Sunday, February 12, 2012

PIECES: Greatest Bad Movie Ever?

(Spain/Italy - 1983)

Directed by J. Piquer Simon.  Written by Dick Randall and John Shadow.  Cast: Christopher George, Paul Smith, Edmund Purdom, Lynda Day George, Ian Sera, Jack Taylor, Frank Brana, Gerard Tichy, Isabelle Luque, Hilda Fuchs, May Heatherly. (Unrated, 85 mins)

I love PIECES.  I love PIECES so much that if I was told I had 24 hours left to live, I'd be sure to set aside 1.5 of those 24 hours to watch PIECES one last time.  It has everything:  extreme gore, gratuitous nudity; slumming actors; bad dubbing; a complete disregard for logic and common sense; and no sense of restraint or decency whatsoever.  It is pure Bad Movie joy of the highest order.

The plot?  Well, for what it's worth, the film opens in 1942 Boston with a child putting together a nudie jigsaw puzzle, prompting his mother to throw an hysterical fit.  Not to be outdone, the kid kills Mom with an axe.  Cut to 1982, and a chainsaw killer, using that same jigsaw puzzle as his inspiration, is killing girls on a Boston college campus and collecting the body parts to piece together a real-life puzzle.  Get it?  PIECES!

On the case are Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) and Sgt. Holden (Frank Brana, best known to MST3K fans as the butt of the "Leslie Nielsen! Leslie Nielsen! Leslie Nielsen!" jokes from POD PEOPLE), seeking the cooperation of the Dean (Edmund Purdom), who understandably doesn't want a panic.  As what's left of the bodies continue to pile up, Bracken enlists the aid of Kendall (Ian Sera), the unlikely BMOC, a smirking twerp who scares easily and inexplicably has all of the campus hotties succumbing to his Horshackian charms despite owning an alarming number of Cosby sweaters.

As the mayhem continues, Bracken, cementing his place as the laziest detective in cinema history, has Kendall keep an eye on tennis pro-turned-cop Mary Riggs (George's wife Lynda Day George, strangely billed as "Linda Day" even though she'd been going by "Lynda Day George" since their 1970 nuptuals), who's undercover as...wait for it...the new tennis coach!  The list of suspects is seemingly endless:  is the killer Kendall?  Is it the Dean?  Is it grumbling, stink-eyed groundskeeper Willard (Paul Smith)?  Or is it the mysterious Professor Brown (Jack Taylor)?  The Dean seems to think so, as he snottily informs Bracken that Brown is "unmarried and lives with his mother."

"Agatha Christie got nothin' on Juan Piquer Simon!" - Tomb It May Concern's David Zuzelo

Directed by Spanish hack Juan Piquer Simon, PIECES was destined for grindhouse glory.  It was produced by Dick Randall, an American exploitation vet who spent most of the 1960s and 1970s working between Italy and Hong Kong.  Randall co-wrote the script with one "John Shadow," generally assumed to be one of the countless pseudonyms of legendary Italian sleaze merchant Aristide Massaccesi, best known as "Joe D'Amato."  Also involved in this and a few future Randall projects was American producer Steve Minasian, who was peripherally involved in getting the original FRIDAY THE 13TH made.

Where to start in listing the many highlights of PIECES?  Is the stupidity of the plot enough?  The ease at figuring out the killer's identity?  The inept direction?  The way two actresses in a tennis match have clearly never played tennis before?  The way Simon can't get the extras watching the tennis match to follow the ball in unison?  The way the CSI guys find a sawed-up body and put one arm in a plastic bag, and the rest of the body parts in one giant bag, while perpetually useless Bracken asks if the killing could've been done by the blood-splattered chainsaw left next to the body?  The way Bracken emphatically tells the Dean that the killer "is someone on...or near the campus"?   The way Bracken keeps pawning his work off on a college student?  The way the killer hides his chainsaw behind his back while on an elevator with his next victim?  The way Holden forgoes a holster and just puts his gun in the waist of his pants?  The completely uncoordinated aerobics class?   One of the most ludicrous final shots in all of horror cinema?  The out-of-nowhere attack on Mary by Kendall's "kung-fu professor"?

Or how about the quotes?
--"We're just buying clothes without labels and trying them on for size."
--"The most beautiful thing in the world is...smoking pot and...fucking on a waterbed!"
--"So I'm slayed by a withering look.  Who gives a shit?"
--"One, two, three...OK!"
--"Get me a plastic bag!  I'm gonna burn everything!"
--"Hey, it's my kung-fu professor!  What's the story, Chow?"
--"Bad chop suey!  So long!"
--"I just love the cream!"
--"Take some uppers or something!"
--"I'll send you a case of lollipops!"

And, of course....

Somehow, Oscar ignored Lynda Day George.

I've had a strange obsession with PIECES since June 1984, when it belatedly opened in the Toledo area and I saw a couple of ads for it on TV.  Back then, the idea of straight-to-video wasn't as prevalent as it would become in just a few years, and things took longer to come out on home video.  With drive-in schlock like PIECES, the plan in many cases would be to open it slowly and, with a limited number of prints, it would make its way around the country slowly as opposed to opening wide.  PIECES opened in the US in September 1983, and took uncommonly long to reach my area.  So long, in fact, that Christopher George was dead by the time the film hit Toledo.  George died of a heart attack in November 1983, and PIECES was the veteran actor's next-to-last film.

The great Christopher George (1931-1983)

There was something captivating about the bluntness of the TV spot and the luridness of the newspaper ads ("You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!"), and, of course, the tell-tale sign that it was the real deal for gorehounds: it was unrated, with the warning "Absolutely no one under 17 admitted!" which was usually reserved for the likes of Lucio Fulci films and stuff like MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY.  It took me a couple of years, but I eventually caught up with PIECES via the Vestron Video VHS.  And what child of '80s trash cinema doesn't get misty over the old Vestron logo?

And even as a teenager, it was easy to laugh at PIECES.  But damn...this was a sick movie.  For all its controversy, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE really isn't that gory.  But PIECES was a different beast.  It showed everything.  Pig carcasses were used for the chainsaw-slicing closeups.  The shot of a scared victim wetting herself seemed a little too real (because it was).  As terrible as PIECES is--and it is indeed a terrible, horrible, laughable movie--my love for it knows no bounds.  I've lost count of how many times I've seen it, especially since the definitive two-disc special edition DVD was released by Grindhouse in 2008 (packed with bonus features, this also includes the Spanish audio track with a completely different score by Librado Pastor that doesn't work at all; the US version had CAM library tracks that are an infinitely better fit), with a really nice 1.66 anamorphic transfer.

PIECES probably isn't the funniest bad movie ever, and the rampant sleaze and extremely graphic violence will likely be a major turn-off for some, but something about this has just clicked with me since I first saw those TV commercials back in 1984 when I was 11.  This actually opened at an eight-screen cinema at the then-biggest mall in the city. I'm just trying to imagine seeing PIECES in a mall cinema.   What else can I say?   The hipsters can have their prefab bad movies like BIRDEMIC.  For me, PIECES is the gift that keeps on giving and shows no signs of stopping. 

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