Cool Cinema Trash: Pieces (1982)
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.