Boston, 1942. A young boy is nearing the completion of a saucy jigsaw only to be interrupted by his disapproving mother. She takes it rather badly in fact, hurling abuse - “You’re a dirty-minded little brat, just like your father” - and proceeding to throw out his puzzle alongside various other items of childhood paraphernalia (horror comics, and so on). Yet our youngster doesn’t get embarrassed, rather he gets an axe and sets about using it on his mother. Plenty of blood and gore later, plus the use of a wood saw, and her body is partially sprawled out on the blood-soaked floor and partially holed up in a cupboard. Having a child psychopath occupy its prologue may prompts recollections of John Carpenter’s Halloween, but clearly we’re getting none of the subtlety.
Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces was made four years after Halloween, in 1982, as a curious co-production between Spain, the US and Puerto Rico. Despite the American setting (and actually filming partially in Boston) it’s therefore populated by familiar Eurocult faces such as Jack Taylor and Frank Braña alongside the US performers. Taylor was a regular for Jess Franco and had also shared the screen with Paul Naschy, the Blind Dead and other Eurohorror touchstones. Braña, meanwhile, was extremely prolific in spaghetti westerns but still found the time for the odd exploitation flick. Amongst the American faces we find Lynda Day George (credited as Linda Day), who should be recognisable from her myriad TV guest appearances (everything from McCloud to The Littlest Hobo), whilst Paul Smith, once seen, is impossible to disassociate from his role as Bluto in Robert Altman’s Popeye. Elsewhere Christopher George (Sgt. Sam Troy of The Rat Patrol, not to mention star of other Arrow Video cult favourites, City of the Living Dead and The Exterminator) and British-born Italian cinema-regular Edmund Purdom round out the cast list. The combined ‘star’ power is surely enough to get trash aficionados salivating.
The roles of Taylor, George and the rest are all essentially the same: potential suspects. Fast-forwarding forty years, Pieces settles on a Massachusetts college as its main setting and unleashes the gore at regular intervals. Our child killer, now fully grown, is of course not revealed until the final stages so all we know is that he’s back, has upgraded to a chainsaw (but still has a fondness for decapitation) and could be any one of Euro-American cast. Except Day, of course, who’s there as potential victim. She also balances being a women’s tennis champion with being a cop (!) and is working undercover at the college under the guise of being their new tennis coach (!!) - it’s utterly ridiculous, of course, though arguably comes with a greater dignity than the majority of the female cast. They are simply required to run around in the semi-nude before ending up as nothing more than a pile of limbs. Some are also made to perform jazz-ercise.
According the BBFC’s website Pieces has never been cut in the UK nor did it ever appear on the DPP’s ‘video nasties’ list. It secured a theatrical release in late 1983 and first appeared on disc in 2002 in exactly the same form as found here. Yet it remains quite surprising as to just how the strong the gore content is - not so much brutal as abundant. In truth Simón is a little top-heavy, with nothing quite competing with the initial axe attack or a post-opening credits decapitation via chainsaw that prompts buckets worth of fake blood. Thereafter he mostly concerns himself with the aftermaths of the regular attacks; more interested in the stalk than he is the slash, as it were, not to mention those bloody piles of limbs that end up getting left over. Our killer is often seen as nothing more than a silhouette, and a highly effective one at that. A trench coat, broad shoulders and a wide-brimmed hat - that is all that’s required to make an effectively menacing presence. Something faceless and straight out of a pulp novel, i.e. it could be any one of our suspects.
Not that the final revelation really matters. The characters may tell us that they’re professors or psychology experts, but these are just words and both the plotting and the characterisation are entirely perfunctory. Simón isn’t interested in such elements, but rather seems to view Pieces as a series of set pieces; what happens in-between doesn’t really matter. That these individual scenes and moments are strong enough - and gory enough - should be satisfaction enough for many as will the assembly of so many cult-ish names on the cast list. It’s trash (as so many Simón films are) but also perfectly entertaining trash at that. The new sleeve art by Jeff Zornow captures the overall tone particularly well: slightly cartoon-y, but it’s the blood and the chainsaw that really matter.
Pieces has been released by Arrow Video as part of their ‘White Box’ range. The disc itself is encoded for all regions and comes with a host of extras, booklet containing newly commissioned notes by Stephen Thrower and a choice of sleeves. The film itself is presented at a ratio 1.66:1, with anamorphic enhancement, and comes with optional English or Spanish soundtracks, the latter with optional English subs. The print is in a reasonable condition, demonstrating slightly garish colours and little damage. Detail isn’t perfect and there are some signs of compression artefacts, but on the whole it remains watchable enough. The soundtrack, in both English and Spanish instances, shows signs of the low budget and have respective dubbing issues, though again there are no overt problems. Which one you opt for is likely to be the result of personal taste; with its Spanish director, Boston setting and the blend of European and American actors it’s hard to make definitive claims as to which would be the most correct. The piano-led score does come across well in both, however.
The main extras are all exclusive to Arrow’s disc. Tony Timpone of Fangoria magazine provides the commentary alongside Calum Waddell, plus there are a pair of featurettes. The former doesn’t take the film too seriously with Waddell early on referring to its “madcap ineptness”, though both find it an entertaining affair. The pair basically try to out-trivia each during the movie in-between the occasional dig so there’s plenty to be learned. Note, however, that the sound quality isn’t brilliant which both coming across a little muffled from time to time. (The commentary is in stereo with each getting their own speaker.) Of the featurettes, the first - entitled ‘Pieces of Jack’ - is an 18-minute interview with Jack Taylor encompassing his entire career in Spanish cult films, not just Pieces. (Taylor also pops up for an under-30-second intro to the film when you first press ‘play’.) The other brings together filmmaker Howard S. Berger, horror critic Santos Ellin Jr, Fangoria’s Michael Gingold and Hostel producer Scott Spiegel to reminisce about their original viewings of the film under ‘Grindhouse’ conditions in the early eighties. Rounding off the on-disc extras is the original US theatrical trailer.