I have butterflies in my stomach, not due to Halloween excitement, but because National Novel Writing Month stars tommorow! I’ll be making regular updates here and on social media about my progress in this month-long noveling adventure.
You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!
There’s a murderous psychopath loose on campus and it’s up to real life husband and wife Christopher George and Lynda Day George to solve the crime. Something tells me that there’s going to be a lot of dead co-eds before all is said and done.
What it’s all about: Pieces (1982) opens with a prologue set 1942 Boston, though it’s unlike any Boston you’ve ever seen before. The majority of the film was shot in Madrid. A young mother walks in on her son putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. She’s disgusted to find that the completed puzzle is of a naked woman. She ransacks his room looking for filth, but doesn’t get very far. Sonny boy hacks her to death with an axe. Though there’s lots of blood and gore, the axe never hits the actress, it just kind of bounces off her head.
Forty years later, Jr. is all grown up and obviously a little off kilter. He lovingly obsesses over mementos of that violent day, once again piecing together the blood stained picture puzzle.
A perky co-ed on a skateboard crashes through an over-sized mirror. Who is this girl and what has her mishap got to with the story? Who knows. She’s never referred to again. That’s the kind of movie were dealing with.
A young woman stretches out on the campus lawn trying to study when a mysterious groundskeeper starts up his chainsaw. She continues her reading, but soon looses her head at the hands of the maniac.
“Have you heard the latest?” one student asks, passing a joint to his friend, “They’ve just installed a waterbed in the training room.” This seemingly random tidbit is the only explanation we get for a major set-piece later on in the movie.
Detectives Bracken (Christopher George) and Holden (Frank Brana) meet with the Dean of the university (Edmund Purdom) to discuss the case of the headless co-ed. The Dean is all business and pawns the detectives off on anatomy professor Brown (Jack Taylor). Prof. Brown seems quite interested in the detectives’ theories, “You mean it might be one of the boys?”
“Who knows at this stage,” Holden quips, “We’re just out buying clothes without labels and trying them on for size.” Hmmm. Equating a murder investigation with shopping… it’s certainly an interesting analogy.
The killer, who skulks through the library in classic first person slasher-movie P.O.V., sees a pretty blonde pass a note to Kendall (Ian Sera), big man on campus. They plan to meet later that night at the pool. The killer later watches from the shadows as she slowly undresses then dives in for a quick swim. Using a pool net, he reels her in, fires up his chainsaw and harvests the necessary pieces he needs for his demented project.
Kendall discovers the body and the police arrive to find brutish campus handyman Willard (Paul L. Smith). After a minor scuffle, Willard is taken into custody. Bracken calls prof. Brown to the crime scene and asks for his educated opinion. “Well, I’m not a pathologist,” he insists while getting his fingerprints all over the murder weapon, “but even a layman could see it was done with this. I’d say it’s elementary.”
The Dean gets his knickers in a twist when he hears the detectives’ plan. “You want to place two of your policewomen on my staff to spy on everybody? That’s asking a lot.”
“There have been two murders now. That maniac is gonna kill again. This may be the only way we have of catching him.”
Speaking of…the killer watches a late night dance class, following one girl who leaves the studio to find the john. After a seemingly endless traipse down stairwells and through corridors, she runs into a friend. She’s safe for the time being.
After nearly thirty minutes of screen time, the real star of the picture finally appears. “Is this job dangerous?” Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George) asks. When Bracken tells her yes, she just about jumps for joy, “Good, I’ll do it. I’m bored to tears with this place.” Desk duty is no place for a former tennis pro turned police detective. Mary will go undercover as the university tennis coach. Since the dept. seems to be short on undercover cops, Kendall the campus Casanova will help her with the case.
Mary’s first assignment is an exhibition match with a female student. In the DVD extras we learn that the actresses had ever picked up a racquet before in their lives, a fact that is painfully obvious when watching the scene. The Dean congratulates Mary on a great game and hopes that, “This whole wretched business will be resolved with a minimum of fuss.” Sylvia Costa (Isabel Luque), a local reporter, begins asking questions. “Nothing has been happening I assure you. Nothing out of the ordinary.” Way to play it cool Dean. That kind of emphatic denial isn’t suspicious at all.
Meanwhile, the killer continues to play with his puzzle. To help keep the killers identity a secret, the actor wears gloves throughout the movie. Awkward, oversized gloves. In a shot that goes on and on and on, the killer fumbles with the jigsaw pieces, continually trying to jam them into place.
He makes a return visit to the dance studio where a leggy beauty rehearses all alone. She finishes up and goes to the elevator where she is surprised to find someone she knows. Her companion turns out to be the killer. He steps into the elevator and whips out his chainsaw. Her screams are heard across campus and Kendall rushes to her aide. All he finds is a bloody corpse. Bracken arrives on the scene to find the entire cast lined up as if they were in an Agatha Christie whodunit.
There are more shrieks in the night, only this time the screams come from a girl on the receiving end of Kendall’s considerable sexual prowess. He gives the audience a bit of full frontal when he goes to his bedroom window and spots Mary down below, snooping around.
The killer, his chainsaw at the ready, watches Mary. A man in a tracksuit jogs by. Suddenly she is attacked by a ninja. Yes… a ninja. She defends herself by kicking him where it counts. Kendall rides up on his dirt bike, “Hey, it’s my kung fu professor.” The Bruce Lee wannabe trots off, blaming the attack on bad chop suey.
Reporter Sylvia Costa explores the dark, deserted campus. She finds her way into the room with the aforementioned waterbed where the killer traps her. He stabs her repeatedly, water and blood gushing artistically in slow-motion geysers.
The next day, a female student finishes her tennis workout and hits the showers. The killer comes after her in the locker room, chainsaw buzzing. She tries to flee but her only route of escape has been blocked. She hides in a bathroom stall, so terrified that she wets her pants. Mary and Kendall arrive at the tennis courts but are unable to hear the girl’s screams because someone is blasting a marching band tune over the school’s P.A. system. The incongruous choice of music plays throughout the scene of gore and mayhem.
The killer slices trough the stall door and makes quick work of dicing up the tennis player. Mary and Kendall find Willard nearby acting suspicious, but then again, when is he not acting suspicious? It’s his sole reason for being in the movie. After the annoying music is finally turned off, they find the bloody remains of the recent locker room massacre.
Lynda Day George’s performance in this scene is pure bad movie nirvana. Pieces is worth watching for this single moment alone. “While we were out here fumbling with that music,” she emotes, “That lousy bastard was in there killing her. Bastard! BASTARD… BASTARD!!!”
The continuous campus violence sets everyone on edge. Det. Holden has been diligently sifting through files for clues, but Bracken needs answers now. “We don’t have anymore time. Take some uppers or something. Get me a lead. Anything!” Kendall, everyone’s favorite Jr. detective is assigned to help Holden.
That night, Mary pays the Dean a visit. He is unusually solicitous. The reason behind his gracious demeanor is quickly revealed. While mixing up some Sanka, in what may be the ugliest kitchen ever captured on film, the Dean drugs Mary’s coffee.
Kendall finds a clue. Holden checks the facts. After a single thirty second phone call, the case is solved. “The Dean is the one. Apparently his mother was chopped up when he was a kid. It must have affected his mind.”
In the sitting room of the Dean’s apartment, Mary begins to feel the strange effects of the drug. The detectives and Kendall arrive on the scene to find Mary in a near catatonic state. Unable to speak, she can’t tell them that the Dean is hiding behind the drapes. He pounces on an unsuspecting Kendall. They struggle. Just when the Dean is about to get the upper hand, Bracken shoots him dead.
The jigsaw puzzle is found and the police have their man. Case solved. After a job well done, Det. Holden casually leans against a bookshelf. Like a wall in a haunted house, the bookcase pivots open to reveal the Dean’s pieced together Frankenstein bride. The lifeless corpse topples onto a traumatized Kendall.
In a movie jam-packed with WTF moments, there’s still one last shock that tops them all. As the police close up the crime scene, Kendall stops to pick up his jacket. Suddenly, the hand of the corpse bride reaches up, grabs Kendall by the crotch and rips his privates off.
In conclusion: Fascinated by cinema at a young age, Juan Piquer Simon worked in publicity before getting the chance to direct his own films. Working primarily in Spain, Simon has written and produced nearly all of his movies, genre fare like Supersonic Man (1978), Mystery on Monster Island (1981), The Pod People (1983) and Slugs (1988). In all honesty, most of these aren’t very good, but there is a certain hackneyed charm present in all his films.
The film’s producers selected the American members of the Pieces cast. Simon hired Ian Sera, Frank Brana and Jack Taylor, all of whom he’d worked with before. The Asian actor who played the unexpected kung fu professor was working on a film of one of the producers when he visited the Pieces set. Deciding to take advantage of the actor’s fighting expertise, Simon came up with the karate sequence on the spot. The rest, as they say, is history.
Christopher George and Lynda Day George met the set of The Gentle Rain (1966) and were married not long after completing work on the John Wayne western Chisum (1970). They worked together throughout the decade in television movies like House on Greenapple Road (1970), Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976) and Cruise Into Terror (1978). Their final big screen appearance together was in 1983’s Mortuary. Christopher George died of a heart attack in November of that year. With the exception of a few TV guest spots, Lynda retired from acting after her husband’s death.
The Pieces DVD from Grindhouse Releasing is a cult movie lovers dream come true. The first disc contains the remastered film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Certain scenes appear a little grainy, but this is due to the movie’s low-budget origins, otherwise the picture is flawless. Audio options include the English version with stock music cues, the Spanish subtitled version with the original music score and a newly recorded 5.1 live track titled ‘The Vine Theatre Experience’ in which you can enjoy the movie along with the appreciative audience at a screening of Pieces at the Vine Theatre in Hollywood. Special features include the trailer and the original Spanish opening sequence. The second disc includes two in-depth interviews (each approx. an hour) with Juan Piquer Simon and Paul L. Smith. In lieu of a commentary track, these interviews more than satisfy any questions about the making of the film. There are the requisite photo galleries including the featurette ‘Juan Piquer’s Still Show’ in which the director shares with the viewer some of his Pieces memorabilia, including the original nudie puzzle prop. An Easter egg in the galleries menu reveal more footage from the ‘Still Show’ in which Simon goes over the old topless casting photos and reveals his dislike of the Baldwin brothers (it makes sense when you watch it). Filmographies and previews of other Grindhouse Releasing titles (14 in all) are also included.
Creatively gruesome chainsaw murders, surprise ninja attacks and the awesome acting talents of Lynda Day George (“Bastard!”) make Pieces must see viewing for aficionados of cool cinema trash.
GayRomLit Retreat 2014 has come and gone and as I predicted it was a completely awesome experience. There is simply no other conference/meet-up for the gay romance subgenre that even comes close to what GRL can offer to readers and authors alike. Here’s the breakdown of how Jeff and I spent our weekend.
We spent Tuesday traveling. Our plane landed that evening and we hired a car to take us to the Indian Lakes Resort in the suburbs of Chicago. This year’s venue was beautifully appointed but oddly designed. I have no complaints about the accommodations, but to go from the hotel to the conference center (were nearly all events were held) you had to walk through a rabbit’s warren of passageways that took five to ten minutes to traverse. The additional exercise was actually kind of nice since warmed blood was needed to withstand the seemingly sub-arctic temperatures that met us most days in the conference center. The resort is also home to The Biggest Loser’s Chicago location.
Jeff and I attended the Writer’s Workshop on Wednesday. I would consider this year’s version a workshop ‘lite’ compared to what was offered last year. Still, there was a lot to do and see. I especially enjoyed the enlightening and amusing presentation on blurb writing by the editors at Samhain. The roundtable workshop about working with review blogs was also fun and informative. The lovely and talented Madison Parker (official photographer of GRL) was taking author photos, so we had those done as well.
Thursday, the first official day of GRL, started with the opening of the swag room. Swag, for the uninitiated, are the free promotional goodies authors give out to attendees. Jeff and I usually avoid the crush of humanity that occurs when the doors first open (imagine Thanksgiving shopping crowds, but with booklovers). The most desirable swag items (books & tees) were long gone by the time we made it to the room, but we still got some nice stuff. Jeff, as a supporting author, also had space in the swag room. His promotional CD (with a pdf short story and other excerpts) proved to be quite popular.
The Supporting Author Book Signing was also that morning. Jeff and dozens of other authors got to sign books and talk to readers. It seemed to me that everyone had a great time. Jeff was certainly kept busy for the two-hour session.
Later that night was the Opening Reception. Jeff and I arrived late and missed the official announcement that GRL 2015 will be in San Diego. Needless to say, since we now live in California, we’re planning a road trip for next October.
Each night of GRL is a sponsored party. The Juke Joint has kicked off GRL for several years now, and everyone has a blast dancing the night away. Jeff was taking part in a group interview for Writer’s Online Network, so I braved the party solo. I had a drink and talked with friends and was about to call it quits when Jeff finished up and joined me. We hung out for a little while longer (we’re not exactly party animals) and got a picture with one of the adorable go-go boys.
After breakfast Friday morning we went to the Series Romance panel featuring T.A. Chase, Devon Rhodes and Carol Lynne. Could there be three more funny, talented and prolific ladies than these? I think not. After that we went to an author reading that featured our talented friend Geoff Knight. Kudos to him for his reading from The Pearl.
I decided to rest for the remainder of the afternoon while the Fun/Craft Fair took place. Jeff succumbed to a nasty stomach bug that evening so we skipped the casino-themed party.
Saturday was a slow start for us, but we did get to the author panel with Z.A. Maxfield, K.A. Mitchell and Jordan Castillo Price who espoused the joys of writing snarky/sexy heroes. Later we attended Samhain’s Sausage Fest, a sausage themed cocktail party with a yummy buffet (I admit, I went back more tham once).
That night was the Time Travel costume party and for the first time (this was our third GRL) Jeff and I went in costume. We had a few drinks, talked with friends and took tons of pictures. It was lots of fun.
Sunday morning meant attending the Farewell Brunch, which is a great chance to have breakfast and say good-bye to everyone before they head home. Jeff and I were legally wed in NYC in late October, so each year we’ve attended GRL, we’ve celebrated this particular anniversary sometime during the weekend. Sunday was the Anniversary date, so we went into Chicago to see the Joffery Ballet’s new production of Swan Lake. Needless to say, it was amazing. Jeff wrote a review that you can read here. When we arrived back at the hotel, we went and had a quiet dinner with some author friends. It was a perfect way to close an exhausting but rewarding GRL.
I should point out that I’ve only detailed a fraction of the activities that were available for attendees to partake in. As I’ve said before, there is no other event that caters so exclusively to the dedicated readers and writers of gay romance. If you’re a reader or a writer who has been on the fence about attending GRL, it should come as no surprise that I whole-heartedly encourage you give it a go. Jeff and I have been to the events in Albuquerque, Atlanta and Chicago. We’ve loved every one.
I didn’t even mention all the terrific discussions Jeff and I had with authors who were more than willing to share their insights into the business and craft of fiction writing. I personally know of no other genre where the authors are so generous with their time and are willing to help writers who are just getting started in the business.
Sunday may have been the last day of our GRL adventures, but our vacation continued as business took Jeff to New York and I tagged along. Not too much to tell about this particular NYC jaunt, but we did see some of Broadway’s latest offerings. I went to see The Country House and the latest revival of On the Town. My thoughts on those productions can be found here. Jeff and I also saw the star-studded It’s Only a Play, which Jeff reviewed here.
What it’s all about: As a sweaty Joan Collins writhes and moans during a particularly difficult childbirth, doctor Donald Pleasence comments to a nurse that, “This one doesn’t want to be born.” When you have Donald Pleasence for an obstetrician, you know you’re in big trouble. The Devil Within Her (1975, also know as I Don’t Want to Be Born) is a wonderfully wacky mish-mash of ideas liberally borrowed from other, more successful horror movies like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973).
When proud father Gino Carlesi (Ralph Bates) visits his wife Lucy (a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins) in the hospital, he finds her with bloody scratches on her cheek courtesy of their newborn son. “Maybe she was cuddling it too tightly,” Dr. Finch (Pleasence) explains, “Even at this age, babies have an extraordinary instinct for survival.” The uneasy couple brings their son home and they are greeted by efficient housekeeper Mrs. Hyde.
Gino’s has a sister who is, in fact, a sister. A nun that is. Sister Albana (Eileen Atkins) has come all the way from Italy for a visit. Gino greets his sister with a welcoming cascade of Italian endearments. “We are only going to speak English.” She insists. English, that is, with really bad Italian accents. Why talented British born actors like Bates and Atkins are forced to adopt such crazy accents is anybody’s guess. This is just one of he many instances where The Devil Within Her sabotages itself with odd production choices and absurd plot devices. Really, would an Old World Italian Catholic nun (with a bad accent) be any better suited for an exorcism than a Sister from the UK?
Lucy is paid a visit by glamorous pal Mandy, played by an oddly dubbed Caroline Munro, whose crazy cockney accent would sound right at home in a dinner theatre production of My Fair Lady. An unearthly ruckus from upstairs interrupts their girl talk. They find that the nursery has practically been demolished. Baby Nicholas lies quietly in his crib, a dolls decapitated head in his little arms. “He frightens me,” Lucy admits, “He’s been like that since he was born.”
In flashback we learn that Lucy used to be a nightclub dancer. With hilariously detailed narration, she recounts the beginnings of her woes. Her specialty was a number where she danced with a dwarf named Hercules. One night in her dressing room, her pint-sized dance partner pays her a visit. “I felt awkward,” she tells Mandy, “but I didn’t want to upset him, I knew how sensitive he was. I felt his hand on my neck. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. Maybe for an instant I was fascinated. It felt unreal.”
She rejects him and he is humiliated. As Lucy leaves the club, Hercules shouts his curse, “You will have a baby…a monster, an evil monster conceived inside your womb. As big as I am small and possessed by the devil himself!” It’s not weird, or scary, or creepy. It’s just one of the many moments in this supernatural thriller that elicit giggles instead of terrified screams.
When Sister Albana comes to visit the baby, she witnesses a violent feeding. “He spat at me!” Lucy cries, “He hates me!” In Albana’s presence, baby Nicholas shrieks and when placed in the arms of a priest at his christening, he goes into convulsions.
After employing the help of a full-time nurse, Gino and Lucy go out for a romantic evening. When they get home, they find the nurse was nearly drowned while giving the baby his bath. A little hand pulled her head into the bathwater. As Lucy puts the child to bed, it’s not the baby’s face that she sees, but the evil visage of Hercules!
While sharing a cup of tea with her friend, Lucy frets over her newborn, “How can I tell the doctor I think the baby is possessed by a devil?” Dr. Finch suggests some genetic tests to help determine what’s wrong with the baby. While the nurse is taking Nicholas for a stroll in the park, a tiny hand pushes her into the lake.
Albana discusses the problem child with her brother, “Lucy believes he is possessed…by the day-vil.” Unsure whether Lucy is imagining things or if something truly is wrong, she asks Gino, “When did you last pray?” Their whispered prayers elicit tortured screams from the baby upstairs.
The next day, Lucy steps out while the beleagured Mrs. Hyde finds a dead mouse in her cup of tea. Sister Albana consults with Dr. Finch in a laughably philosophical discussion of religion, science, and the supernatural. The doctor takes her theory of possession in stride and agrees to hospitalize the baby for observation while Gino takes Lucy on holiday.
Lucy goes to see her old employer. Tommy, the slimy strip club owner is played by John Steiner, who was also a memorable villain in the Italian films Yor, The Hunter From the Future (1983) and Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989). While auditioning a group of forgettable dancers for his topless revue, Tommy invites Lucy to rejoin the troupe. “I was lousy most of the time.” she admits. It’s valid assessment considering the fact that she never stripped in her old act. The scene injects some hardcore T&A into what has so far been a PG state of affairs.
She explains that he might be the daddy of her devil child, “Just ’cause you’ve got some freaky offspring you wanna pin it on me. What’d you expect me to do, fire Hercules and put your kid in my show?” In a moment that foreshadows her future employment on Dynasty, she calls him a bastard and dramatically slaps him. This piques Tommy’s interest, “I wanna see this spooky baby of yours.”
At the apartment, when Tommy leans in close to see if there is a family resemblance, baby Nicholas gives him a bloody nose. This amuses Lucy and, for the first time, looks at her child with affection. That is, until the face of Hercules appears in the crib.
Gino comes home from the office with all the makings for a romantic evening with his wife. They finish off the night by making love in a scene filled with soft-core close-ups and saxophone accompaniment. When Gino checks on the baby and finds the nursery empty and the window open, he goes outside to investigate some eerie giggling. When he looks up into some braches, a noose slips around his neck and he is soon dangling from a tree. His body is disposed of in the storage cubicle underneath the patio.
Lucy searches London for her missing husband but cannot find Gino anywhere. That night the doctor pays a visit to check on the troublesome child and it’s frenzied mother. “I’m frightened to be in the same house with him,” Lucy admits. After giving her a sedative, Dr. Finch hears that same creepy laugh and goes to investigate. In the backyard he is decapitated with several whacks from a garden shovel.
In a doped up haze, Lucy stumbles through the house. Her nightmare becomes all too real when she is attacked by the possessive spirit of Hercules. “I’m your mother, you can’ hurt me!” she cries as she barricades her bedroom door against her child’s murderous attack. “I know why you hate me. You didn’t want to be born!” Lucy pleads, but it is no use and she is stabbed trough the heart.
In a final showdown, Albana confronts the devil child. Reading from an ancient text, she begins the exorcism while the infant screams and the crib shakes. Baby Nicholas tears at her vestments, but with crucifix in hand, she carries on. On the other side of London, Hercules doubles over in agony while performing onstage with the girls at the nightclub.
The child leaps from the crib as the nursery shakes. Repeating the sacred Latin text, Albana touches the cross to the baby’s forehead. Hercules stumbles and falters while the showgirls continue to dance around him. Apparently the show must go on, even if you’re a stripper. When Sister Albana is finished, Nicholas gurgles and coos like a happy baby while Hercules, that diminutive practitioner of black magic, drops dead in front of a stunned audience.
In conclusion: When you’re dealing with a murderous, possessed infant, there’s a very fine line between a story that is terrifying and a story that is terribly silly. The cast seems to be trying their best, but their efforts are wasted in the type of movie where a grown man is punched in the nose by a baby. If The Devil Within Her had a Z-grade budget and second rate actors it would have been an amusing piece of genre junk. What makes it truly exceptional is the fact that this appears to be a serious attempt at a suspenseful horror film.
Aside from its unintentional laughs, The Devil Within Her leaves many questions unanswered. Why does Joan Collins remain clothed during her strip routine only to (briefly) appear nude in a love scene later on? The beautiful Caroline Munro is best known for her shapely figure. Why cast her (in a part that’s inconsequential at best) if you’re not going to exploit those assets? Where exactly did Hercules get his powers? Is he evil or just a bitter little man? Is he the devil? Why did he die after the exorcism? How does a nun (who is a research scientist) know how to perform exorcisms?
With demonic dwarfs, possessed infants and some of the ugliest (but groovy) production design of the 1970’s, Joan Collins might feel that The Devil Within Her is better left forgotten. Fans of Cool Cinema Trash will consider it unforgettable.