Man, I don’t know about PIECES, you guys. This is another one I first saw in an all night horror marathon. I remember liking it. But this kind of crudely-presented-brutal-fucked-upness plays better with a crowd who are rowdy and dazed and trying to stay awake than alone in my living room. Maybe I should’ve woken up a bunch of people in the middle of the night and made them come over.
It’s a Spanish movie, but it takes place in Boston. It’s kind of like GOOD WILL HUNTING in my opinion. (I have not seen GOOD WILL HUNTING). I wasn’t sure which version you’re supposed to watch, so I went with the original. The Spanish is not spoken with a Boston accent. It turns out this version also has a different score that’s mostly piano and pretty good, I thought.
This is the style of slasher movie like NIGHTMARE or SLEEPAWAY CAMP or even HALLOWEEN now that I think about it where the killing dates back to childhood and the walking-in-on of a sex act. In this case though it’s a boy’s mother taking away his best porno puzzle and rather than fighting for his right to party he chops her up. He gets away with claiming it wasn’t him, though. Being a kid is a good alibi.
Forty years later that little boy decides to start chopping up women on a college campus. We know it’s the same guy because we see his gloved hands, giallo style, caressing the dress of his mother and putting together the bloodstained pinup puzzle. Then, hidden under a big black hat, he goes up to a girl reading in the grass and cuts her head off with a chainsaw.
By the way, the tag line was “YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO TEXAS FOR A CHAINSAW MASSACRE.” ‘Cause they also have them in Boston.
The movie is mostly made up of these types of scenes where a sexy young woman we know little about is swimming or dancing or something alone and then gets gruesomely murdered. He chops off different body parts seemingly related to the puzzle pieces he assembles. Then there are those dry scenes where police detectives (Christopher George [ENTER THE NINJA] and Franke Braña [SLUGS, HUNDRA]) and college officials (Edmund Purdom, ATOR THE FIGHTING EAGLE) dispassionately discuss the case, often in nondescript rooms with bookshelves. They set up several different suspects, with the most emphasis on a snooty anatomy professor who the students think is a perv (Jack Taylor, EDGE OF THE AXE, GRAND PIANO) and the overwhelmingly suspicious and chainsaw-using groundskeeper Willard (Paul L. Smith, DESERT KICKBOXER, RED SONJA). Smith was two years out from playing Bluto in Robert Altman’s POPEYE, and his exaggerated, squinty acting here is more cartoonish than it was in that one.
The sort-of-hero is a student and one-time person of interest named Kendall (Ian Sera, the Spanish Topher Grace) who the police recruit as an inside man on campus. They also want a female officer to go undercover as bait, so Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George, DAY OF THE ANIMALS) becomes the tennis coach. This is weird because Kendall immediately recognizes her as a famous tennis pro, but she also works for the police department, but they only let her be a secretary until they have no one else for this dangerous job.
This brings up an important point: I don’t really understand Spanish horror cinema circa 1982 well enough to dissect how much of this movie is actually sexist and how much it’s using sexism as a theme. I suspect that Mary’s treatment by the department (and this dumb kid thinking he can hit on her) are not meant as a critique of that type of behavior. I’m more unsure about when Kendall is having casual sex and then gets up to look out the window and then leaves to go help Mary. Yes, he is doing his police work, but he totally ignores and abandons this girl, doesn’t explain what’s going on, and then she goes off and gets murdered. I can’t tell if we’re supposed to notice Kendall is shitty.
There is some funny random and/or dated stuff. I like the part where Mary thinks the killer is after her and accidentally starts a fight with a track-suit wearing kung fu instructor. A part that seems even more nonsensical is when a girl is skateboarding and then crashes into a giant mirror that some workmen are carrying. I could tell it had something to do with showing her image in the mirror break into pieces, but I didn’t understand until I saw this post apparently from the actress (Roxana Nieto). She says that seeing the mirror break set off the killer and that she’s the same girl who he decapitates while she’s reading.
It’s funny to hear the students talk about how great waterbeds are and that there’s one in the training room. I don’t know what the reason is for having it there, but obviously it’s gonna get stabbed. If you like graphic murder scenes, that’s what this is all about. And this guy is mean. He puts a swimming pool net over a woman’s head and drags her across the pool, then she lays there unconscious before he chops her up.
It’s one of many examples of the camera ogling a woman’s body before showing it mutilated. This is the thing I find most puzzling (get it, puzzling). In one interpretation, the backstory seems to imply that the objectification of women is partly to blame for these murders. This little boy’s sexual fantasy comes from a puzzle, he takes apart and puts together a photo of a naked woman, and now he’s getting off on doing that with real bodies. But how could J. Piquer Simon (SLUGS) pretend to make that judgment in a movie full of gory sexualized murders of one-dimensional sexpot characters that seem like the exaggerated fake movie that your parents imagined when they wouldn’t let you watch FRIDAY THE 13TH?
So maybe that’s not the point of the backstory. Either we’re seeing the mother through the kid’s point-of-view, or we’re supposed to ourselves think that she’s bitchy and sexually repressed. She takes away his porn, scolds him for it and bad mouths his dad, and that sets him off. In this reading maybe a woman is partly to blame for this man murdering women. This movie never seems to give the ladies any respect. Even the most capable one, Mary, is a police officer who’s too scared to hold her gun steady and has to get rescued by Kendall, a nerdy teenage untrained civilian.
Except… then there’s the crazy ending. They figure out who the killer is and apprehend him at his place. They find his puzzle and the Sergeant thinks it’s creepy but sleazy Kendall (who, to be fair, doesn’t know its significance) says he likes it.
Then they accidentally open up a secret door and (SPOILER) discover a stitched together body. As you might’ve guessed, the stolen body parts are pieced together like a puzzle. And it drops out right onto Kendall.
They calm down and everything seems to be okay, and then the real shocker, the CARRIE ending. Suddenly, somehow, through no means established in the movie, the body comes alive and reaches up to grab and crush Kendall’s dick! Squeezes it like a sponge full of blood.
Does this represent Woman’s righteous revenge on the casual casanova? Seems like it to me. Or is it not a judgment of Kendall, but simply a fear of women, a warning that meanie mothers never die and they’re coming to smash our junk?
I don’t have an answer yet. But it is up to each and every one of us to decide for ourselves what PIECES means. Or not.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.