In any compilation of low budget, grind house or horror footage shown on TV, YouTube or in a documentary, you’ll have buried into your brain many of the gruesome and iconic moments from the 1980’s exploitation film ‘Pieces’, a slasher horror film that’s small on brains but overflowing in buckets of fake blood and laughable absurdity. Recently re-released by the company who understands cult classics the best, Arrow Video, does this masterpiece in all its goofiness hold up to modern scrutiny?
In the film’s opening scene, a mother’s distaste at her son’s pornographic jigsaw puzzle results in him butchering her with axe. Escaping blame by playing the victim, forty years later he carves his way through a female population of a college campus with a chainsaw, with a desire to make a real life recreation of his jigsaw… with human body parts. It’s up to a bunch of hopeless cops and one student who somehow escapes suspicion to figure out the identity of the killer. Seriously, fuck the story, it’s not important.
The film rose to popularity not for the terror it left on audience’s faces nationwide, but for the unforgettable laughter it drew from a set of totally unprepared viewers. Aside from the expected flaws, like the poor acting ranging from two policemen and a woman reacting to a severed head with mild surprise to Lynda Day George’s gut bustlingly funny screams of ‘Bastard!’, the film, put brilliantly by Michael Ginggold of Fangoria Magazine, “…just exists in a world that doesn’t follow the rules of reality.”
There are far too many singular bizarre moments to count. From the killer carrying a revved up chainsaw into a lift without the to-be victim noticing, or a kung-fu professor who just shows up and leaves, to the final nut crunching explanations for the film’s lack of consistency waver, and from its Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon’s love of exploitation to the actor’s naivety to the parody-esque nature of the whole thing. What it inevitably creates is a film that, whilst horror, is certainly not slasher, in fact the film is almost a genre in and of itself. By the time you’ve finished laughing at a tennis match with two actors who can’t play the game worth a shit, you’re wincing as a chainsaw slices seamlessly through a woman’s torso.
This odd mix of conflicting, illogical dialogue, the Magnum P.I. storytelling and the butchering, was an experience that assaulted an audience that, in a pre-internet age, had no idea what to expect from E.T. let alone a grind house pic, but even today its head scratchingly hilarious. Perhaps the timely inappropriate haircuts, technology etc. added that extra level but I like to think its aged horribly in all the right ways.
What’s even stranger though is it’s not poorly made. It might escape ignorant audience members but the filming style is quite complex considering its low budget: wonderfully coloured scenes and heavy art design almost overshadow a level of gore leagues above other films of the era, both in practicality and in notoriety. The latter of course, alongside the multitude of nude women, naturally sparked controversy back in the day, yet when you piece (really really sorry) the whole thing together it’s hard to see how anyone could find this offensive.
If you’ve read this entire review I hope it makes the rating make a little more sense (though I wish I had some kind of comical replacement for stars…),and if you’re intrigued then this release, with a retrospective by actor Jack Taylor and numerous horror aficionados, is definitely worth looking at.
Words > Graham Ashton