Saturday, 3 October 2009

Pieces (1982)

Nah, ain't nothing suspicious about that guy.

First of all, let's get this out of the way: Pieces is not a good film. You first clue would be the cover, which features an enormous chainsaw hovering over the corpse of a half-clothed woman and the tag-line "You don't have to go all the way to Texas for a chainsaw massacre." Well no, but you might have to go all the way to Spain, those photos of Reagan and American flags plastered all over the sets aren't fooling anybody. The director of this film is that crazy Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón, the same guy who brought us the ridiculous animal-attack film Slugs. Like that film, Pieces features terrible dubbing, deranged performances, numerous continuity errors and plot holes and is generally so jaw-droppingly awful that it's an absolute blast to watch.

1942, Boston. A young boy is entertaining himself with a nudie jigsaw puzzle when his mother walks in and loses her shit. She starts ransacking his room for pornography and tells him to "fetch a plastic bag of which to discard and burn these smutty puzzle pieces, stupid". He must get confused (understandable, since plastic bags haven't been invented yet) because he comes back with an axe and plunges it into her skull. Then it's out with the hacksaw, and by the time the police arrive (and their response time is quite impressive considering there has been no indication of suspicious behaviour whatsoever) she's lying in pieces on the floor and he's cowering in the closet claiming a stranger broke in and splattered his mother all over the room. What can I say, the kid loves his porn.

Forty years later at an unspecified university, after witnessing a retarded college girl ride her skateboard right into an 8 foot mirror, the killer's thirst for murder has reawakened. Donning a hat, trenchcoat and some giallo-esque black gloves, he fondles his beloved jigsaw puzzle before grabbing an enormous chainsaw and heading out to make a jigsaw puzzle of his own. The first victim is decapitated by his chainsaw while she is lying on a lawn in the middle of campus in broad daylight. Strangely nobody sees or hears a thing, although considering the students spend most of their time standing around exchanging pearls of wisdom like "The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time", it's not really surprising.

So who did it? There's the huge, bearded gardener Willard (Paul Smith) who happens to own exactly the same chainsaw as the killer. He acts so suspicious and crazy you know it can't be him, but damned if he doesn't steal every scene he's in. After one of the students is killed he wanders into the crime scene and when the cops try to question him he goes apeshit, throwing them around like rag dolls. I would watch an entire film about this guy. There's also the cold and aloof Professor Brown (Jack Taylor), who is extra-suspicious because of his child-molester moustache (or molestache). Or is it the overly-friendly dean? Or his secretary? Or one of the students? Well, subtract forty years from the ages of the suspects and the answer becomes pretty obvious, but you'll have to wait about 80 minutes for the police to reach the same conclusion.

The detectives assigned to this case are Lt. Bracken (the always fun to see Christopher George) and Sgt. Holden (Frank Braña, the guy who uttered the immortal line "You don't have the authority to declare happy birthday!" in Slugs). They aren't progressing particularly well (as Lt. Bracken puts it "We're just buying clothes without labels here, trying them on to see what fits") so they recruit the help of Kendall, a nerd who wears dorky sweaters and glasses but is inexplicably the campus stud. Hell, one girl in the library passes him a note that says "I want to know what it's like to fuck you underwater. Meet me at the pool." I guess he's gets so much ass that the note doesn't even register, so doesn't actually go to the pool, but the killer does. He drags her to the edge with a pool skimmer (lol) where she obligingly sits and waits until he can retrieve his chainsaw and add her torso to his collection.

They also enlist the help of Mary Riggs (Linda Day George) an undercover cop and famous tennis champ. You wouldn't think that would be a very good combination of professions, but here she's so deep undercover (as a tennis instructor, natch) that when she plays an exhibition match at the university her performance is laughably poor. Although Mary doesn't really do anything useful, she does provide a moment of WTF hilarity when when a random kung fu expert leaps out of the bushes and attacks her during a late-night stroll. Kendall shows up and reveals that it's just Chang, his "Kung Fu Professor" who, in a painful Charlie Chan accent, blames his violent outburst on "bad chop suey" before scurrying off into the night, never to be seen again. When Mary's tennis protege is chainsawed in the locker room, the noise masked by some mysterious music, Day George gives the most batshit insane performance I've ever seen in my life, screaming: "While we were out here fumbling with that music, the lousy bastard was killing her! BASTARD! BASTARD! BASTAAAAARD!"

The killings are rounded out by a disco-aerobics enthusiast who the murderer manages to kill by sneaking onto an elevator with a 2 foot chainsaw hidden behind his fucking back and a Daria-Nicolodi-esque nosy reporter who learns that getting penetrated on a water bed isn't all it's cracked up to be. The fact that all of the victims are pretty young women in various stages of undress (mostly the late stages) has given this film a reputation as being somewhat misogynistic. Well, womankind manage to get some measure of testicle-crushing revenge in the surprise ending, even if it makes no sense whatsoever.

Although this film is definitely in the slasher mold, it's Euro-horror influences shine through. Sometimes it feels kind of like a giallo, with the black gloved killer, the funky disco score, the sexualised killings and the way-better original title One Thousand Cries Has the Night (Mil Gritos tiene la noche). It's full of explicit gore, gratuitous nudity and it's just a whole lot trashier than your average slasher film, which shouldn't be surprising since it was co-written by Joe D'Amato. For example, a scene where a topless girl is menaced with a chainsaw is rendered even more tasteless by a gratuitous close-up of her crotch as she wets her pants. That's the kind of whole-hearted commitment to sleaze I can appreciate. Two severed limbs, way up.

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