‘If you think you’re safe on campus – you’re dead wrong!’
Pieces is a 1982 slasher horror feature film directed by Spanish filmmaker Juan Piquer Simon (Slugs: The Movie; Cthulhu Mansion; The Rift).
Boston, 1942: a ten-year-old boy named Timmy is playing with a jigsaw puzzle depicting a naked woman when his mother walks in. She chastises him for his immoral behaviour and orders him to get a plastic bag because “I’m gonna burn everything.”
However, instead of bringing the bag, the boy gruesomely murders his mother with a handy axe. Later, the police arrive and find Timmy finishing the puzzle…
Pieces is impossible to take seriously but very easy to love, providing you get a kick out of grisly dismemberment, ridiculous plotting and crazy dialogue. With murder by axe, knife and chainsaw, severed limbs and hacked torsos, decapitations and litres of blood, it’s an energetic explosion of gory nonsense: a horror fan would need a heart of stone not to enjoy it. The film’s absurd dialogue, terrible acting and illogical plotting may induce feelings of contempt in some viewers but ultimately Pieces is exactly what it wants to be – great, great fun.
So what if some of the fun is unintentional? It’s a combination of supercharged gore, hilarious goofs and gaffes (a push-button phone in 1942?) and deliciously silly performances (Linda Day George’s maniacal outburst of “Bastard! Bastard!!!” is a highlight). Like one of the hilarious mock-trailers from Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse magically transformed into a real movie, it’s a riot from start to finish.
Perfectly in keeping with its title, Pieces is a jigsaw of elements from other films: the ‘x-years earlier’ prologue was of course a mainstay of slasher films after Halloween; a knife-stabbing through the back of a head and emerging via the mouth is lifted from Lucio Fulci’s gorefest The House by the Cemetery; the school setting and absurdly suspicious gardener are ripped off from Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon; a pop-up shock is drafted in from Carrie via Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness; a brutal murder in a lift recalls Brian de Palma’s Dressed to Kill; and of course the inspiration for the chainsaw murders is obvious.
The music in the international version – credited to film library CAM – is a Frankenstein patchwork too, using Stelvio Cipriani‘s excellent score for the Italian Exorcist rip-off Ring of Darkness and adding prog-rock cues by Carlo Maria Cordio from Joe D’Amato’s ultra-grisly Absurd.
The cast-list is packed with familiar faces: Christopher George, fresh from Graduation Day; his wife Linda Day George from Day of the Animals and Mortuary; exploitation stalwart Edmund Purdom; May Heatherly, the female cannibal in Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse, playing a repressive mother; Jess Franco regular Jack Taylor (Succubus; Female Vampire) as the college’s sinister Professor of Anatomy; and Paul Smith (Bluto in Robert Altman’s disastrous Popeye) playing the de rigueur dodgy gardener.
Although nominally set in Boston, Massachusetts, Pieces was shot on location in Madrid. It was released theatrically in Great Britain in the summer of 1983, at a time when the “video nasty” controversy was at its height and the infamous list of banned titles was growing by the month. Piquer would surely have followed fellow Spaniards Jess Franco, Eloy de la Iglesia and Miguel Bonns onto the roll-call, had Pieces not been heavily cut by Avatar (a subsidiary of CBS/Fox) to a mere 71 minutes, saving it from controversy but depriving British audiences of its bloody raison d’être. Consequently, it took British fans a while longer to catch up with a film that had American audiences rolling in the aisles…
Director Juan Piquer was born in Valencia, Spain, in 1935. After studying art and design he enrolled at the Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematográficas in Madrid and from there went into Spanish television.
In 1972 he became a film producer, founding Almena Films. Adding ‘Simon’ to his surname for commercial reasons, he turned to directing in 1977 with Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth, an adaptation of the classic Jules Verne story, followed in 1980 by Supersonic Man, a comedic take on the Superman franchise starring Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double José Luis Ayestarán).
The film sold well in foreign territories and Piquer was soon back behind the camera for Monster Island (1981) starring Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp, and Los diablos del mar (1982), an adaptation of Jules Verne’s Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen (previously filmed in 1973 by Jess Franco).
Piquer met American producer Steve Minasian at Cannes in 1977. One of the influential back-room boys of American exploitation, Minasian made his mark with Hallmark Releasing, who bankrolled the shocking and influential The Last House on the Left (1972). He also distributed ultra-violent Euro-horror in the States, such as Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (catchily retitled Twitch of the Death Nerve).
In 1980, Minasian offered Piquer a thirty-page treatment called ‘Jigsaw’. Originally intended as a TV movie, ‘Jigsaw’ was radically overhauled by Piquer, who ramped up the violence in response to the enormous success of another Minasian venture, Friday the 13th.
Pieces received extensive distribution in the States via Film Ventures International, a prominent indie company run by the colourful Edward Montoro. Minasian convinced Montoro, who hated slasher films, to give the film a chance, telling him: “Go and see it with an audience.”
A test screening was duly arranged and Montoro was astonished to see the audience roaring with laughter. “They absolutely loved the picture. That’s what made me change my mind … I normally wouldn’t want this kind of slasher picture, but the audience started laughing right away,” he told Fangoria in 1983.
Perfectly capturing the irreverent spirit of the screening, FVI bequeathed the film two classic ad-lines; “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!”, and the effective, if somewhat disrespectful “Pieces: It’s exactly what you think it is!
Stephen Thrower, MOVIES and MANIA
“It’s exactly what you think it is!” screamed the US ads, in an early attempt to cynically craft a ‘so bad it’s good’ midnight movie sensation, and indeed, Pieces holds very few surprises for the seasoned trash enthusiast – a black-gloved killer (who could be but definitely won’t be mugging red herring Paul L. Smith) is offing nubile female students at the sort of college that is apparently open 24/7 and doesn’t even shut down for a break when several girls have been chainsawed to pieces. There’s an excess of gratuitous nudity, ultra-graphic gore, hysterical over-acting and – in the version everyone will probably be watching – lip-flapping dubbing that seems to deliberately up the campness.
By any sensible appraisal, Pieces is a bad film. Yet annoyingly for the MST3000 / Rifftrax crowd, it’s not quite bad enough (not that that has stopped them before). Anyone approaching this looking for Birdemic / The Room level yucks might struggle to laugh out loud. In fact, this is a standard mid-level Euro slasher, oddly close to Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon in both atmosphere and narrative – and like Franco’s film, it occasionally confounds with a really good shot, a moment of real tension, or an injection of genuine atmosphere. Director Juan Piquer Simon actually does a reasonable job with the weak material he has been given, and now and again shows flashes of genius. But only flashes.
Make no mistake – Pieces is trash. Yet, it’s glorious trash, wonderfully excessive in all areas and making no concessions to logic (the ending is something else!). It’s not that far removed from some of the 1980s giallo and slasher films that are hailed as classics – and certainly more fun than grim fare such as The New York Ripper. And Arrow’s latest Blu-ray edition is predictably, ludicrously sumptuous, including a Spanish soundtracked cut that has better music and marginally better dubbing.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“One of my top horror films of all time! Not only is this the ultimate chainsaw movie, it’s the ultimate slasher film. It has everything you could possibly want, by the bucketful. Full-on chainsaw violence, absurd amounts of nudity, and the greatest ending in horror history. A masterpiece of early ’80s sleaze.” Eli Roth, director of Hostel and The Green Inferno
“A barrage of great, graphic entrail-spewed slaughter executed in super-gross European gore technician style.” Rick Sullivan, Gore Gazette
“If you’re not aware of Pieces’ parting shot, I beseech you not to learn about it before watching the movie. Just see Pieces and let the ending happen to you. You will hobble away in pieces. Pieces includes water-bed murder, and a close-up of a frightened woman’s crotch as she wets her pants in terror. The final moment still swamps them both.” Mike “McBeardo” McFadden, Heavy Metal Movies
“One of the most shocking exponents to hit the Deuce in the 1980s. Pieces went straight for the jugular… one of the few movies at the time that silenced the most raucous grindhouse audiences.”Bill Landis, Sleazoid Express
“There’s a hilarious scene where the professor is asked whether the gore-soaked chainsaw could have been used to dismember the body in front of it, a scene where a girl doesn’t notice the guy coming into the lift with a chainsaw behind his back (!), and the hilarious “bastard!” scene.” 80s Fear
“It is awful, it is hilarious, it is beyond belief. In fact, the only truly unbelievable thing about it is that despite all the insults, accolades and scorn poured on it through the years it really is more than the sum of its parts (sorry).” House of Mortal Cinema
Buy Arrow Video Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk
On 27 March 2017, Arrow Video released the ultimate edition of Pieces as a Blu-ray + DVD + CD combo.
- Brand new 4K transfer from the original camera negative
- Two versions of the feature: Pieces, the US theatrical version, and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, the original uncensored director’s cut, presented in Spanish with original score by Librado Pastor [Blu-ray exclusive]
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original English and Spanish Mono Audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- 5.1 Vine Theater Experience
- Alternate Re-score by composer Umberto
- Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- It’s Exactly What You Think It Is! brand new featurette offering up an appreciation of Pieces by various filmmaker fans
- Brand new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo
- Pieces of Juan: a career-spanning interview with director Juan Piquer Simón
- The Reddest Herring extensive interview with actor Paul Smith, including a discussion of Pieces
- Audio Interview with producer Steve Minasian
- Image Galleries
- Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold
- Soundtrack CD featuring the entire original score
Buy Pieces combo: Amazon.co.uk
On 25 August 2017, Arrow Records released a vinyl pressing of the Pieces soundtrack, featuring music composed by Fabio Frizzi (Zombie Flesh Eaters), Stelvio Cipriani (A Bay of Blood), and Carlo Maria Cordio (Troll 2).
The score was remastered from the original ¼ inch analogue tapes. The pressing was limited to 500 copies on 180-gram clear vinyl, housed in a gatefold jacket featuring artwork by Marc Schoenbach and accompanied by liner notes by Stephen Thrower.
On March 1, 2016, Grindhouse Releasing issued Pieces in the US with the following special features:
- Pieces (83 minutes) – the original, unrated US theatrical version, presented in English
- Mil gritos tiene la noche (86 minutes) – the original uncensored director’s cut, presented in Spanish with an original score by Librado Pastor
- Spectacular new 4K transfers – scanned from the original camera negative
- Brand new audio commentary by star Jack Taylor
- Special 5.1 audio option – the Vine Theater Experience!
- In-depth interviews with director Juan Piquer Simón and genre superstar Paul L. Smith
- 42nd Street Memories – all-new feature-length documentary containing interviews with Bill Lustig, Larry Cohen, Frank Henenlotter, Buddy Giovinazzo, Jeff Lieberman, John Skipp, Lynn Lowry, Terry Levene, and many other exploitation icons
- Extensive gallery of stills and poster art
- Exhaustive filmographies
- Liner notes by legendary horror journalists Rick Sullivan (Gore Gazette) and Chas Balun (Deep Red)
- Bonus CD – original soundtrack – newly remastered from the original studio tapes
- Beautiful embossed slipcover
- First 3000 units include an actual jigsaw puzzle!
Buy Grindhouse Blu-ray: Amazon.com
Cast and characters:
- Christopher George as Lt. Bracken – Mortuary; City of the Living Dead; Cruise Into Terror; Day of the Animals; et al
- Lynda Day George as Mary Riggs – Mortuary; Cruise Into Terror; It Happened at Lakewood Manor; Fear No Evil; et al
- Frank Braña as Sgt. Holden – Love Brides of the Blood Mummy; Return of the Evil Dead
- Paul L. Smith as Willard – Ten Little Indians; Sonny Boy; Haunted Honeymoon
- Edmund Purdom as The Dean – Don’t Open Till Christmas; Absurd; Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks; Witchcraft ’70; et al
- Ian Sera as Kendall James – Extra Terrestrial Visitors; Mystery of Monster Island
- Jack Taylor as Professor Arthur Brown – Wax; Exorcism; Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman; et al
- Isabelle Luque as Sylvia
- Gerard Tichy as Doctor Jennings – Horror / The Blancheville Monster
- Hilda Fuchs as The Secretary
Mil gritos tiene la noche (translation: “A Thousand Cries in the Night”).
The film’s French title is Le Sadique à la tronçonneuse (“The Sadist with a Chainsaw”).
The Spanish version features an original score composed by Librado Pastor.