Directed by Juan Piquer Simón.
Starring Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Jack Taylor, Frank Braña, Edmund Purdom, Paul Smith, and Ian Sera.
A killer stalks a college campus looking for victims so he can use their body parts to make a human jigsaw.
One of the better 1980s slasher movies to not get a sequel (although there is still time), Pieces is a Spanish production that followed in the wake of Friday the 13th, The Burning, My Bloody Valentine, et al but became notorious amongst savvy genre audiences for being more gruesome, bloody and downright sleazy than those previous movies. Naturally, the fully uncut version didn’t appear until relatively recently – within the last decade, in fact – and despite putting it out on DVD back in 2011, the wizards at Arrow Video have now unleashed the film on a limited edition Blu-ray, and if that wasn’t enough to make your juices flow then get ready – it’s a 4K transfer with a ton of extras plus you get the soundtrack CD (or vinyl, if you’re lucky enough to snap one up). An absolute treat to be sure, but does a 35-year-old second-tier slasher really warrant such a lavish package? You bet it does.
Taking a structural cue from the Italian gialli of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Pieces begins with a young boy putting together a jigsaw of a naked woman in the privacy of his bedroom when his mother walks in and admonishes him for being “just like his father”. The boy returns the compliment by splitting his mother’s head open with an axe and then proceeding to work away on the rest of her limbs, but when the police show up he hides in the cupboard and pleads innocence.
Fast forward 40 years and a college campus is the scene of several grisly murders where the female victims’ limbs have been severed with a chainsaw. The police, led by dogged detective Lieutenant Bracken (Christopher George – City of the Living Dead/The Exterminator), investigate but the list of possible suspects is fairly long so, with no break in the case, they plant a female colleague as a new teacher to lure the killer out before he can create the next piece of his human puzzle.
Which is a plot worthy of a classic Argento or Bava giallo but what Pieces has that those movies doesn’t is a total lack of self-control and a willingness to throw everything into the mix to see what happens, resulting in a finished movie that is gorier than its mainstream US contemporaries, more bonkers than anything else coming out of Europe and, bizarrely, one of the most entertaining low-budget horror movies to come out of the video nasty era, albeit entertaining for possibly all the wrong reasons.
Broken down into its individual parts, Pieces is actually a lot stronger than a lot of ‘80s slashers; the acting from the main cast is pretty good, with Christopher George and his real-life wife Lynda Day George proving to be very solid leads and definitely the best performers in the film. Veteran actor Jack Taylor (The Ninth Gate/Conan the Barbarian) appears as Professor Brown, a possible suspect, and is a little underused but his presence is felt throughout, as is Edmund Purdom (Absurd) as the Dean of the college, with both actors being memorable whilst having to deliver some dodgy dialogue. But that is the main cast and when none of those characters are on the screen then the film starts to edge towards total silliness as the supporting actors are pretty much all terrible, something that isn’t helped by some dreadful dubbing. However, terrible can be fun if done with a sense of sheer abandonment and Pieces does deliver with some hilariously bad appearances by Bruce Le, for no other reason than he was working with producer Dick Randall on another film at the time, who gets to utter a dreadful line about “Bad chop suey”, and there is also Paul Smith as college maintenance man Willard, another suspect and, for some reason, played by Smith as if he were auditioning for the role of Bluto in a Popeye movie as the big bear of a man snarls and leers with one eye opened wider than the other for all of his scenes.
But it is with the amount of gratuitous blood and tits that Pieces sells itself on and there are topless women and flying limbs everywhere to keep the most hardened of gorehounds satiated. Thanks to the wonder of HD the effects do look even more hokey than they did way back in 1982 but that just adds to the films exploitation charm, and even for a slasher movie with a meagre $300,000 budget they still have the desired effect and are presented a lot better than some of the gags from higher budget movies. One kill in particular has a terrified and topless young woman fighting for her life in the college showers as the crazed killer comes at her with the revving chainsaw, and although the kill itself is fairly underwhelming and obviously not a real person, the aftermath is shown in a disgusting but well done quick shot that probably ate up most of the budget but is all the more memorable for it.
If you are predisposed to low-budget trash from the era then Pieces is a no-brainer as it has all of the ingredients that you need for a boozy horror movie marathon with a few mates and the remote control handy so you can rewind and watch the gags all over again. The plot itself is pretty thin but serviceable, although it is the execution (!) that makes it such a joy to sit through. The tonal shift between the main characters playing it all very seriously and the bit-part actors seemingly taking the piss isn’t as distracting as you would expect and all adds to the fun. The 4K transfer looks fantastic, the bright fluorescent colours of 1980s college clothes requiring sunglasses to look at and, of course, the lurid reds of all the bodily fluids squirting about are all the more striking in HD. The disc contains both the US version and the original Spanish version of the film, and although it is almost always best to view these movies in their original language the US version is the funnier one to watch as the Spanish script is translated almost literally and gives us such gems as the aforementioned “…chop suey” line and other great quotes of insightfulness such as “The killer is someone that is either on or near the campus!”. None of the extras have been transported over from the old DVD but new for this release there is an audio commentary from the guys at The Hysteria Continues podcast and if the film wasn’t daft enough already then this is well worth playing along with it, and there is also a featurette with various filmmakers offering up their appreciation of the movie, a new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo, newly commissioned artwork and new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold, so if that doesn’t peak your interest then perhaps you are already dead inside because even without the new supplementary features Pieces is still one of the most enjoyably entertaining splatter movies from an era when being dour and gritty was the order of the day. And with all of the extras that Arrow have thrown in for your delectation, then this jam-packed and gorgeous Blu-ray is something of an essential purchase. Just don’t go expecting high art because, as previously mentioned, Pieces is great but not necessarily for all the right reasons.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★