BITS & PIECES (1985) is another only-on-VHS obscurity that should teach me a fuckin lesson about Slasher Searching. Like HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD it’s made in California (San Fernando Valley and Burbank, according to IMDb) but clearly not by actual professionals in the movie industry. If their goal was to prove you could make a movie as icky as MANIAC but with no single element from scripting to cinematography to acting that in any way comes even remotely close to being as good, they have succeeded wildly.
Like PSYCHO, DERANGED, DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, etc. it’s a killer with mommy issues. Like MANIAC he abducts women and brings them to his apartment and has a female mannequin there that he pretends is alive. His name is Arthur (S.E. Zygmont, no other credits) and there is no indication that he has a job besides murder but he’s always dressed like he just got home from work, or is cosplaying the guy from THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED.
(I haven’t seen it, I just know the cover, so I wouldn’t know if it’s a remake or homage or something.)
There’s exactly one scary idea: when Arthur watches Rosie’s friend get in her car he sees the parking sticker from her college, so he knows which lot to ambush her in. The closest thing to a suspenseful moment is when he comes up behind Rosie’s dad (Don Molins, no other credits) while he’s playing a disco record, waving his arms (out of sync) like a conductor.
Otherwise it’s a wash. It definitely falls into the so-called “torture porn” category, because there’s not really any running, hiding or getting away, he just grabs women, puts them in the trunk of his car, ties them up and terrorizes them. There’s nothing fun about it but not anywhere within sight of high quality enough to be disturbing in a good way.
There’s kind of a Final Girl, more just a protagonist, named Rosie (Suzanna Smith, whose only other role is in WARRIOR QUEEN), a college student who lives with her parents. Her friend is abducted and killed by Arthur after a girl’s night out at the 2001 male strip club, so she goes to the police, or actually just one cop, Lieutenant Carter (Brian Burt, whose only other role is “Customer #2” on a two-parter of Cheers) to try to help the investigation.
He’s a terrible cop. I think he might not even be a cop, but just a random untrained guy who showed up at headquarters one day and tried to say things he thought would be said on a cop show, like “I want this sonofabitch!” When we first see him show up at a crime scene he’s handed coffee, he tells them to keep the damn press away (at no point do any press or anyone else appear in the area), he briefly interviews the homeless lady (Elaine Bartolone, “Customer,” 1 episode of Perfect Strangers, “Chambermaid,” 1 episode of Knots Landing, etc.) who witnessed Arthur disposing of body parts in a dumpster, but gets nothing. The other officer on the scene then tells him that the witness got a license plate number, but that doesn’t seem to impress him and he says he’s going home. Yeah, great two to three minutes of unsuccessful work, Lieutenant. If anyone’s earned a rest it’s you.
Later, when he finds a naked woman dead in a bath tub, instead of checking to see if the killer is still in the house he just looks disappointed and puts his gun away.
This is another to add to the list of horror movies where the killer sees people having sex and that’s implied to be part of what sets him off or turns him psycho. (Previously on the list: HALLOWEEN [arguable, but originator of the trope], NIGHTMARE, THE INITIATION, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, MANIAC, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT.) In this case he was in his mom’s bedroom combing his hair when she came in with a dude, so he hid in the closet. When they discovered him there they called him a pervert, put a wig on him and colored his lips and cheeks with lipstick. So as an adult he murdered her and now thinks his armless mannequin is her, giving him murderous commands. You know how it is.
In many ways this is as misogynistic as horror movies come. Lots of shots of women’s bodies naked or in underwear, tied up, screaming and crying as he cuts them and says weird shit about his mommy. On the other hand, it opens in the male strip club with a long scene of a dude in a thong dancing, lots of long closeups of him flossing his butt and what not. Rosie has a conversation with her mom about the club that plays like a commercial for male strip clubs, and later they return there for clips of a couple more dance routines. This is not your usual male gaze! Additionally, when the lieutenant asks about her dead friend’s sex life, Rosie is fucking pissed. She yells “You’re putting her on trial for her own murder!” and he has to apologize.
The most insane part of the movie is when out of the blue the lieutenant and Rosie start dating. He takes her to the beach, then back to his house to drink cocktails in the hot tub and wine by the fireplace.
“I love to watch the flames,” she says, staring longingly into his eyes. He raises his glass.
“To a very beautiful woman.”
But don’t worry, she stops the making out to cry for a second (shows she has been through alot, very realistic) and then immediately gets back to it.
All throughout this all-day date it keeps cutting back to Arthur stalking, kidnapping, torturing and murdering her friend. I’m sorry, I can’t tell these big-haired blond actresses apart, but it might be Sheila Lussier, the only cast member with a bunch of later credits. She was “Hot party girl” in HOUSE PARTY 3, for example. Whoever it is, he stabs her and leaves her tied to a tree in her underwear and then it cuts back to the lovemaking scene, with sexy music and dissolves and everything like a softcore movie. Gross. They’re mixing the violence and sex so much if they put a wig on us we’d all turn into murderers.
Not surprisingly this was the only movie by director/co-writer Leland Thomas, but an IMDb reviewer reports having had him as a film teacher. Apparently he’d show BITS & PIECES at the end of a course as an example of “how not to make a movie.” Also the producers cut out all the gore. I found his bio on the Columbia College websight and apparently he was an editor and sound effects editor on some movies and TV shows, which did not make it to his IMDb profile. But horror seems to have been a brief gig for him, not a life’s calling.
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.