Tagline: You Don’t Have To Go To Texas For A Chainsaw Massacre!
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Writers: Dick Randall (screenplay), Roberto Loyola (screenplay)
Starring: Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Frank Braña, Edmund Purdom, Ian Sera, Paul L. Smith, Jack Taylor, Gérard Tichy, May Heatherly, Hilda Fuchs, Roxana Nieto, Cristina Cottrelli, Leticia Marfil, Silvia Gambino
Unrated | 1hr 29min | Horror, Slasher
Budget: $300,000 (estimated)
B-movie slashers – once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right?
If you’re judging them in terms of originality, then yes, they are all very much the same – particularly those from the early part of the 1980s before censorship hysteria shackled the industry. In regards to technique, they are invariably cheap rip-offs of John Carpenter’s genre-defining Halloween, movies in which a masked killer stalks promiscuous teens through a series of heavily contrived set-pieces, while a perverted revelation draws ever nearer.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón – a Spanish filmmaker who began his career in advertising – Pieces is a cynical pastiche of some of the periods most influential horror, and with a tagline as blatantly derivative as ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre’, it is safe to say that he had no ambitions of becoming an innovator. In fact, as a director of horror movies, Simón is incompetent at best, and although he steals some of horror’s trademark techniques, he is unable to utilize them effectively, and as a result tension is quite impossible.
Of course, Simón is no fool, and with Pieces he is not attempting to win any awards. Back in the 1980s, slasher movies were the easiest way to turn a profit, and the film is a savvy exercise in marketing at heart, a cinematic endeavour which is happy to get by on the very basics. Simón is not trying to scare us or thrill us or even intrigue us. The idea is to shock to the point of notoriety, and in those terms he does a very fine job indeed. Of course, If you are to sponge off the popularity of others in an oversaturated market, a gimmick is essential in setting your movie apart, and Pieces has a gimmick that is part Hitchcock, part Tobe Hooper, comparisons that are superficial at best.
Before we get into the thick of it, a quick flashback offers us a laughably contrived scene in which a miniature Norman Bates hacks his mother to pieces with an ax and a chainsaw, deadly instruments which he magically procures after she scolds him for constructing a jigsaw of a nude woman. This is the kind of incident that might scar a person for life, perhaps even see them grow to become a leading figure at a private institution while calmly plotting the ultimate homage to that fateful day: a human jigsaw made from female body parts. The fact that a man of such wanton insanity could wait forty years to enact his grisly plot shows incredible restraint, and if you’re not a person who relishes in this kind of nonsense, you may have to muster similar resolve if you are to stay the course.
There are so many holes in this movie that it is almost offensive, but ultimately that’s what makes it so watchable. For one thing, the movie begins forty years prior to when the majority of events are set, which by my reckoning would make it 1942, but there is nothing even remotely 40s about the flashback scene, and a jigsaw which is central to the movie’s theme features a naked woman who looks distinctly 80s. I mean, how would you even get yours hands on a jigsaw of a naked woman back then, especially if you were an eight-year old boy?
Other absurd occurrences of note include perhaps the most obvious red herring you are ever likely to see in Willard, a campus gardener who stalks the premises with a chainsaw while perving on a plethora of nubile students. For a while nobody bats an eyelid, and the college dean even stops to discuss the murders with the insane looking brute, who later attacks the police after being found in possession of a chainsaw next to a couple of mutilated bodies. Of course, the police have to let him go due to a lack of evidence, and Willard returns to work as if nothing ever happened. Even more absurd is the fact that he is not the killer, something we discover less than twenty minutes in with no other smokescreen on the horizon. There is even a moment in the movie when a ninja springs from nowhere with seemingly violent intentions, before finally revealing himself as the colleges’ professor of kung-fu. I mean, where did that come from?
What truly sets the movie apart – asides from the kind of relentless gore which leaves no time for characterization – is the movie’s protagonist, Lieutenant Bracken (Christopher George), who in spite of going to great lengths to do his best Columbo impression is as inept as they come. Not only is he unable to ascertain the fact that the bloodied chainsaw sitting next to a pile of limbs is in fact the murder weapon, he later fails to search a crime scene where our killer lurks, putting his teenage assistant in danger as our middle-aged damsel lies paralyzed on the sofa, her eyes almost popping in disbelief as he decides to search out in the hallway first. If only he had checked behind the curtain!
Of course, plot and general logicality are peripheral to a movie whose sole purpose is garnering notoriety. What’s crucial are the abundance of mutilations on display, the kind so horrific they barely have an effect on the many witnesses who continue to stroll around without a care in the world, while our killer is able to store his body parts in the very building where the murders take place without raising even the slightest suspicion. As you can probably imagine, this is pretty ridiculous stuff, particularly the dialogue, which seems to suffer quite dramatically in its English translation as our largely Spanish cast dub their way to a quite startling final scare, one so improbable it will leave you grinning in spite of the piles of steaming viscera the movie leaves you drowning in.
Unable to outrun a fifty-year-old man carrying a giant chainsaw, super-fit tennis champion Suzie is cornered in the locker room and cut to ribbons in a display of graphic brutality that inspires perhaps the only appropriate response in the entire movie – a series of theatrical screams which inevitably cross over to the realms of implausibility.
Most Absurd Moment
After finding the mutilated body of our infant killer’s mum, the local police presume that the blood-soaked boy is merely an innocent bystander, in spite of the fact that his fingerprints are all over the murder weapon and the closet he was locked in wasn’t actually locked. ‘Not to worry, kid,’ one of them calmly assures him as clumps of viscera drip from the ceiling. They would later inform his boy scout leader that he wouldn’t be attending this week.
Most Absurd Dialogue
After stumbling upon a couple of mutilated bodies lying next to a bloodied chainsaw, super sleuth Lieutenant Bracken has some questions for Professor Brown:
Lieutenant Bracken: Now look, professor, I don’t want to wait for the coroner’s opinion, so can you give me yours? Now, could that have been done [points to body] with a chainsaw [points to second body] like that one over there?
Gee, let me think…
Pieces is an incredibly violent affair, but one that takes no pleasure in its graphic extremities, marketing blood and guts with an almost business logic. Lazy, cynical and completely devoid of tension, this is horror at its most shallow, but the film’s goofy premise is good for a giggle, while gore hounds will no doubt bask in its crimson facade.