PIECES: Viva Los Chainsaws

Slasher movies were a staple of movie theater fare during the ’80s but most of them released during this era had their crimson highlights neutered by the MPAA before they made it to the big screen. This was not the case with Pieces, a Spanish import that was released unrated in the U.S.. To the delight of the teenage gorehounds, it piled on the red stuff and threw in a European level of gratuitous nudity, to boot.  However, Pieces is no mere slasher quickie: it also throws in elements of European horror and some weirdo humor to create a hybrid that is 100% eccentrically mind-blowing camp classic.

Pieces-posPieces is set on a Boston campus where the students are primarily concerned with the slasher movie traditions: i.e., getting high and getting laid. However, their bacchanalian paradise is interrupted by a black-clad mystery killer who swings a mean chainsaw, killing nubile young ladies and stealing different body parts each time. Kendall (Ian Sera), a campus stud with Bert Convy hair, is pressed into service by local cop Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) to work with undercover operative Mary (Lynda Day George) and unmask the killer. It all has to do with a past tragedy involving a nudie jigsaw puzzle and an ax murder as we discover the killer is trying to make his own life-size jigsaw woman.

The result was advertised with the tagline “It’s exactly what you think it is!” and it lives up to that grindhouse hyperbole. Spanish genre journeyman Juan Piquer Simon never worries about realism or plausibility, instead choosing to target his audience’s collective reptile brain desires for cheesecake and splatter. Along the way, he crafts an array of stalk-and-slash setpieces that all have enthusiastically gory punchlines: highlights include a vicious knife attack atop a waterbed and a memorable bit where the killer suddenly pulls a chainsaw out from under his trenchcoat (!) to carve up another young lovely in an elevator.

Eurotrash fans will also be interested in how the film is assembled in a way that reflects its European heritage. Though it borrows from the American slasher with its campus setting, bubble-headed coeds and use of chainsaws, it has the kind of plot progression you’d expect from a giallo or a krimi, complete with a roster of colorful suspects, a childhood trauma driving the mayhem and a killer whose black hat/suit/gloves combo evokes memories of Blood And Black Lace. Simon even makes a point of having two or three potential suspects turn up on the scene after several of the killings. This collision of body-count movie stylings gives Pieces a distinctive continental style that sets it apart from the rest of the early ’80s slash-pack.

Pieces-01More fun is added by an amusing cast full of slumming Anglo actors who earn their pay by bringing a little deadpan professionalism to the proceedings. George anchors the film’s flights of macabre whimsy with a no-nonsense performance as the film’s central cop character: he was in the exploitation movie twilight of this career but he never condescends to his work, instead giving it the same level of commitment and charisma he brought to all his performances. Lynda Day George is similarly charming as the female hero but she does manage on the great modern camp moments with her over-the-top anguished reaction to one killing (“BASTAAAAARRRD!” ).

Elsewhere, Edmund Purdom brings a subtle humor to his role as an ever more flustered dean and Paul Smith mugs for all he’s worth as the film’s most obvious red herring, a chainsaw-toting gardener. He also gets a fun, Bud Spencer-style fight scene. As for the Spaniards, Sera makes for an unlikely big man on campus but he gives his all, even throwing in a surprise bit of equal-opportunity nudity that always makes American audiences gasp. It’s also worth noting that there is a surprise cameo by an Pieces-02actor best known for his work in another genre… but that’s a surprise that the audience is better off discovering on their own.

One final topic worth mentioning: without getting into spoilers, Pieces has one of the all-time great shock codas. In all seriousness, it’s right up there with Sleepaway Camp and The Fury as one of the Greatest Endings In The History Of Endings. Even if you’ve seen it several times, it’s the kind of gonzo closer that raises a smile from the trash fans with each viewing.

All these elements have lined up in the right to ensure Pieces has a permanent place in grindhouse history. It’s the kind of movie whose singular mixture of outlandish plotting, gore, sex, slumming name actors and oddball humor makes it an enduring, splatter-drizzled joy to watch – and whether you’re a gorehound, a slasher buff or just fan of bizarre celluloid in general, it’s something you need to see.

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