Color, 1982, 86m.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón
Starring Christopher George, Ian Sera, Lynda Day George, Jack Taylor, Paul Smith Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Arrow Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
While Spanish directors like Jess Franco certainly had their moments of hackwork, nobody else managed to hit the bottom of the barrel as consistently as the endearing Juan Piquer Simón who assaulted audiences with the likes of Cthulhu Mansion, Slugs, The Rift, and The Pod People. Thankfully some of his anti-masterworks have ascended to bona fide cult status, and none reigns more supreme than the tasteless and relentlessly entertaining Pieces. Shuffled into coast-to-coast theaters at the height of slasher mania in the early '80s, it became an instant drive-in favorite with its prominent unrated status luring in huge audiences. Of course, the predictable yelps of protest quickly ensued over its supposedly misogynist depictions of college women being attacked by a jigsaw-happy lunatic, though in fact this Spanish-shot film owes far less to its slasher cohorts than to the genre's decade-earlier ancestors, the Italian gialli, which Pieces both imitates and nearly parodies to a completely absurd degree.
In the obligatory prologue, set here in 1942, a young boy works on a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman. His mother bursts in and angrily chastises him, to which he responds by taking an axe to her head. The neighbors arrive with the police to find the house splattered with blood and the little boy hiding in the closet. Flash forward forty years later, as an idyllic Boston campus is being terrorized by a chainsaw killer who removes different body parts from his victims. The officer in charge, Lieutenant Bracken (City of the Living Dead's Christopher George), enlists the aid of tennis player Mary (Lynda Day George) and unbelievably dippy, he-slut college student Kendall (Sera) to sniff around for clues on campus. Meanwhile young girls continue to fall prey to the killer, in settings ranging from a swimming pool to a water bed(!), all executed in graphic detail. Can our undercover sleuths discover the killer before he realizes their plan? And can anyone explain that lunatic final scene?
If there were any doubt about the giallo influence on Pieces, the hilarious motivations for the killer's activities (triggered with a head-scratching early scene involving a dense roller skater flying to her death in a big pane of glass, thus bringing his psychosis back to the surface) should quickly reveal its true intentions. Plentiful suspects (including a chainsaw wielding groundsman played by Popeye's Bluto himself, Paul Smith!), endless police procedurals, a mysterious killer in black, and often naked women being terrorized in dark settings -- yep, it's all right here. Even the catchy, pulsating library soundtrack for the English-language version liberally douses the film with excerpts of the scores by Stelvio Cipriani and Claudio Maria Cordio for Ring of Darkness and Absurd. The best way to enjoy Pieces is probably as an unintentional comedy, partially thanks to Sera's doe-eyed and wholly unsympathetic performance, while the endless parade of female nudity is too ludicrous to take seriously. Sleaze fans should also watch for Franco regular Jack Taylor as a know it all professor, who has some of the best lines when he stumbles onto one gory crime scene.
Thanks to its profitable grass roots theatrical run ("You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!") and wide video distribution, Pieces became one of the more notorious splatter titles during the '80s with the predictable backlash by critics who took it way, way too seriously. The gore content is fairly high but never convincing, with rubber torsos and latex mouths getting shredding by various sharp implements. Vestron released it unrated on video, and the same lackluster full frame master was used for a Japanese laserdisc release. Meanwhile a very mildly widescreen (1.55:1) edition turned up on Venezuelan video under its Spanish title, Mil gritos tiene la noche (or One Thousand Cries Has the Night). Then infamous, thankfully defunct DVD rip-off label Diamond issues a bargain-priced digital duplicate of the Vestron transfer with shallow contrast, careless compression, and inconsistent colors, which subsequently made the rounds in several dubious, cheapo horror movie collections.
Needless to say, the hearts of trash film fans everywhere began to pitter pat when Grindhouse announced that it had acquired the legitimate rights to Pieces and would be releasing it in an edition finally worthy of its stature. The film kept popping up in major cities for horror festivals almost every year in the interim from its announcement in 2004, and finally after four years of waiting, the remastered, double-disc special edition finally arrived in 2008. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes, of course. The transfer is up there with their strongest SD offerings, and the Dolby Digital English mono audio sounds great. As if that weren't enough, you get no less than three viewing options. First up is the standard English version with the piecemeal CAM soundtrack; then there's the Spanish-language version, so you can chuck those Venezuelan tapes away. This edition contains a more organic and effective original piano-driven score by Librado Pastor (whose only prior credit was Satan's Blood), which makes the film seem more respectable but may not appeal to die-hard fans. Also, the beloved disco aerobic workout scene suddenly becomes a soft, sleazy jazz routine in the Spanish version, which might be the breaking point for many viewers. Last up is the "Vine Theater Experience" recorded at the venerable flea pit favorite in Hollywood in 2002, with a fairly rowdy crowd much in the same mold as what Fox did for the DVD of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, albeit without the same number of one-liners here. Disc one closes out with the original Spanish opening titles (which then continue on to the main feature if you don't shut 'em off) and the hilariously effective, very short U.S. trailer.
And onward we march to disc two of the DVD, which contains the lion's share of the bonus material and a host of Easter Eggs as well, all accessible through some hilarious, blood-spraying animated menus. "Pieces of Piquer" features the much-maligned Mr. Simón talking for a very jovial one-hour overview of his career, covering his days as a distributor in Spain to his early directorial efforts with whacked-out "adaptations" of Jules Verne novels, such as Mystery of Monster Island (out as an indispensable Midnite Movies release on DVD). Of course, Pieces gets most of the screen time, and Simón also covers the origins of the script, co-written with the "huh?" combo of two deceased exploitation legends, Dick Randall (French Sex Murders) and Joe D'Amato. His affection for the genre make this a lot of fun with no dead time whatsoever despite the running time. Next up is "The Reddest Herring," an interview with the extremely versatile Paul L. Smith, one of the best scowlers in the business, who appeared everywhere from Midnight Express (as one of the world's scariest prisoners) to the still-neglected "holy crap" masterpiece, Sonny Boy (as one of the world's scariest husbands). Now living in Israel, he's extremely cheerful and has a great demeanor that makes you immediately wish he'd get back in front of the camera again. The cast and crew filmographies contain plenty of hidden trailers and goodies best left unspoiled, an in addition to a traditional batch of stills and promotional artwork, you also get a video still show with Simón showing off the final and unused nude shots taken for the prominent jigsaw puzzle in the film. (An additional Easter Egg reveals even more, so happy hunting!) Along with the expected slew of Grindhouse trailers (including the usual suspects like Massacre Mafia Style, Death Game and Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell), you also get an enthusiastic set of liner notes by the late Deep Red master himself, Chas Balun.
Nearly four years later in 2011, Arrow Video issued its own DVD of Pieces in the UK with a transfer apparently from the same source but featuring PAL speedup, which makes it sound a tad odd if you know the film well. Extras here are completely different including a video intro by Jack Taylor, a commentary with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone and moderator Calum Waddell, a liner notes essay by Stephen Thrower, and an appreciative featurette with thoughts on the film by Scott Spiegel, Howard Berger, Michael Gingold, and Santos Ellin, Jr. So yeah, you need that one, too.
Now flash forward to 2016, and Pieces finally made its HD debut with a three-disc set from Grindhouse that rounds up the previous extras into a shiny new package with plentiful new material as well. The immaculate new transfer looks gorgeous and shockingly robust, far better than you'd ever expect the film to look, and both the English and Spanish audio tracks are intact with different music scores. Note: to play the original Spanish edit with correct subtitles, you have go through the "Play" option on the menu chainsaw instead of "Setup;" the latter will just give you the U.S. cut with Spanish audio and dubtitles. Both versions sound terrific, and Lynda Day George's showstopping howl of "Bastard! Baassstard! Baaassstaaarrrrd!" has never resonated so strongly in any home theater. New here is a third audio option for the film, a newly-composed score by "Umberto," which you should watch with the film's subtitles switched on for the full effect. It's quite a cool piece of continuous music recalling the vibe of classic Euro horror scores with kind of a synthpop twist. The alternate Vine Theater experience track is here as well, while Jack Taylor contributes a bemused new audio commentary in which he chats with moderator Waddell about virtually everyone from the film and his attitude about making it (saying it wasn't a work of "great intellect" pretty much sums it up!). He talks quite a bit about his career in general and other work with Simón, too, which always makes for good listening. A look at a 2002 Hollywood screening is also tucked away in one of the menu screens along with a 2008 Eli Roth intro from a New Beverly screening with Torso (which is, well, the usual Roth routine) and the video of Simón leafing through lobby cards, while the more easily accessed extras include the U.S. trailer and four separate image galleries. The "Production Stills" one is essentially an HD expansion of the final and unused nudie shots (with a hilarious punchline involving Sera at the end), while "Publicity Materials" collects together tons of international posters, ad mats, and other ephemera. "Video Releases" highlights the many editions on home video in various formats over the years -- some of it amusingly swiping poster art from entirely different movies like Slaughterhouse, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! "Bits and Pieces" highlights fan art and poster designs as well as flyers for horror fest screenings over the years, and "Juan Piquer's Still Show" is the lobby card video from the DVD release.
The second Blu-ray is extras only and features the "Pieces of Piquer" and "The Reddest Herring" featurettes while adding on a new 3-minute audio chat with producer Steve Minasian about the film's successful U.S. theatrical run and the criminal shenanigans of distributor Ed Montoro.
The cast and crew bios for main stars, director and producers are studded with goodies including two videos of Simón chatting about his favorite horror movie monsters, influences, and whether he feels like an "oddball," a hidden video of him showing off some additional (and far more obscure) production photos, a hilarious nudie promo for Dick Randall's Don't Open Till Christmas, hidden trailers (Primitive Love, Ecco, Don't Look in the Basement, Mark of the Devil, Last House on the Left, City of the Living Dead, Day of the Animals, and Maverick), a 3-minute interview with producer Steve Minasian about exhibiting Mark of the Devil, a hidden 2-minute bit by The Bruceploitation Bible author Michael Worth about Bruce Le's baffling appearance in this film and some of his other strange gigs. Previously seen in the UK on the Blu-ray of Anthropophagus, Waddell's 81-minute doc 42nd Street Memories makes its American video debut here with a barrage of interviews with the likes of Bill Lustig, Frank Henenlotter, Terry Levene, Larry Cohen, 42nd Street Pete (and far too much of his armpits), Joe Dante, Matt Cimber, Lloyd Kaufman, Lynn Lowry, Veronica Hart, Buddy Giovinazzo, and many others running through the history of the legendary trash movie mecca in his heyday ranging from sexploitation and horror to hardcore. Not surprisingly, the best material here is more about the environment and the colorful denizens living in New York as it hovered on the brink of financial ruin. It's quite a fun ride and forms a weirdly affecting narrative by the end celebrating a vital area that's long since been swallowed up by corporate anonymity. As usual you also get a slew of bonus Grindhouse Releasing trailers including a reissue one for Pieces and Corruption, Gone with the Pope, I Drink Your Blood, The Tough Ones, The Swimmer, The Beyond, The Big Gundown, Cat in the Brain, Ice House, Cannibal Holocaust, Scum of the Earth, Cannibal Ferox, An American Hippie in Israel, and Massacre Mafia Style. Also included is a soundtrack CD containing the bulk of the American soundtrack (all of the library tracks by Stelvio Cipriani and Claudio Maria Cordio plus the extra tracks "I Love Blondes," "Up Country," and "Cocktail Molotov," though no one's managed to turn up that crazy "Running Around" song yet). The original Balun essay is also reprinted here in the insert along with a Gore Gazette appreciation by Rick Sullivan, while a limited edition from the first pressing also includes a real jigsaw puzzle that... well, to borrow one of this film's more notorious taglines, "it's exactly what you think it is."
Not enough Pieces for you? It was inevitable that Arrow Video would eventually take a stab at upgrading the film to Blu-ray in the UK, after six years after their DVD, that's exactly what happened with their 2017 edition (a Blu-ray/DVD combo), available as a limited two-disc release in standard packaging or a mammoth 1,000-unit deluxe edition featuring, yes, that puzzle in a new larger version, along with a 180 gram 12" vinyl version of the soundtrack. For the film itself, the transfer is sourced from the same excellent 4K scan with identical playback options (U.S. version with optional SDH subtitles in English or Spanish, or the original Spanish cut with correctly translated English subs and the intended opening credit sequence). Image quality looks almost identical, not surprisingly; the Arrow looks just a tiny shade warmer, but in terms of detail, framing, and compression, it looks like a tie. (The DVD doesn't have the Spanish cut, however.) For a comparison, click here and here compared to the grabs seen up above. The 5.1 Vine Theater experience is present here along with that Umberto rescore option, while the audio commentary here is swapped for a brand new one by the gang at The Hysteria Continues. Once again they're good company and make the 90 minutes fly by very quickly, elaborating considerably on their earlier podcast about the film and noting its different English and Spanish translations, its manipulation of slasher movie conventions, and plenty more.
Interestingly, none of the exclusive extras from their earlier 2011 DVD are carried over here, so if you're a die-hard fan, you'll want to hang on to that one. Carried over from the Grindhouse release are "Pieces of Piquer," "The Reddest Herring," the audio interview with Minasian, "Juan Piquer's Still Show," the original and 2016 reissue U.S. trailers, and the the other image galleries in all their lunatic glory. New here are a trio of featurettes by Elijah Drenner, kicking off with the 15-minute "It's Exactly What You Think It Is!" Various filmmakers and critics evaluate the impact and visceral joys of the film including The Pact director Nicholas McCarthy, Joe Bob Briggs, Late Phases director Adrián García Bogliano, The Convent director Mike Mendez, and (full disclosure) even yours truly thrown into the mix, covering everything from the film's place in the history of Spanish horror through its indelible marketing campaign. A new 28-minute interview with soft-spoken art director Gonzalo Gonzalo entitled "A Thousand Screams" goes into detail about the long-running collaboration he and Simón enjoyed (in a variety of different jobs), with the director finding far more success selling his films in America than Spain and planning to pass off his films as much as possible as U.S. product. (Cue the Slugs clips!) His comments about this film are especially illuminating as he explains how reference photos were used to create the look of "American rooms" and a Northeastern university. Not listed in the official specs is the 9-minute "Falling to Pieces," in which filmmaker Sergio Blasco chats about his friendship with Simón late in the director's life and the various drafts they undertook on an unproduced sequel to this film, which was intended to feature some connections to the original while standing on its own as well. Sadly he doesn't provide solid details about the premise, but the idea of a Spanish-lensed Pieces 2 is enough to make your head swim. True to form with this particular film, a couple of little Easter eggs from the Grindhouse edition are tucked away as well if you look hard enough. A bonus CD replicates the contents of the prior soundtrack releases, while the reversible packaging (including a new design by Marc Schoenbach) adds a liner notes booklet with a Mike Gingold essay.