SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES: When Slashers Became Absurd
By Nick Cato
With a poster blurb like that (not to mention the artwork), what horror fan wouldn’t be lured into the theater in less than a second? And in 1982, my gang of high school freshman gorehounds and I hit the (you guessed it—now defunct) Rae Twin Cinema (where waiting in line to get in was often scarier than the film you were waiting to see: an adjacent OTB was often the scene of fights, ticked-off, bottle-tossing losers and drug deals gone awry).
You’ve heard of a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie? Well, PIECES is a “so-bad-it’s-mind-boggling-awesome!” masterpiece.
Some poor eight-year-old’s mother finds his puzzle of a naked woman (and his stash of porn magazines hidden in his toy chest), but instead of throwing them out, the nag burns them right in front of the poor, young perv. Furious, the kid decides his mother has earned herself an axe in the head and wastes no time making his dream a reality. To say the audience went wild with laughter and gasps is an understatement.
In following the traditional slasher-film pattern, the movie then flash forwards forty years (to 1983), where there’s been a string of murders on a college campus. Some psycho has been chain-sawing female victims, taking different parts from each one and leaving a string of amputees. Christopher George (you’ve seen him in Fulci’s CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD (1980), as well as 1981′s GRADUATION DAY), Frank Brana, and Christopher’s wife, Linda Day George, all play detectives and head an all-star trash film cast, including Paul Smith of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978) and CRIMEWAVE (1985), and Jess Franco alumni Jack Taylor. The nearly-inept screenplay was co-written by Dick Randall, who was responsible for a bunch of EMANUELLE and kung-fu films.
Oh yes, there’s also a host of cute college girls who get chainsawed and sliced & diced with more nudity than your average genre outing. PIECES—as another poster blurb states—is “Exactly What You think It Is!” The film never hid the fact that it was simply an excuse to show excessive gore, and as a young gorehound, I was in my glory here, especially when the camera didn’t cut away during one kill scene where we actually see a chainsaw cut through a victim’s mid-section. While I didn’t find this sequence too entertaining during a recent DVD viewing, it sent me into a state of gorehound glee when viewed at this 1982 opening night screening. With the exception of 1970’s THE WIZARD OF GORE (which I wouldn’t see until a few years after this, thanks to VHS), no other horror film (including the original version of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) actually showed the audience something this graphic before.
To be honest, PIECES is an awful, pointless mess of a movie, existing only to exploit gore and nudity: (i.e. it’s a teenage-boy’s-night-out type of film—and being a teenaged boy at the time, it was right up my alley!).
So while modern viewers can forget about any kind of story here, they can still thrill to Linda Day George—after she is too late to save a victim—scream the word “Bastard!” about 5 times in a row, in what could easily qualify for the worst piece of dialogue and acting ever committed to celluloid. They can also have fun trying to figure out how the killer is able to sneak a 2-foot long chainsaw onto a tiny elevator simply by hiding it behind his back, right in front of his next victim (despite its ridiculousness, the scene is actually quite claustrophobic and cringe-worthy).
And next to the gore and nudity, the creators of PIECES also thought it’d be good to feature a bizarre foot fetish scene, a wacky karate instructor, a killer who dresses like he’s in a serious Giallo film and some scared girl peeing her pants. (I should mention here that Italian exploitation/porn film icon Joe D’Amato was one of the three screenwriters…if his name’s unfamiliar, Google him—but don’t say I didn’t warn you).
Spoiler Alert! This Spanish-shot film (that tries to fool audiences into thinking this is all happening somewhere in America) has one of the most ridiculous endings next to THE MUTILATOR (1985). It seems our killer (GASP!) happens to be the boy who had his porno puzzle burned 40 years earlier (making him one of the oldest slashers in horror film history), and has been busy building a human body puzzle from his freshly-cut victims (so those of you who thought MAY (2002) was original, sur-prise!) This half-baked film then concludes with the freshly-stitched female Frankenstein coming to life and ripping some poor guy’s manhood off. Yowch…
They just don’t make ‘em like PIECES anymore.
For grindhouse fiends, that’s sad news. For serious cinephiles, that’s a blessing. Either way, PIECES is one slasher film that no one who sees it ever forgets…and that’s saying something.
© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato