Thursday, 30 March 2017

Pieces (1983) Special Edition

“Gets dafter with every viewing”

         Now here’s something I don’t think anyone was expecting. I’ve reviewed PIECES before but Arrow have just gone and given it the deluxe treatment in a three disc set and (I still find it hard to believe as I type this) a 4k transfer. Is it deserving of this somewhat stellar treatment usually only reserved for umpteen Argento rereleases? Hopefully the following will help you decide if it’s for you.

A bloody difficult jigsaw puzzle

         PIECES is one of those rare movies that really does live up to your expectations, not least because everything you have heard from anyone who has seen it is true. 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). So if the following review of this quite insane picture suggests you might enjoy watching it then be assured that you won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps that box on the right will be useful to keep the jigsaw in

         ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ screams one of the great poster lines for this one. And you obviously don’t have to be Ed Wood to make something as unintentionally funny and deliriously entertaining as PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. The film opens in Boston in 1942. We know that because we’re told it by the opening caption, even though this appears to be a somewhat odd version of Boston where jigsaws of very 80s-looking nude ladies are freely available to children like the little boy we then see attempting to assemble said work of softcore naughtiness. Mum isn’t happy when she finds what he’s up to and her admonishment is all that’s needed to send junior over the edge. Grabbing a nearby axe he hacks his mother to pieces in a surprisingly graphic sequence which, if the rest of the film were remotely competent, would actually be genuinely disturbing. Two heavily moustachioed men looking like Spanish supply teachers roped in to be policemen at the annual school play turn up and turn in performances that can only be kindly described as ‘less than adequate’. 

They used to be dancers, you know

         And it’s time for the titles! Pausing only to note that the screenplay was co-written by the man who gave us FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY (about a three foot high James Bond-style superspy) and THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE (no I haven’t seen it but I suspect it’s one of those movies where you can pretty much guess the plot) we can settle down and prepare ourselves for something special.

Lynda Day goes for the Oscar...

          And goodness me it is. Flash forward forty years and we are on the sort of unnamed American campus where students have sex in the university grounds while Willard the psychotic gardener (Paul Smith doing his best Jack Elam impersonation by way of Tom Baker from Blackadder) looks on; that is when they’re not getting their heads chainsawed off in broad daylight.

But there are others who want to get on that nomination list, too

        ‘The police think it’s an inside job’ says the dean’s secretary, sitting next to the biggest reddest typewriter I have ever seen. The police themselves see it somewhat differently and completely incomprehensibly “We’re just trying on clothes without labels and seeing if they fit” ‘explains’ one officer. Christopher George is in charge of the investigation and he’s even worse. “I don’t want to wait for the coroner’s opinion” he says to the local anthropology professor (Jack Taylor - Euro horror regular and veteran, or some would say casualty, of hundreds of Jess Franco and Marius Lesoeur produced low budget atrocities), as he regards the severed body parts of the killer’s latest victim, “I want yours. Could that have been done by a chainsaw like the one covered in blood lying just over there?” Professor Jack has obviously been in these sorts of films before and looks as if he’s considering everything carefully before venturing his opinion, but we know he’s actually wishing he was back at Eurocine rolling around with Lina Romay or Janine Raynaud in some softcore tat.

From the Chainsaw Safety Public Information Film
Suspicion falls for all of two seconds on Kendall James, the nominal hero and school lothario who wears awful check shirts and sky blue cardigans and has a spectacle-wearing best friend he rather unkindly refers to as ‘Goggles’. ‘Goggles’ wears exactly the same kind of clothes as his chum but in negative.
       The police are baffled and so decide to do something even more stupid by placing ace tennis pro Mary Riggs ‘undercover’ despite the fact it’s made clear from the first scene that she’s well-known to the public. Meanwhile the killer is slowly completing more bits of that jigsaw we saw at the beginning. Quite often he has a bit of trouble getting the pieces to fit because of the black gloves he’s wearing. Then it’s onto his next actual victim, an aerobics student who finds herself in quite possibly the most hilarious scene of non-suspense ever filmed. She gets into a lift and is followed by our black gloved/coated/hatted/masked villain hiding a full size chainsaw behind his back and she doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

"It's unlikely he's the killer, Inspector, as he has no arms or body"

        Kendall’s fixing his motorbike when he hears her scream, and now so do we, because Kendall has swapped his cardigan for a turtleneck sweater and the kind of anorak Primark would be ashamed to stock. His success with the ladies must presumably lie with his eloquent skills of seduction. But no! A couple of scenes later we see him berating his latest conquest for her slightly vociferous orgasm. “What do you have to make such a big production for?” he says, which is certainly an accusation that can’t be levelled at the filmmakers. This is also the bit where sensitive viewers may have to turn away as Kendall’s full frontal nude scene is by far the most disturbing thing to grace the screen during the movie’s running time. 
From the Jigsaw Safety Public Information Film
        Can it get any sillier? Mary is menaced by a professor of kung fu who promptly collapses because of ‘bad chop suey’ and more murders occur. In fact to give the film its due the special effects involved are really very good and within the context of a proper film would have been extremely effective. Unfortunately like a lot of movies from the early eighties the effects are fine, it’s just everything else that’s awful. Oh, but not quite as awful as this film’s ending – a double whammy of quite staggering proportions that I guarantee will leave you unsure as to how to react. 

From the Dept of Water Bed Safety Public Information Film. Caption from the Dept of Running Out Of Ideas

         Arrow’s 4k transfer looks stunning - PIECES was never intended to look this good. Discs 1 and 2 are Blu-ray and DVD respectively, each giving you the US cut. The Blu-ray also has the original Spanish version as well, looking just as gorgeous, and with a different music score that, if anything, makes the film ever sillier. There’s also a third score option from someone called ‘Umberto’ that has to rank a lowly third in my estimation compared to the other two, but you might want to give it a listen.

Would you trust any of these to act in your slasher film?

           Other extras include a new audio commentary from The Hysteria Continues, a new featurette with film-makers who love the movie, a new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo, the career of director Juan-Piquer Simon, an interview with actor Paul Smith, an audio interview with Hallmark distributor’s Steve Minasian, image galleries and a trailer.

       Finally, disc 3 is a CD of the music score from the US version. If you watch the Spanish cut you won’t be surprised that Dick Randall et al grabbed some tracks from the Cam music library, but you might be surprised to learn they were composed by Stelvio Cipriani, Fabio Frizzi and Carlo Maria Cordio, making this a splendid curio addition to any Euro-soundtrack completists’ library.
The deliriously entertaining lunacy that is PIECES is out in a limited edition set from Arrow from Monday 27th March 2017


  1. Just wanted to say. That your blog is my favorite horror reviews spot to check. Always glad to see new reviews popping up in my e-mails. Stopping by to thank you for all the great reviews and word! Keep it going!