5 out of 5
Directed by: Juan Piquer Simón,
From the top – the tagline of “It’s exactly what you think it is,” accompanying the poster of a chainsaw and a stitched up body – to the bottom – the last, makes-no-sense shot of crotch-ripping gore – Pieces is perfection of cross-cultural exploitation horror, balancing the indulgences of grindhouse American slashers with the stylish kookiness of giallos and foreign horror (fittingly, the flick was a co-US / Spanish production) to produce something that’s the best of both worlds, and just self-aware enough to make all its genre trappings delightful.
Pieces kicks off in full bore ridiculousness, setting a wonderfully feverish tone for what follows: a mother looks on pleasantly and her son puts together a jigsaw puzzle; when she comes closer and realizes that it’s a picture of a naked lady, she freaks, swears up a storm, and starts gathering all the hidden contraband about. And then the kid kills her with an axe, as you do when mom interrupts your pervy puzzlin’ habits. He logically then follows this up with dismemberment, and ably convinces the police – discovering mom’s severed head in the closet – that someone broke in and did done it.
Not only is this a great, over-the-top intro, but director Juan Piquer Simón doesn’t shy away from trying to show some of the gore gags on screen, and even when it’s off screen, there’s liberal use of splashing goop. Some other “video nasties” seem tame by today’s standards, but Pieces still rings true as a good ol’ midnight movie. Next: Forty years later, and flash-forward that feels unusual for a slasher, as it sets the age of the presumed killer (i.e. the grown-up kid) quite beyond the teen range. We get around that by centering on a college campus, but I still found this to be a novel quirk in the format that continued my appreciation of the flick.
Thereafter, the 90 minute runtime slickly bounces between grisly chainsaw / knife kills (again, with good close-up, on camera gags), giallo-y ‘guess the killer’ fakeouts, and the police investigation, which rather amusingly ropes in a student (Ian Sera) to assist, and while I’m not going to claim there’s an entirely deep plot beyond using the growing bodycount to narrow down the murderer’s identity, the movie’s characters and dialogue are a cut (hyuck) above the usual exposition machines / killer fodder we find in these things – yeah, it’s all fairly dumb and ridiculous (a scene where there’s a random karate squabble is the oft-mentioned height of that), but the dumb and ridiculousness is consistent; all of the characters exist in that same, slightly heightened sense of idiocy that makes the movie charming and entertaining instead of a grind between highlights.
Yes: over-dubbed dialogue; stilted acting; shower scenes. But instead of the lingering, lazy eye of a lot of copycat slashers, Pieces is celebratory with its exploitation, giving it that something special the should rate the film alongside other classics of the genre.