Mil gritos tiene la noche AKA Pieces (1983)
Directed by: Juan Piquer Simón
Starring: Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Frank Braña, Edmund Purdom, Ian Sera, Paul L. Smith, Jack Taylor
1/2 (out of 4)
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD
Pieces provides a problem for me as a reviewer. I’m not exactly sure how I should approach it. Is it a serious slasher film? A spoof? A comedy? A commentary on the objectification of women? A completely inept exploitation movie with tits, ass, and gore that reaches Ed Wood levels of hilarity? Yes, it’s all these things – but mostly the last thing. Pieces came out in 1982/83 and was directed by Spanish-born Juan Piquer (who added the “Simón” to his name so English-speaking investor types would warm up to him). Besides this movie, he has a few other infamous titles to his name, one of which is the icky gross-out Slugs and another, the MST3K-fan favorite/ET-like Pod People. For Pieces, Piquer managed to get some Americans on board like the late Christopher George and his wife, TV star Lynda Day (they did some other movies together in the horror genre, like Day of the Animals and Mortuary). Also on board is Spaghetti-Western alum Frank Braña, the late UK actor Edmund Purdom (no stranger to Euro-Trash cinema himself), the very large, strange-looking Paul Smith (dubbed over by Edward Mannix), and various other ladies whose purpose is to get naked and then get chopped up with a chainsaw. The taglines for the movie probably didn’t take long to come up with – “You don’t have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre” and “Pieces: It’s exactly what you think it is” – hell, this movie practically sells itself. It plays just like a bad Italian exploitation shocker – the reveal that Joe D’Amato was one of the screenwriters comes as no surprise, as does the Goblin-influenced score by Carlo Maria Cordio (think Dawn of the Dead-lite).
The beginning sequence takes place in “Boston 1942″ where little Timmy is putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman. His mom bursts in, furious, and starts to abuse him and destroy his things. The kid then chops her up into little pieces and goes back to his puzzle. Forty years later, we are on a Boston university campus (not necessarily the Boston University, or UMass – my guess is it’s probably in Spain somewhere), and a girl studying on the lawn gets chopped up by a chainsaw-welding psycho. Yes, the kid from the beginning has returned to his murdering ways, and the trick here is to guess who it is. Our list of suspects include campus stud Kendall (Ian Sera), totally weird anatomy professor Brown (Jack Taylor), creepy groundskeeper Willard (Paul L. Smith), and the even creepier campus Dean (Edmund Purdom). The investigation is headed by Lt. Bracken (Christopher George), his assistant Holden (Frank Braña), tennis star-turned-undercover-officer Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George), and, um, campus stud Kendall, who for some reason is made an honorary deputy despite the fact that he is a suspect. Yes, Kendall’s involvement with the police force, which includes putting him on the case, showing him all evidence, and giving him the task of watching over Mary Riggs’ safety, is only one of the absolutely baffling and hilarious turns this film will take.
That the dialogue, dubbing, and acting are awful is a given. That doesn’t kill the entertainment value of this picture, it just enhances it. I am quite amused when a European production tries to pass itself off as American: A co-ed says out loud “There’s nothing like smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed!” (seriously, who says that?), all the cops have weird-looking uniforms and huge mustaches, the head detective tells a suspect “I don’t want to wait for the coroner’s opinion. Can you give me yours? Do you think that chainsaw could be the murder weapon?” A victim, swimming naked in a pool by herself (naturally) is reeled in by the killer using a net. She doesn’t appear to fight back (you know, like perhaps using her hands to remove the net from her head) and just lies there, looking sexy, while the killer revs up the chainsaw. Our heroine is attacked in the dark by an Asian guy doing kung-fu. She kicks him in the nuts and he goes down. The guy is later revealed to be Kendall’s kung-fu instructor, who gets up, says he ate bad chop suey, and runs off, never to be heard from again. (Contrast this scene with the immortal random-jogger-knows-kung-fu scene from the infamous Disco Godfather). There are lots of little oddities like this in Pieces – for example, a sequence at the beginning of the film has a girl on skates crashing through a plate of glass – a classic prank, right? Well, does the madman see this event, which triggers his murderous habits? Or is it just random? Who knows?
At other times, there are murders that are played serious. One girl pisses herself before being sawed in half, another is attacked viciously on a waterbed, which is almost artistic and stylish in its bloodletting. This is very much a chauvinistic film, except for the very end, which seems like Simón was throwing a bone to feminists. All the women are treated as pieces of meat, whether subject to a leering camera, a sex scene, a leotard-dominated dance recital, or the killings themselves, which are quite gruesome but not nearly as pornographic as a Fulci film (Fulci loved to keep the camera fixated on blood-spurting wounds, Simón would rather keep the camera on naked breasts). Lynda Day George’s character is drugged and thus reduced to a virtual mannequin at the end, who must be saved by the three male leads; she doesn’t even get to talk. The best joke, though, if I can call it that, is that the murderer is trying to recreate a Frankensteinian female from the body parts of his victims, and the finale (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD) involves said creation emasculating the lead campus womanizer. Ah, so the female victims get their ultimate revenge by destroying the symbol of the male libido…then again, maybe Juan thought it would be a funny way to end the movie.
I haven’t even begun to touch on all the best “parts” of this flick, but I think you’ll get a good laugh at the infamous scene of Lynda Day’s overacting, where upon discovery of another body screams “BASTARD” at the top of her lungs, not once but three times! In light of all this goofiness, nudity, and gore, it seems useless to comment on the illogical aspects of the plot (chainsaw killings on campus and nobody seems to notice or care), unrealistic police procedures (and non-existent police manpower – this is Boston, right?), and the nonsensical ability of the killer to casually hide a chainsaw behind his back. Hey, don’t forget Kendall’s dweeby friend or the bizarre tennis sequences! Pieces is a bad movie, right down to the bone, but it’s also one of the most hilarious examples of exploitation trash I have ever seen. That’s definitely an achievement.
- Bill Gordon
Grindhouse Releasing offers Pieces on a 2-disc DVD set. The widescreen transfer looks great – throw away all your VHS and bootleg versions. When you get a chance, turn on the alternate audio track which features the “Vine Theater Hollywood Experience”. You’ll get to hear the audience reaction – this movie was made for a Brew-n-View experience and it enhanced my enjoyment considerably. You’ll also see commentary on the movie by Clu Gulager (!) and Eli Roth (it’s one of his favorite movies).