This essay was first published at my old site, in substantially different form, a few years ago. I watched Pieces again recently and felt the need to expand on that post.
Few cult films remain as notorious as Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces (1982). It was seized and confiscated in the UK during the infamous video nasty era. And boy howdy is it a video nasty, all right. Pieces engenders great love and affection from cult horror hounds the world over precisely because of its gloriously gonzo style. The Italian-Spanish-Puerto Rican slasher-giallo extravaganza is absolutely insane. And doesn’t make a lick of sense.
It starts in the 1940s where a ten year old boy is playing quietly by himself—constructing a jigsaw puzzle of a stark-naked woman. His mother isn’t happy about it, screams some awful things at him and says she’s going to throw away the puzzle. Well, soon enough Timmy’s exacting revenge by hacking mom into pieces. Like the absurdly awesome tagline says, “Pieces: it’s exactly what you think it is!”
When we jump to present day (1982), an unhinged and unidentified killer is chainsawing, hacking, and slashing pretty young co-eds to death with maniacal fervor. He also spends his spare time putting back together that same nekkid girl puzzle from the 1940s. The kill scenes are, to put it mildly, some of the most inventively outlandish ever filmed, with blunt-force, repressed male sexual rage viciously destroying female bodies with impunity. For instance, the waterbed scene quite literally becomes a blood-red sea of sexual carnage for one poor woman, with the killer’s phallic knife standing in for his sexual organ. This kill is even foreshadowed earlier, when one female student confidently declares, “The most beautiful thing in life is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed.” The decapitation in broad daylight on a sunny college campus is equally disturbing. The aerobics class scene—where a nubile, leg-warmer-wearing cutie is stalked—is paced expertly for maximum creepiness.
Turns out there’s a stud on campus, Kendall, who actually looks like Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter, but apparently at this unnamed university that passes for a ladies man. Not only is he making it with every hot co-ed but he’s also first on the scene at several of the murders. His plucky go-getter attitude makes him valuable to the lead detective on the case, played with serious cigar-chomping, G-Man energy by Christopher George. For reasons never explained, he trusts Kendall implicitly to be his “eyes and ears” on campus. Eventually the kid is even bossing policemen around as he and the bumbling Keystone cops chase after the killer. An anamomy professor also shows up at the scene of every crime, seemingly just strolling through and deadpanning, “What is it this time?” So of course George’s Lt. Bracken asks if he thinks the bloody chainsaw lying right next to a dismemebered woman’s body is the murder weapon, because he “doesn’t want to wait around for the coroner.” I’m not making this up.
Inexplicably there’s even a weirdly random kung fu moment, where American actress Lynda Day (Mission Impossible) is attacked in the middle of the night by a martial arts instructor who then laughs it off and blames it on “bad chop suey”. Oh my. As an undercover cop and tennis champion (just roll with it) Day is believably disturbed by the proceedings throughout, eventually reduced to a petite, blonde, exposed raw nerve. Probably the most famous scene in the film is when she learns of another murder and just loses it, screaming to the heavens, “BASTARD!!” over and over again, getting louder with each scream.
Then there’s that ending. Without question, it’s one of the most unexpected, outré, and nonsensical final moments in horror. Completely jaw-dropping. Pieces is a masterwork of blood-soaked early 1980s horror excess, and few films since have ever come anywhere near its gleefully brazen display of gore and sleaze. It’s also incomprehensibly stupid and quite possibly misognystic. But as a relic of an era long gone by, it’s Supreme Skeevy Times Square Cinematic Sleaze of the Highest Order. Stunning work. Highly recommended for horror fanatics and lovers of strange cinema.