Guest post by Phil Deglass, who pairs films with drinks of the alcoholic persuasion at his amazing blog Flixology101.
It was a warm spring Monday in 1985 when I heard about Pieces. I was outside at recess in a tiny courtyard area outside my middle school cafeteria when my friend Kyle relayed a tale of a VHS rental he had watched with his older brother over the weekend. He didn’t really go into the plot, the political subtext, or the characters—he simply fast forwarded his internal tape reels and started with its legendary ending. His final words were, “and then, it reached up and ripped off his dick.”
As I was only eleven at the time of Kyle’s parable, it would take several years to finally rent and watch what had only lived in my mind for so long. To discover that it was far more glorious than ever imagined made it that much more special. And, yes, despite my skepticism, Kyle was absolutely telling the truth about the whole dick ripping thing.
Pieces (1982) presents a very bonkers plotline that expertly follows the slasher prototype. A boy experiences childhood trauma and, years later, an event triggers a mania that transforms him into an elusive mysterious killer. While the film plods along a routine giallo-style hack and slash, it is the bizarre micro-elements of it—the “pieces” if you will—that make this movie so unbelievably memorable.
We begin in 1942 with a boy in his room quietly putting together a puzzle. His mother appears and discovers that the puzzle is not of Minnie Mouse, but of a full-on nekkid lady (played by Pilar Alcon, in her greatest performance). Enraged, she smashes the puzzle, breaks a mirror, and slaps the boy silly while complaining that he's just like his no-good father. It is no doubt a tragic situation for this young man, but even more heartbreaking is that he was only one pelvic puzzle piece from finishing all the good parts. The boy doesn’t take too kindly to the upbraiding and decides it’s best to end her rant with a good whack to the forehead with a hatchet. To get rid of the evidence, the enterprising youngster decides to hack up dear old mom with a saw, limb by limb. But before he can dump her “pieces” in a bathtub of lye—well at least I assume that was his plan—a nosey neighbor brings in the cops who fall for the kid’s “I’m just a victim” routine.
Cut decades later to present day at a college campus in Boston. A skateboarding co-ed plows down a sidewalk and smashes into a huge wall mirror being unloaded from a truck. This breaks the mirror into “pieces,” an event we assume the killer witnesses (off-camera, somewhere), triggering his murderous thirst for blood. However, In a bizarre turn of events, the skater girl is later studying (completely unharmed) by herself in a park. She is approached by a cloaked gardener who whips out a chainsaw and slices through her neck, flinging her head into the air like a volleyball. And with that, let the murder streak begin!
We soon learn that the killer is collecting the “pieces” of his victims to create a jigsaw-style woman as a tribute to his late mommy. Haven’t yet convinced you that this is for you? Let me point out a few highlights that will undoubtedly tug harder on your curiosity strings.
An undercover tennis playing cop (Lynda Day George) is assigned to track the killer. What does tennis have to do with this movie? Not sure, other than it leads to a hilarious contest where so-called professionals volley the ball in a way that more closely resembles a backyard badminton match.
Sex machine hero, Kendal (Ian Sera), despite being a highly probable suspect to which the film uses as a red herring until the last act, is asked to help with the most confidential aspects of the investigation! When questioned by fellow cops about the wisdom this decision, chief investigator Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) simply replies, “Come on, you know he’s a good kid.” Oh well, since you put it that way, we feel so damn silly for asking.
Bruce Le injects some major BRUCEPLOITATION by making a completely random appearance. Yes, just when we thought Pieces couldn’t be more perfect, Bruce Lee clone, Bruce Le, enters the scene complaining of “bad chop suey.” That is not an embellishment.
A woman wets herself before being hacked in half. Apparently, this was a legitimate biological reaction from poor actress, Leticia Marfil, when the buzzing chainsaw got too close. Assuming this was simply extraordinary method acting, director Simon zoomed in for the final cut.
The Killer chooses a dancer’s ARMS for his jigsaw woman creation. Do I really need to elaborate on this point?
Lynda Day George belts out the best screaming in film history of the word BASTARD (3 times!). I legitimately had this on my answering machine when I was in my mid-twenties. Not surprisingly, I did not have a girlfriend at that time.
The killer has a huge walk-in fridge in his apartment. More outrageously, the body parts’ containers were not even appropriately labelled of their freshness dates!
And finally, Pieces, no doubt, has THE BEST double whammy ending, something that may even be the greatest thing in the history of cinema (no spoiler alert here as it is just too good to give away). Let’s just say that after I saw this, I made it a point to leave my jacket right where it was every time I was on a couch next to a dead body.
Pieces is the ultimate exploitation film. A member of the UK notorious video nasties, the film’s marketing proudly hyped its contents through exceptional tag lines, such as “You don’t have to go to Texas for chainsaw massacre” and (one of my personal favorites) “Pieces, it’s exactly what you think it is!” These titillating (and perhaps taunting) words, featured on posters and trailers, only offered a brief peek into the horrors that awaited those who dared.
As random and improvised as it may appear, Pieces is an exploitation masterpiece with a title that says it all. Like a jigsaw puzzle with its disparate, odd shaped “pieces,” it forms a beautiful portrait once fully assembled—and a beautiful nudie picture at that! Juan Piquer Simon at one point in his career said, "I don't know anyone who says, 'I'm going to make a bad movie.' Nor do I know anyone who says, 'I'm going to make a work of art' and makes it." In one instance of filmmaking magic, I would say that Pieces, thankfully, gives us both.
At this point, I would offer a good drink pairing to help enhance the viewing experience. The only thing that makes sense to me is to take four or five things out of your liquor cabinet and create your own Frankenstein cocktail in honor of the Pieces jigsaw lady. You never know, like the movie, you may just come up with something legendary.