more explicitly, nudity and violent death. The camera lovingly (or tastelessly, depending on your point of view) parades over the numerous curvaceous frames in the film. Several of the victims are naked when they are killed. The pretty girl who is half naked in the pool, is stalked by the killer. He uses a net to remove her from the pool. He then grabs his chainsaw and placing it outward in front of his waist, he slowly approaches the half naked girl in a fashion that would suggest both rape and graphic murder.

There are also several scenes in which the killer stalks his prey before he kills them. He follows the women around watching them in a voyeuristic fashion. Obviously, the madman's purposes are not for sexual gratification in the traditional sense, but he derives some form of contentment from the savage dismemberment and devastation of his victims. The young tennis player that is chased into the bathroom is topless when she is killed. The image is carried even further when the corpse is discovered and the naked and bisected torso of the girl is shown explicitly.

While it's often referred to as a slasher movie, in my opinion, it straddles the lines between a slasher and a giallo picture. The murder scenes in giallo's were often shot in an elaborate, or ornately disturbing way lending the violence an air of twisted "beauty". This element is evident during the water bed murder. The killer (who also wears a dark trenchcoat, hat and gloves) slaughters a woman on top of a water bed. During the struggle, the bed is punctured as she is stabbed about her upper torso, the water now a crimson color. The woman attempts to escape, but the maniac stabs her in the back of the head, the knife protruding from her mouth. The scene alternates between normal speed and slow motion adding another dimension to what little artistic merit the film possesses. There are also a handful of red herrings, another plot point of the giallo genre.

What with the killer taking certain pieces of his victims, the thought is that someone with knowledge of the human body would be the madman. Professor Brown, in charge of the anatomy department is one of the chief suspects. Brown is played by American actor, Jack Taylor. Anyone familiar with horror movies from Spain, particularly the films of Paul Naschy will instantly recognize Taylor's face.

Another American actor, Paul Smith, is the brutish gardner, Willard. He, too, is a major suspect. Smith more or less purposely wants the audience to assume he is the murderer. Some of the deaths show him exiting a door near the location of the crime usually brandishing some kind of bladed weapon. One amusing scene has the police just naturally assuming he's the guy. The cops all jump him at one time allowing for a brawl. Smith has a ball tossing and beating the hell out of the cops till Frank Brana puts a gun to the back of his head.

Frank Brana is another instantly recognizable face to fans of Spanish horror and most especially, Italian westerns. His face adorns countless spaghetti westerns from the Leone movies to numerous low budget quickies. He doesn't do a whole lot here except follow Chris George around or sit behind a desk. His one big scene is the above mentioned fight with Paul Smith.

Edmund Purdom was an actor of some repute at one time but like so many others, he toiled in films considered to be of lesser quality for a good number of years. Some of the more forgettable movies from his lower ebb are FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1974), RULERS OF THE CITY (1976), ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE (1982) and INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD (1982).

I remember seeing the trailer as a kid on TV back in 1983 and wanting to go to the theater (it was playing in town) to see the flick out of curiosity. When I finally did see it, my dad had rented the film along with BLOOD FEAST (1963) and what a double dose of gore goulash that was. Nobody is ever going to confuse PIECES (1982) as a 'piece' of classic horror cinema, but more of a 'classick' of the nauseating kind of dirty filth that dominated the exploitation cinema chains in the big cities and drive ins across the US. The over the top zaniness, the illogical actions of the characters coupled with the disturbing violence makes for a great slice of entertaining trash if you enjoy that sort of thing. Among its ilk, PIECES (1982) is definitely a unique experience.

This review is representative of the Grindhouse Releasing 2 disc DVD.
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