There is such a thing as a perfect storm in filmmaking. When legendary directors, writers and actors all put their talents towards a common goal, the results are usually cinematic classics. Such is the case with 1982’s Pieces, a schlock-gorefest that brought together some of the most creative yet understated minds of low budget filmmaking, and it should be considered essential viewing for any horror fan.
Pieces starts in 1942, when a young boy is caught putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman by his mother. The mother yells at the boy and starts to gather up all of his filthy magazines and books, but the young boy stops her with an axe to the head. When the police arrive, the boy hides in a closet, pretending to have been in there during the entire murder. Forty years later, a psycho killer with a chainsaw is stalking young women on the campus of a Boston college. A couple of policemen, named Lieutenant Bracken (Christopher George from Graduation Day and City of the Living Dead) and Sergeant Holden (Frank Baña from Return of the Evil Dead and The Pod People), are assigned to the case, and they quickly enlist the help of a student named Kendall (Ian Sera from Mystery on Monster Island and The Pod People) to assist with the investigation. One of the first things that they notice about the bodies is that none of them are complete; each one of them is missing a body part. With no leads, they plant an undercover female officer named Mary (television staple Linda Day) in the school to help flush the killer out. Girls are dying left and right as the motley group of investigators tries to catch the murderer before he strikes again.
The script for Pieces was a collaborative effort between producer Dick Randall (The Mad Butcher, Slaughter High) and “John Shadow,” one of the dozens of aliases used by the prolific Joe D’Amato (who wrote The Hobgoblin and Rocco’s Ghost as well as several of the erotic Emanuelle movies). Respected Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón (Slugs: The Movie, Mystery on Monster Island) added a lot of blood, guts and a couple of his go-to actors, and one of the most unforgettable horror films ever made was born. In many ways, Pieces is brilliant – the jigsaw puzzle and the missing body parts is a great plot device, making the movie part Frankenstein and part The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The movie is a mystery disguised as a slasher film, as the entire film is more of a who-dun-it than a we-gotta-get-away.
Pieces was shot in Simón’s home town of Valencia in Spain, although it is set in Boston. Most of the crew is Spanish, but most of the actors are American and the locations are generic, so the film has an authentic feel. It’s a foreign film that pretends to be American, and it takes influences from both American and Spanish horror as well as the Italian “giallo” cinema popularized by Dario Argento. Pieces was cheaply made, and has the look and feel of a student film, complete with bad jokes, horrible dialogue and bloody effects. What Pieces lacks in production value is made up for in sheer gore and a surprisingly clever plot. Randall and Simón prove that a lot of money is not needed to create an entertaining film.
There is a lot of unforgettable imagery in Pieces. The opening scene where the young boy is caught with the dirty puzzle is as disturbing today as it was in 1982. In another scene, the killer inexplicably decides to use a knife instead of a chainsaw to kill a girl on a waterbed, her blood mixing with the water from the punctured mattress by the end. In still another classic scene, the killer chases a victim through a locker room (topless, of course) until he corners her in a bathroom and cuts her right in half, but not before she wets herself in fear. And the final scene, well, anyone who’s seen it will never forget it. Ever.
Pieces is one of the most underrated horror films of all time. Though often overshadowed by slicker, more expensive slasher films, it is a film that should be seen at least once by everyone. Once may be all it takes; it won’t be forgotten.