Pieces (1982)

Dutch poster...greatest poster ever?

Dutch poster…greatest poster ever?

This is the movie that people complain about when they complain about slasher movies. It’s a cheap looking ripoff of “Halloween” with a smidgeon of “Psycho” and is chock full of gore, but…well, read on.

It’s 1942. A kid of about 10 is doing a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman when his mother comes in, is disgusted at what she sees so decides to bag up all his offending stuff and burn it. Unfortunately, the kid can go from zero-to-raving-lunatic in 5 seconds, so he grabs an axe and hacks her to pieces, including leaving her head on a shelf. The film is a trifle unclear on the details, but it seems the kid escapes detection for his crime by waiting in a cupboard and pretending he was hiding from the murderer.

Now, right here “Pieces” is trying its best to confuse us. What do you think the odds are of being able to find a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman, with an early 80s haircut, in 1942? If you’re a ten year old child? The mother’s dress isn’t remotely time-appropriate either, nor is the phone, nor is the sport banner on the wall (for a team that would not exist for another 20 years) but whatever. The blood-spattered jigsaw representing sex and death, horrifically intertwined, is not even the least subtle thing this film does.

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Then, 40 years later! The killer (no reveal til the end, what sort of film do you think this is?) gets his dead mother’s shoes and dress out of a box, still helpfully covered in bright red blood after four decades, gets the jigsaw out and decides to remake his mother out of the body parts of women at the university, in Boston. Definitely not some manky backlot in Madrid, oh no. His decision to use a chainsaw for most of the murders is not only moderately impractical, but leads to the most hilarious scene in the film, when he walks into the lift behind victim no.3, hiding it behind his back. Oi, mate! Why are you hiding that large chainsaw? He leaves it at his first crime scene but luckily gets it back, obviously from the police, before the next one.

Reviewing this film could easily be just cataloguing the insane decisions it makes and neanderthal-level sexual politics on display. But I’ll try to limit myself, because you really ought to watch “Pieces”. After the first murder, the police are called in, but decide to keep it from the public, the press, and so on, for the sole reason of making it easier for the killer to carry on killing women. No-one is warned, no extra security is put in place, no extra lights are turned on – the only thing that happens is a female cop is sent undercover as a tennis coach. Oh, it turns out she’s a pro tennis player as well who just happens to be a police officer as her day job. Man, it must have been tough for athletes back then!

And as far as sexual politics is concerned, most of that hinges around the “star” of the movie, Kendall. A girl who begs him for sex at the beginning of the movie is the first victim, but he’s not all that bothered by it, laughing with a friend that he never has a problem getting with women. As he’s stood around openly smoking a joint outside a class, one of his female friends looks at him and says – yes, I paused the film so I could capture this gem – “the most beautiful thing in life is smoking pot and screwing on a waterbed”. Ah, such poetry! Another woman he sleeps with later on, after asking him if she talks too much, suggests that he tie her up and gag her to stop her from annoying him.

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This film is the response to people who think slasher movies are empowering to women. The male killer brutally slaughters women throughout, and only one of them even bothers trying to defend herself. The female cop, who you might think would kick some ass, does nothing and requires the help of Kendall at the end to save her life. Women are basically objects to be cut to pieces in this movie.

We have the “Caroline Award” here at the ISCFC, named for my wife, and for films which feature male (but no female) nudity. Despite there being plenty of female nudity here, the lingering view of a partially erect penis is enough to cancel that out, and she was happy to give this movie the award too. Congratulations “Pieces”!

I feel like there’s so much more to tell you! The campus sort of looks like either a concentration camp or some stables; the unnecessary shouting of “BASTARD!” three times in a row; the moronic behaviour of the cops at every turn; and how the film makes guessing the killer’s identity really easy by ruling out everyone but two people a little under halfway in. But I want to talk to you about one scene, which has so much rich early 80s goodness in it. Just after the dong shot, we see the lady-cop walking through a dark bit of campus, and as she turns a corner she’s attacked by an Asian guy. She kicks him in the balls and he goes down, Kendall turns up and says “oh, it’s my kung fu teacher!” He grins sheepishly, blames his behaviour on “bad chop suey” and just jogs off. We never see him again.

What? Turns out there’s a simple but stupid explanation – the producer was also shooting kung fu films in Rome at the time, and his main star was Bruce Lee impersonator Bruce Le. So, he decided to write his guy a scene in the film, despite it making absolutely no sense whatsoever. I miss the days of companies doing crazy stuff like that.

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“Pieces” is a remarkably gory film. It’s clear they were trying to make a statement, from its Sharknado-esque tag line (“It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!”) to the use of a pig carcass to double for a human when one of the poor ladies is chainsawed in half. Gallons of blood, body parts everywhere – the lame justification being, he’s recreating his dead mother, it would seem – and unlike so many other horror films that tried to rely on plot or character, this one understands that unless they put in a woman getting hacked to pieces every ten minutes or so, people are going to get a bit bored.

The ending is truly, staggeringly bizarre. After I’d already written “this ending is crazy” they then ramped up the crazy with one of the most OTT scenes maybe ever, which poses way more questions than it answers. I seriously can’t recommend this film highly enough. It’s so sexist it almost goes beyond sexism to be some weird parody of itself (almost), but provided you don’t take the film seriously for one moment, you will definitely have a good time. One of the craziest slasher movies ever.

Rating: thumbs up

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