Tuesday, October 4, 2011

DVD Review: PIECES (1982)

PIECES (1982)
RATING: 18 Certificate
DURATION: 82 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.66:1)
AUDIOo: Optional English and Spanish original mono audio
DIRCETOR: Juan Piquer Simón
CAST: Christopher George, Jack Taylor, Paul L. Smith, Edmund Purdom, Lynda Day George
TAGLINE: PIECES. It's Exactly What You Think It Is

Spanish filmmaker Juan Piquer Simón's PIECES opens in 1942 as an adolescent boy assembles a nudie jigsaw puzzle on his bedroom floor when his mother bursts in putting an end to his healthy sexual curiosity. Overreacting she chastises the boy with taunts that he's a louse just like his father then smashing a picture of dear old dad against a mirror which shatters. While searching the boy's room for other naughty contraband she sends the boy to fetch a garbage bag whom returns instead with an axe which he thrusts repeatedly into her cranium, it's a blood fest and pretty damn graphic. With mother properly dead he sets aside the axe in favor of a handsaw which he uses to discombobulate her head which he places inside a closet and then sets about finishing-up the lewd jigsaw puzzle until the police, alerted by a worrisome nanny, arrive on scene. The boy slips into the closet where he is discovered by the police whom assume he's the survivor of an attack and not the fiendish culprit.

Some forty years later the adolescent murderer now a disturbed adult keeps mementos from the massacre hidden away in a box, inside are his mother's blood spattered flower print dress and shoes, plus the naughty jigsaw puzzle now stained with mother's blood. When the killer witnesses a young girl bizarrely skateboard into a pane of mirrored glass the death reawakens his blood lust and fascination with kinky jigsaw puzzles. Soon he sets about terrorizing a Boston area college slaughtering young ladies with a chainsaw, collecting body parts and assembling them into a perverse human jigsaw puzzle.
The first piece of the puzzle is a cute co-ed sprawled out on the campus lawn whose head severed is with a chainsaw, it's an artfully shot kill as her head spins through the air followed by a crimson wave of blood. The shocking murder is investigated by Lt. Bracken (Christopher George, THE EXTERMINATOR) and Sgt. Holden (Frank Brana, SLUGS) who arrive on campus to inform the Dean of Students (Robert Purdom, DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS) if their odd plan to place police woman Mary Riggs (Linda Day George, DAY OF THE ANIMALS) undercover as a tennis coach in an effort to suss out the maniac's identity. The list of suspects is pretty great, we have the suspicious, cock-eyed gardener Willard (Paul L. Smith, CRIMEWAVE) who is in pretty much every other scene with chainsaw in hand, the odd Prof. Brown (Jack Taylor, THE NINTH GATE), and young college student Kendall (Ian Sera, THE POD PEOPLE) who's one of the more likely suspects, so of course they deputize. With this brilliant dragnet in place what could possibly go wrong?

Reversible Artwork Option
  The investigation does little to deter our maniacal chainsaw slasher who stalks and dismembers several more young women in quick succession. The killer decked in the latest Giallo fashions sports a black trench coat, black leather gloves and a black fedora. His next victim he nets while she skinny dips in  a pool and then dismembers her leaving a neat pile of severed limbs right next to the instrument of her death. When the body is discovered the Lt. calls Prof. Brown to the scene and asks if he thinks that perhaps the chainsaw next to the corpse, it's teeth covered in chunks of meat and gore, might possibly be the murder weapon, well duh. Our third victim is a dancer caught in an elevator by our stealthy sicko who somehow sneaks a running, yellow chainsaw onto a 5'x5' elevator. The woman recognizes the killer's identity but doesn't seem to notice the gas-powered chainsaw until it's too late. The effects in the film are surprisingly gruesome, there's plenty of disembowelment, dismemberment, chainsaw savaged flesh and stabbings perpetrated against mostly nude women. Two of the best kills are left for last, we get an artful Argento worthy slow-mo stabbing on a water bed and a gruesome locker room evisceration featuring the saw tearing flesh to bits, it's super gory. It may be a bit surprising just how much great gore is crammed into the silly film, particularly considering how goofy some of the film's more dramatic elements are. Let's not forget a nutty kung-fu professor which is perhaps the most random chop-suey fueled nonsensical moments in film history that will definitely leave you scratching your head.

One of my favorite scenes comes immediately following a the elevator death when all of the film's red-herrings are gathered together in a hallway looking suspicious beyond belief as lightning dramatically  illuminates their faces, it's a completely hilarious moment straight outta an episode of Scooby-Doo. The film's finale is just outta this world with one shocking reveal careening preposterously into a shocking, ball-shredding ending that will leave you speechless or in stitches, maybe a bit of both. There's nothing else like it out there, not sure if the inherent camp is intended but I don't see how it possibly could be, this is the kind of stuff you just can't plan for and is most likely a happy accident of schlocky cinema. While there's no other film quite like it I would make a comparison toe Lucio Fulci's THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY which is equally gore-tastic while also uniquely absurd.
Working for the film are some great gore-sequences, it's impressive stuff. Also some funky English dubbing might actually enhance the film's charm not to mention some great appearances from Euro-sleaze all-stars, Jack Taylor, Christopher George, Edmund Purdom and the greatest red-herring of all time Paul L. Smith. The cinematography is above average for an early 80's slasher, too. Perhaps not on par with the works of Argento or Fulci but not too shabby either. Perhaps the most memorable quote from the film is Linda Day George's blood curdling shrieks of "BASTARD!" in a bizarre, oddly paced succession, it's weird and wonderful and par for the course. 

DVD: Arrow Video presents PIECES fully uncut in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and while I can't say for sure the transfer looks to be the same restored master as Grindhouse Releasing special edition. The PQ is quite good with some decent grain, saturated colors and acceptable black levels but it's not a film that's gonna blow you way when upscaled 1080p on your HDTV but it's quite watchable and from a clean print.

Audio options include both a English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and it's what you might expect from a mono presentation, not overly dynamic but clean sounding and the dialogue is clear and audible. Toggling back and forth between the English and Spanish options I see that the Spanish version has an alternate score from Librado Pastor (THE POD PEOPLE) which I didn't care for at all. On the other hand the CAM sourced library tracks from the English version were fitting if not spectacular.
Main Menu
 Arrow Video would have been hard-pressed to compete with Grindhouse Releasing's supplements but I must say that High Rising Productions have risen to the occasion with some UK exclusives well worth owning. First we have a short intro from actor Jack Taylor, plus Pieces of Jack: An Actors Experience of Spanish Splatter (17:55) an interview with the euro-sleaze star of such film as THE GHOST GALLEON whom speaks of his introduction to acting at the age of six, moving from NYC to Mexico to pursue his craft, meeting Jesus Franco and  working FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973), SUCCUBUS and THE GHOST GALLEON among others. He also recollects working with Juan Piquer Simon on THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, comparing the workings styles of Franco vs. Simon and his experiences on-set with co-stars Christopher George, Linda Day George , Edmund Purdom and Paul L. Smith. Taylor also speaks about the film's controversy, not realizing the satirical nature of the film and revealing that he's never watched PIECES.

The second featurette is Pieces of Deconstruction: Looking Back at a Grindhouse Gorefest (22:14) which features fond remembrances of this crazy slasher from filmmakers Scott Spiegel (INTRUDER) and Howard S. Berger, Fangoria editor Michael Gringold and film historian Santos Ellin Jr. all of whom lovingly recount their first experiences watching the film and their continued enjoyment of it.

The audio commentary with Arrow regular Calum Waddell and Fangoria's Tony Timpone is not so much a scene by scene deconstruction of the film as a fun conversation that occasionally highlight the film's greatest moments and some of it's history, distribution and reception, very entertaining and informative. My screener check disc arrived sans artwork, poster or booklet but they're detailed below in the special features summary.

- Introduction by star Jack Taylor(0:25) 16:9
- Pieces of Jack: An Actors Experience of Spanish Splatter – Actor Jack Taylor recollects his experiences of performing in Pieces (17:55) 16:9
- Pieces of Deconstruction: Looking Back at a Grindhouse Gorefest – Hostel producer Scott Spiegel, filmmaker Howard S. Berger, Fangoria's Michael Gingold and horror historian Santos Ellin Jr. reflect on the lasting legacy, and lacerations, of Pieces! (22:14) 16:9
- Audio Commentary with Fangoria magazine’s Tony Timpone, sharing first hand recollections of the golden age of slasher cinema, moderated by Calum Waddell
- Artwork by Jeff Zornow Must be Destroyed
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
- Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Stephen Thrower, author of ‘Nightmare USA’.

VERDICT: PIECES is an awful film that beyond reason is simply one of my  favorite slashers of all time. It's a none too subtle demented chainsaw slasher that's utterly ridiculous and steeped in sleazy excess and for that it gets a high recommend from me. Arrow's DVD with exclusive content is worth a purchase even if you own the Grindhouse Releasing special edition. PIECES. It's exactly what you think it is ...a must own schlockfest!