Despite the gruesome creatures, flying limbs and buckets of blood, horror as a genre can feel pretty stale. For every excellent film there is a dozen forgettable or terrible ones. And there are so many that it takes a lot of wading through the rubbish to get to the interesting stuff. For each day in October I’m going to recommend a different horror film or film about horror. For the most part they won’t be the accepted classics. My selections range from the genuinely excellent to the delightfully strange with a few that are more fascinating than they are great. Hopefully there will be something for everyone and you’ll find something new to give you a scare or maybe a laugh. This is my 31 days of Horror and today I’m talking about:Pieces.
Throughout this series I’ve tried to mix the good with the hilariously bad. For these final two days I’m going to recommend what I see as the pinnacles of good horror and hilariously bad horror. Today’s pick is Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces (1982). It may be the greatest “so-bad-it’s-good” horror film I have ever seen. As good as the other funny films I have recommended are, this is the next level of greatness. Some of these types of films are funny because they’re crazy, ineptly made, full of strange performances, or they’re just bizarrely written. Pieces is all of these things. At no point does it dip into boredom like a lot of poorly made films, everything about it is so absurd that it is constantly enjoyable. It is strange how such a sordid tale can evoke so much joy but that’s how brilliant this film is. If you think Troll 2 or Birdemic is the height of laughably stupid horror then here you have something to look forward to. It’s a big mad ball of crazy stupid energy and is non-stop entertaining.
(I just had to include another image of the least suspicious gardner found near the scene of a chainsaw murder).
In 1942, a 10-year-old boy (Timmy) get’s caught by his mother as he puts together a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman. She reprimands him a little too furiously so he hacks her to bits with an axe. When police finds the scene, Timmy sits crying in a closet. Assuming he witnessed a murder rather than perpetrating it they send him away to an aunt of his. Forty years later we see Timmy’s point-of-view as he looks over bloody pieces of clothing of his mother’s. Then we jump to a University campus where a psychotic chainsaw killer is on the loose. As the victims pile up, the coolest guy in school Kendall (Ian Sera) teams up with an undercover police officer/tennis coach Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George) to try find the killer. The killer targets young women and seems to be trying to assemble a woman made up from the pieces of his various victims.
What Pieces is trying to be isn’t entirely clear. It kind of has the story of a Giallo film (pulpy but stylish Italian thrillers/slasher-films) but the tone of a campus comedy, yet very few intentional jokes. The opening murder is very Giallo-esque. The combination of sex (or nude jigsaw’s at least) and death is classic Giallo. Then when it jumps forward in time we find ourselves at the most ludicrously clichéd College campuses ever. The students adhere to the tropes of many other College based comedies or horror films but in a truly peculiar way. It is as if an alien only learned about human interactions and how they speak through movies and then wrote this. Many horror films will have the victims either do drugs or act “slutty” so that the murderer almost becomes a violent enforcer of traditional morals. Pieces tries to do this too and does so as clumsily as possible. A few students hang out at the door of their class smoking weed as if that’s a totally normal thing to do in school. One of their friends comes up and pretty much just blurts out, “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed, at the same time”. It is not delivered as a joke or jokingly but just said very normally and her friends simply nod in agreement. People do not really talk or act like human beings in this film. Some lines definitely do seem written as jokes but will be said completely straight (partially because of the poor dubbing of some characters). One exchange in particular always stands out to me as brilliantly odd. The nerdy kid is asked by a girl to deliver a note to the cool kid Kendal. As he delivers the note he says (for no real reason), “Don’t tell me I’m the bearer of bad news. I could kill myself”. To which Kendal says. “It’s fine”. So he replies, “Phew, I’m too young to die”. That conversation is not said with a hint of levity or sarcasm. He simply delivers it flatly. Every conversation is like this. People will say things that don’t really make sense or just cause you to say “Wait, what?”. It’s a similar experience to watching The Room. This world we’re seeing resembles reality but it seems populated by people who have been partially lobotomised or are aliens wearing human skins. Simple lines are sometimes delivered with intensity and what should be jokes are said plainly and seriously. The assortment of awful actors definitely plays a part in this but the words themselves are even more baffling. It’s as if some crazy person wrote a script in Italian then put it through Google translate and without reading it over they just started making the film.
Outwith the dialogue this is still an utterly inexplicable film. A lot of horror films will do a fake scare at some point. After a couple of murders we’ll be following one of the main characters and they’ll hear someone behind them. At first they can’t see where the noise came from and will shrug it off as nothing. So they’ll keep on walking and then bam someone appears out of nowhere. They get a fright for a second but it’s just one of their friend’s, everything is fine. When Pieces does this familiar scene it does so in a perplexing and racist way. Mary walks through campus with a torch, just trying to get home quickly. There’s a rustle in the bushes and she starts getting scared. A man suddenly jumps out of a bush and starts high kicking at her head while screaming. There’s a struggle between the two and she bangs him on the head, knocking him to the floor. Kendal appears and helps the man up, Mary asks who the man is. Kendal replies, “Oh this is just my Kung-Fu professor. What’s the story, Chong?”. Chong then says, “Bad chop seuy. So long (pronounced “wong”)”. With every clichéd horror moment, Pieces delivers them in such a uniquely mad way. Sometimes it’s not quite as broad as that but it never does anything in the way you would expect. These constantly moronic surprises make it a wild ride of bloody stupid fun.
As crazy, incomprehensible, and poorly acted as the film is the actual moments of horror and gore are surprisingly well done. One chase through a locker room verges on actually being effectively thrilling. It is these bursts of quality that make the terrible stupidity of the rest even more enjoyable. An endless parade of dumb moments could get a little tiresome but Pieces throws in enough moments of good filmmaking to make this the perfect piece of funny horror entertainment. Not once does it fall into the trap of dullness that many “so-bad-it’s-good” horror films fall into. Whether you’re perplexed by the dialogue, laughing at an actor’s performance or reeling when it get’s legitimately grotesque there is always something to marvel at. Simply put, it is the greatest piece of horror related hilarity.
James M Macleod