Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: Juan Piquer Simon
Starring: Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Frank Brana, Edmund Purdom
Nowhere else in cinema can such a confluence of artistry, craft and ineptitude be found as in European horror. Stilted scriptwriting and storytelling, zoom-heavy camerawork and dodgy dubbing often combine with eye-popping production design, atmospheric scores and beautiful cinematography, which makes it difficult to assess whether the genre filmmakers of '70s/'80s Spain and Italy were mad geniuses or simply exploitative hacks. Most were probably a mix of both, which is why we got bonkers movies like Juan Piquer Simon's 1982 slasher Pieces.
Simon's gorefest came at the tail-end of the slasher boom, so he had plenty of time to study what makes the genre work, but Pieces is a slasher like no other, a bizarre cinematic experience that's often nonsensical, frequently inept, sometimes dazzling, and always watchable.
It opens, as is the norm for the genre, with a flashback of childhood trauma. In 1942 Boston, a young boy is reprimanded in over the top fashion by his mother when she discovers him assembling a jigsaw picture of a nude woman, whose very '80s hairdo is the first clue that attention to detail isn't one of Simon's priorities. Sick of her whinging, the boy picks up an axe and slaughters his Mom before slicing her up with a saw.
Cut to present day 1982, where a black-gloved figure begins to re-assemble said puzzle. When a college girl is decapitated by a chainsaw, and her head stolen by the killer, cops Bracken (Christopher George) and Holden (Frank Bana) arrive to investigate. When the killings continue, cop and tennis champion (!!!) Mary Riggs (Linda Day) is assigned to go undercover at the college to root out the murderer.
As the body parts pile up, so too do the suspects - creepy professor Brown (Jess Franco regular Jack Taylor), a vampiric Dean (Edmund Purdom), the giant janitor Willard (Paul Smith, best known as Bluto from Robert Altman's Popeye) and the college stud, Kendall (Ian Sera). Despite the opening sequence having established the killer as at least in his late forties by this point, the movie still posits the teenage Kendall as a suspect. We also know the killer is white, which makes a truly baffling appearance by an Asian martial arts professor one of the movie's most hilarious and head-scratching sequences.
The dialogue contains some knockout gems, from Holden promising to buy a colleague a "box of lollipops" to one of the unlikely Casanova Kendall's conquests offering to make love while gagged, so her screams of terror at the possibility of being chainsawed won't disturb him! Elsewhere, nonsensical but entertaining sequences are thrown in for shock value alone, with a perplexing set-piece in which a girl skateboards into a plate of glass and a final jump scare that plunges the thus-far grounded narrative into the realm of the supernatural.
For all its laughable ineptitude, Pieces contains some moments of impressive filmmaking. Juan Marine's cinematography gives us vibrant primary colours that really pop on Arrow's gorgeous 4K transfer, Librado Pastor's earworm score is creepy when it needs to be, and Simon stages the kills with some elan, with an evisceration on a punctured waterbed the standout.
Pieces is something of a jigsaw itself, one whose own pieces have been jumbled up and forced together in a manner that makes it quite frankly a mess. If you're after a mystery with a solid narrative, look elsewhere, but if you want a hilariously trashy experience that sometimes offers up moments of outstanding cinematic craft, Simon's film belongs in your collection. To quite its on-the-nose tag-line, 'It's exactly what you think it is!'
Two versions of the movie, the original Spanish and US cuts. Alternate Re-score by composer Umberto. Audio commentary from podcasters The Hysteria Continues. A featurette in which filmmaking fans discuss their love of the film. Interviews with director Juan Piquer Simon, art director Gonzalo Gonzalo, actor Paul Smith and producer Steve Minasian. Trailers and an image gallery complete the on-disc extras while depending on which version you go for, you'll receive a CD soundtrack or a limited edition 12" vinyl and 100-piece jigsaw puzzle replica. One of the most complete extras packages we'll likely see all year.
Pieces is available on Limited Edition Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray March 27th.