Terror Tuesday: PIECES Is The Greatest Movie Named PIECES Ever Made

You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre! Brian talks about one of the all-time great semi-obscure horror films, the incredible PIECES.

“Forty years after a sweet-faced lad axes his mother to death when she catches him doing a nudie puzzle, college girls start meeting their demise at the hands of a chainsaw killer. It seems that he’s assembling another puzzle of a nude woman… only this time the pieces aren’t cardboard!”  Approx. 89 minutes.

In other words, PERFECT.  First of all, I myself am a jigsaw puzzle aficionado, and while I don’t put together too many “nudie” puzzles, I rarely see anyone doing them in a movie, let alone have the activity tied into an axe murder.  I could (sort of) identify!  So I ripped off the plastic wrap and popped the film into the player, excited about seeing a new slasher and hopefully starting the process of forgetting about the game.

Well things didn’t look too good at first, as the very first thing we see in the movie is a title card saying “Boston, 1942”, followed by a kid’s room with a goddamn Patriots pennant!  It’s bad enough that it’s there at all (the Pats didn’t exist until 1960), but what are the odds that the movie I pick to forget about the Patriots game has a friggin’ Patriots pennant in the first 30 seconds?  I considered shutting it off, but then – the synopsis-promised matricide!

Needless to say, I kept watching, and I’m glad I did.  While I have certainly seen better films over the years, few have entertained me in that special sort of batshit way that Pieces does, and this was at home, by myself!  Most movies like this just don’t work when you’re home alone – the incoherent plots just seem annoying instead of hilarious, the bad acting causes you to sigh instead of grin, etc.  But not Pieces – it’s on its own level of amazing WTFness.

I don’t want to spoil all of the movie’s delights, but I want to give a taste.  After the matricide, we cut to forty years later, as a girl is rolling around on a skateboard.  She doesn’t seem to ever have to use her foot to accelerate or turn, she just sort of glides along on the thing like it was on a motor or something.  And of course, two guys carrying a large mirror step into her path, and she crashes right into it, which causes the murderer – back in his childhood home re-assembling his puzzle – to freak out.  Moments later, the same girl, completely free of any injuries you’d expect to occur from smashing into a large piece of glass, is doing homework on the campus lawn.  She hears a gardener revving up a chainsaw and asks him if she should move, and he says no, then immediately walks over and chops her head off.  We then cut inside the school, where a girl explains that “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time.”

This is all in the first ten minutes and I haven’t really skipped anything.  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Pieces.

Now, I wish I could tell you that the movie keeps up this nonstop barrage of insanity throughout, but from there it limits its baffling nonsense to every 5 minutes or so.  You might not remember them later, but the film DOES have legitimate scenes of people talking like human beings and plot points being addressed or foreshadowed.  But for every one of those, you get something like the infamous “Kung Fu Professor” scene, where our heroine is attacked out of nowhere by an Asian man, only for our young hero (a student who the cops routinely bring along to crime scenes) to explain that the man is just his Kung Fu professor.  Professor Fu then explains he had some “bad chop suey” and exits the scene, never to be mentioned again.  Apparently, one of the producers was making a Kung Fu movie at the same time and wanted to have some of this sort of thing in Pieces; I can almost see a world where each scene of the film was explained away by a producer’s random whims.  It would certainly help explain the inclusion of tennis players, one of whom is supposed to be a pro but looks sort of like Gail Stanwyck in Fletch before Chevy shows her how it’s done.

I must mention Paul Smith’s should-be-award-winning role as Willard, the groundskeeper and most likely suspect, due to the fact that he is often seen with a chainsaw and is actor Paul Smith, a man who barely needed any change to his appearance in order to play Bluto in the live action Popeye movie.  He plays every single scene in the film with a stink eye, and even though he would appear to be a prime suspect, is never relieved of his duties as a groundskeeper.  This allows him to stick around and give a stink eye to nearly every character in the film at some point or another.  In fact he nearly steals the film from bad movie king Christopher George, who you might remember from such films as City of the Living Dead

, Graduation Day

, and of course Grizzly

, which carries the following plot synopsis on IMDb: “A fifteen foot tall grizzly bear terrorizes a state park. Christopher George leaps into the carnage to stop it” (if that was the movie’s tagline, it would have doubled its gross, I’m willing to bet).  He plays his usual snarling asshole cop, and it’s a shame that the movie has another old cop cutting into his screentime – he’s top billed but not in the movie nearly as much as I’d like.  It would also be his penultimate film; he died of a heart attack shortly after completing Mortuary the following year.

The funny thing about Pieces is that there’s like 5 or 6 prominent male characters but really only two of them can be considered suspects for the killer (discounting Smith, like everyone else does).  One is the Dean of the school, the other is a professor who is thought to be gay.  I won’t spoil which of the two it is, but the reveal is kind of half-assed; if I had one complaint about the movie it would be that the killer turns out to be a relatively valid and sane choice.  Luckily, the final shot makes up for it with an out of nowhere moment that defies even this movie’s already peculiar brand of logic.

Oh and the dialogue in this movie!  I don’t know if the baffling lines are the result of mis-translation (this being an Spanish/American co-production) or just a total lack of understanding how human beings actually converse, but either way it adds immensely to the movie’s value.  I particularly enjoy when a cop making a phone call starts telling the hero that it “might be a while” due to the guy on the other end of the line being too old, but he never actually manages to get the whole thought out because the guy on the other end comes back, rendering the entire “this might be a while” concept entirely worthless.  And I forget his name, but there’s a little nerdy dude who simply delivers a note and then inexplicably says “I hope I’m not the bearer of bad news, if I am I’ll have to kill myself. I’m too young to die!”  And who could forget “Bastards….. Bastards!!  BASTARRRDSSS!!!!”

On a serious note, I was relatively impressed with the Boston faking.  I don’t know how much/little was shot in Boston vs. Madrid, but there’s no tell-tale signs of it being anywhere else, which is rare (especially considering the movie’s rather casual approach to… well, everything).  Some of the low budget is apparent at times – watch for lightning flashing behind the frosted glass that’s supposedly the door to an elevator – but on a technical level it’s a lot better than I was expecting, and the gore effects are shockingly good as well, particularly the awesome waterbed death and the chainsaw disemboweling.

Speaking of the gore, the Blood Bath version of the movie is definitely uncut, despite claims that the Grindhouse release in 2008 was the first time that the film had been released uncut on DVD.  The BB version is not a particularly great transfer, but what do you expect on a “4 movies for 5 bucks” set?  However, the Grindhouse set includes a wealth of great extras, including Pieces aficionado Eli Roth introducing the film at the New Beverly back during his “Grapes of Roth” festival, which I was proud to attend as one of the few that had already experienced this masterpiece.

And that brings us back to seeing the movie in a theater vs. seeing it at home – it actually doesn’t matter for this movie.  While seeing it with a big crowd who will more than likely cheer at the Kung Fu Professor and “Cassanova” moments obviously makes for a glorious time, I found it just as delightful by myself on the small screen.  This is much unlike some other great crowd movies like George’s Graduation Day, or Tommy Wiseau’s infamous The Room

, both of which I found hard to get through without the “participation” and enthusiasm of fellow movie lovers.  I assume big screen showings are rare, so I just want to assure you that this is NOT a movie you need to “wait to see right” – there is simply no wrong way to see Pieces.

Brian Collins watches a horror movie every single day. Then he writes about it. You can read his reviews at Horror Movie A Day, the best and the original daily horror movie watching site.