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Release Date: September 23, 1983
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Writers: Dick Randall and Roberto Loyola (Credited as John Shadow)
Starring: Christopher George, Lynda Day, Frank Brana, Edmund Purdom, Ian Sera
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
When most people think about Horror movies, most of them enjoy the films that were made in America. The majority of Horror movies that are released in theaters today are either made in America or Canada. They have your typical boogeyman going after someone specific and it’s filled with blood, sex and cheap scares. Today’s movies don’t give me that level of satisfaction and entertainment. As a diehard Horror movie fan, I’ve found that Italian Horror Movies are the most creative, daring and scary. They don’t skimp out on the blood and gore, they don’t skimp out on nudity and they have a compelling story to go along with it. Some great Italian Horror Filmmakers include Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. One filmmaker I was recently introduced to by a great friend of mine was Juan Piquer Simon. He is a Spanish-Italian filmmaker best known for producing his own exploitation movies. The film I watched from Simon was one that was highly recommended by my friend. The film was titled “Pieces”.
Made in 1982, but wasn’t released until September 1983, the film is about a killer on the loose at a college campus in Boston. He kills his victims by chopping them up with a chainsaw and taking a body part for a souvenir. The killer is using these body parts to create a human jigsaw puzzle. It’s up to a police lieutenant and a college student well known on campus to find out who the killer is and stop him from completing his work of art.
The film opens up with a little boy putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When his mother walks into the room, she is shocked to see that the puzzle is that of a naked woman. She gets verbally abusive with the boy and tells him to get a trash bag. The boy comes back with an axe and chops his mother up to death. You don’t know anything about the boy in the beginning with the exception that he is established as the killer going into the rest of the movie. The puzzle essentially becomes the theme of the movie and the killer’s motivation. The film fast forwards forty two years and right into the movie, you see a college student studying on the campus lawn get decapitated by a chainsaw and the killer taking her head. Lt. Bracken and his partner Sgt. Holden arrive at the campus to investigate the murder. They first seek assistance from the Anatomy Professor about the missing head. Meanwhile, a boy named Kendall receives a note from a pretty girl to come to the pool. The killer manages to find the note and dispatches the girl with a chainsaw taking her torso. The campus groundskeeper Willard happens to arrive at the murder scene with the cops there and they arrest him believing him to be the killer. Bracken enlists Kendall to assist him with coming up with a profile of the killer and introduces him to Mary Riggs who is a cop going undercover as a Tennis instructor. Kendall recognizes her due to the fact that she is a former professional Tennis player. Together they hope to lure out the killer and end his rampage.
The first thing that came to mind while watching this film was this is a Grindhouse film. If you’re not familiar with the term “Grindhouse”, it was a term for a theater that mainly shows exploitation films. These films would show movies filled with sex, violence and sadism and were mostly shot under a super low budget. I’m not sure what the budget was for this film, but you can tell it was pretty low (not that there is anything wrong with low budgets). What this film does is create a haunting mystery thriller that leaves you on edge. The fact that the killer seems to strike at random women and take random parts to create a “piece of art” makes you cringe because you know this is something that could happen in the real world.
Speaking of the killer, the only thing you know about him is during the opening scene of the film when he was a boy. When the film fast forwards to the present setting, the audience has to figure out who it could be. The film does the old ploy of introducing characters that seem seedy or suspicious to get you to assume they are the killer. There are shots of the killer standing outside doorways in a dark silhouette. The look of the shadow reminds me of a bit of “Dick Tracy” or those other Detective Noir films back in the day. You don’t see the true reveal of the killer until the climax. I don’t recall the movie revealing clues as to the identity of the killer, but there is that old saying, “It’s always the one you least expect.”
Besides the killer, the film focuses on Kendall, who is a student at the college and seems to be very popular with the ladies. It’s shown several times throughout the movie including a hilarious sex scene involving one of his girlfriends. His charm almost gets him invited into Mary’s home for some potential cougar action. It’s almost like he’s James Bond without all the gadgets and killing. His detective skills and informal profiling immediately garners admiration from Bracken. He comes to depend on Kendall to helping him find the killer. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is the acting.
The movie has enough salacious gore to wet the appetites of horror movies fans. There’s plenty of mutilation and dismemberment of bodies all shown through grainy 35MM film. The music provides a sound of uneasiness to the listening ears that heightens the tense moments. The pacing is steady. There are some scenes that drag out and scenes that were unnecessary to the plot. The scene that I felt was very misplaced was when Mary is walking on campus at night going to meet Kendall when a random biker appears and starts doing martial arts. After a brief confrontation, Kendall realizes that it is his Kung Fu Instructor. This made no sense and had no place in the movie unless Simon was trying to add some light hearted humor to his grizzly sinister movie.
The biggest gripe I had with the movie was the acting. At times it was shallow and at times it seemed over the top. I think this was largely in part due to the ADR work of the actors. I noticed that the ADR did not sync up with the mouth moving of the characters. It’s a minor error in editing, but should give you a few chuckles.
“Pieces” is truly a guilty pleasure film. It takes the elements of a detective story and slasher movie and makes something that is compelling and gruesome. It’s a film I would place high in a list of “Grindhouse Exploitation” movies. If you enjoy this movie, I encourage you to view more movies of this style. You will develop a quick appreciation for these kinds of movies and how polar opposite they are from any Hollywood mainstream movie.
TRIVIA (According to IMDB)
- Because producer Dick Randall was simultaneously making kung-fu films in Rome, a cameo for a Bruce Lee imitator, Bruce Le, was written into this film, even though this scene makes no sense in the context of the rest of the film.
- The “look” of the killer was based on the comic book character “The Shadow”, not as is often thought Italian ‘giallo’ cinema.
- In the only trailer released, one of the final shots shows the chainsaw killer approaching the camera. As this happens, the same scream from Janet Leigh, the scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) when she gets killed in the shower scene, is used.
- Most of the guts and gore were actually internal organs of dead animals, with real blood taken from a slaughterhouse.
- The entire movie was shot in Madrid, nothing in Boston because there was no budget for second units. Some USA locations were recycled from “Supersonic Man” stock footage, another movie that Juan Piquer Simon had directed.
- According to director Juan Piquer Simon, he owns the jigsaw puzzle used in the film as shown in a DVD extra where he’s reviewing his posters for the film.
- At various times there was an interest in doing a sequel following the film’s financial success in the United States and Spain, but it was Juan Piquer Simon that had already been involved in another project and tried to get a sequel started years later, but he couldn’t. With show business the American producers soon forgot the idea, despite the success at the box office.