Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PIECES (1982) or Bad Chop Suey! So Long!

I've lost count how many times I've seen PIECES, maybe the most insipid, yet most inspired piece of 80s slasher-giallo-Eurotrash. My first viewings came during the early VHS heyday when my buddies and I spent our Saturday nights screening SLAUGHTER HOTEL, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, TCM, MOTHER'S DAY, THE EXTERMINATOR, GATES OF HELL and whatever other pieces of trash cinema we could get our hands on.

PIECES – thanks to its abundant gore, absurdist dialogue and outrageous "plot" – quickly joined the ranks of such repeat pleasures.

Oh sure, I love the flick's gory set pieces, including the tour de force bloodbath that results when our killer – decked out in his hunting attire of oversized black fedora, black trenchcoat and black gloves, not to mention a GIANT chainsaw – stalks a topless tennis playing cutie, corners her in a bathroom, and saws her in half, leaving a paint-the-screen-red crime scene that causes tennis pro/undercover cop (?!) Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George, wife of co-star Christopher George) to scream, "Bastard! Bastard! BASTARD!!!!"

But any cheese eating surrender monkey can fill 90 minutes with gore and tits. PIECES has that certain special something that elevates it past the point of guilty pleasure and into the realm of a true crowd pleaser.

There's the wonderfully 80s setting, crammed with 80s fads like skateboarding and aerobics... neither of which horribly dates the film. For those of you who are confused and think that maybe the film doesn't take place in America, I ask you to look no further than: the curvy coed wearing the bright red USA sweater; the giant American flag prominently displayed in the dean's office; and the picture of Ronald Reagan that graces the walls of the basement records room. Don't forget those Wendy's cups and wrappers!

And who can forget the amazing cast led by trash film vet Christopher George in one of his last roles before a fatal heart attack felled him at age 54. George, who stars in three of my favorite trash flicks of the era (this, GATES OF HELL and THE EXTERMINATOR) is wonderfully grizzled as the cigar-chomping cop on the case, bringing his trademark sense of humor and bubbling outrage to the proceedings. But even George has his limits and there's a point in the flick where even he seems to realize how inane the script is (not only does he send tennis pro/cop Mary onto the campus to sniff out the killer but he even asks one of the *suspects* to keep an eye on her and help her out!).

Added support comes from hulking bruiser Paul Smith as "Willard" the campus gardener, prissy and dismissive Edmund Purdom as the school's dean, the aforementioned Ms. Day George who lends the proceedings a cut-rate Charlie's Angels vibe, and the genius that is the one and only Jack Taylor as the school's leering anatomy prof and leading suspect.

Packed with red herrings and potential suspects, PIECES director Juan Piquer Simon does a good job of keeping you guessing about the killer's identity. At one point he brazenly winks at the audience by collecting each and every potential killer in the hallway after one of the flick's grisly displays of wetworks — and then has Christopher George look right at them!

I could go on and on about the greatness of PIECES, including the outrageous and inexplicable shocker ending (which must have helped inspire producer and screenwriter Dick Randall's icky necro love story LIVING DOLL), the totally out-of-place kung-fu scene, and the casting of permed and not-so-handsome Ian Sera as campus stud Kendall James. But I think my subject line says it best...

"Bad chop suey! So long!"


Unknown said...

Can't say I am with you on the Watch over and over again, for this movie.
I did find it quite funny, however.

Phil Neglected said...

Let's not forget the killer who walks onto an elevator with the chainsaw BEHIND HIS BACK, and the girl can't see it. Or the tennis 'game' where it's obvious that the 2 women aren't really hitting the ball to each other. Or how about the reporter who asks George about the goings-on at 'the college', as if there were only one college in all of Boston?
One interesting thing on the new Grindhouse dvd is that if you watch it in Spanish with the English subtitles, the script is very different from the dubbed version. Check out the first scene and see...