Monday, October 8, 2012

You'll Laugh! You'll Cry! It Will Become a Part of You!: "Pieces" (1983)

This slasher film from the early 1980's is no different than all the other 1980's slasher films, except for the copious amounts of gore, nudity, and unintentional laughter.

In 1942 Boston, a young boy is putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman. His mother walks in on him. What's a boy to do? Apologize? Hide the puzzle? Deny everything? Nope, he chops her up with an axe, hides in a closet, and tells police a madman murdered her.

Forty years later, a college campus is being terrorized by a fedora wearing killer with a chainsaw. He is cutting up beautiful female co-eds in broad daylight and taking body parts. Our list of suspects, and characters investigating the crimes, are interchangeable: strange anatomy professor Brown (Jack Taylor), the publicity aware (and unnamed) dean (Edmund Purdom), grizzled police lieutenant Bracken (Christopher George), his equally grizzled partner Holden (Frank Brann), creepy groundskeeper Willard (Paul Smith), and inexplicably dorky yet studly Kendall (Ian Sera).

The police are at a loss, and bring in Mary (Lynda Day) to go undercover as a tennis instructor to find the killer. Of course, all is revealed in the silly climax, but I find myself recommending this film just the same.

"Pieces" has everything you have come to expect from a slasher film, but more of it. There is more chainsaw gore than in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and its recent remake. The killer is chopping up women to make their own life size jigsaw puzzle, and the make up effects are pretty incredible. The women victims, all uncredited, are not only beautiful, but constantly naked. Even Kendall gets in on the act, shedding his clothes in order to get this film released "unrated."

After the killer is unmasked, there is a final jump scene that makes absolutely no sense, and had me laughing out loud. The 1940's history here is dubious, did we have touch tone push button phones back then? The 1980's synth soundtrack, especially in some badly choreographed aerobics sequences, is equally funny. The cast is okay, but some of this was shot in Madrid, Spain, and all the dialogue is dubbed (even English speaking George and Day). Christopher George, in one of his last roles, looks especially gaunt, but still chews the scenery (and a cigar) as the tough detective.

Simon's direction shows some suspense here and there. There is a tip of the hat to "The Shining," as one co-ed is cornered in a bathroom as the killer hacks in with the chainsaw. The amount of gore is surprising. Not only is the chainsaw shown ripping through its victims, but literally gallons of fake blood flows everywhere. The screenplay follows the slasher format, there is one funny scene where Bracken is frustrated at finding the killer, and the next shot has the entire cast of suspects all standing nearby looking equally suspicious. Another funny scene is Mary cursing the killer, screaming "bastard!" over and over again in a line reading that would not see an Oscar nomination anytime soon.

"Pieces" has what matters: gore, nudity, and some suspense. It is not perfect, but strangely watchable, and better than much of the slasher fare that Hollywood churns out even today. If you don't see it for the scares, then see it for the victim who wets herself, or the drugged coffee scene, or the kung fu professor's fight with Mary, or the vomiting cop, or... (* * * *) out of five stars.