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
Unrated | 1hr 29min | Horror, Slasher
Budget: $300,000 (estimated)
Low-budget slashers―once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right?
If you’re judging them in terms of originality, then yes―particularly those from the early part of the 1980s before censorship hysteria shackled the industry. 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. But while Carpenter’s opus was innovative and fresh and genuinely terrifying, those who imitated his money-spinning template were typically on the lookout for a cheap buck, capitalising on the low-budget VHS boom with the sole intention of turning a quick profit.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón―a Spanish filmmaker who began his career in advertising―Pieces is a cynical pastiche of some of the period’s most influential horror, and with a tagline as blatantly derivative as ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre’, his intentions were abundantly clear. In fact, as a director of horror movies, Simón is competent at best, and though he apes some of horror’s trademark techniques he is unable to utilize them in a way that provides the movie with some much-needed tension. With its crime and mystery elements and general aesthetics, it is also a movie very much in the giallo mode, but lacks the intelligence of that particular genre’s better entries.
Simón is no fool, and with Pieces he produces a bloodsoaked slice of notoriety that ticks all the commercial boxes. Simón is not trying to scare us or thrill us or even intrigue us. The idea is to shock and disgust, 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 a laughably contrived scene in which a miniature Norman Bates hacks his mother to pieces with an axe 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’s almost offensive, but ultimately that’s what makes it so watchable. For one thing, events begin forty years prior, which by my reckoning would make it 1942, but there is nothing even remotely ’40s about the flashback scene, and the jigsaw in question features a naked woman who looks distinctly ’80’. I mean, how would you even get your hands on a jigsaw of a naked woman back then, especially if you were an eight-year old boy?
Other absurd occurrences include 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. Naturally, the police have to let him go due to a lack of evidence, and Willard returns to work as if nothing ever happened. There is even a moment in the movie when a ninja springs from nowhere with seemingly violent intentions before proclaiming himself the college’s professor of kung-fu.
What truly sets the movie apart, asides from the kind of relentless gore that 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.
In the end, 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. 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 an improbable final scare through mountains of steaming viscera.
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 into 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 would be unable to attend camp that 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. Contrived, 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.