*. The origins of the American slasher film can be traced back to the Italian giallo, a genre of psychological thriller usually featuring a mysterious murderer wearing black gloves whose identity was only revealed at the end. What happened when the giallo came to America is that it got a big injection of gore along with much simplified plots (meaning you rarely had to pick the killer out from a line-up of suspects).
*. Pieces is a giallo where the influence goes the other way, re-crossing the Atlantic with a chainsaw and buckets of blood. But while the American influence is unmistakeable, this is still a giallo. The familiar ingredients (some of which were picked up for the first wave of slasher flicks) include the POV killer shots (black gloves, heavy breathing), the giant knife that reflects blinding flashes of light from some indeterminate source, and the multiple suspects, each of whom seems guilty as hell.
*. But then there are the gratuitous boobs (not so much a giallo fixture) and of course the extreme gore. A chainsaw, for example, seems an unlikely weapon just because it’s so noisy and unwieldy. I had to laugh at how the killer keeps it hidden behind his back as he enters the elevator. But it does do a good job of splattering lots of blood around, and (at least in movies) it can carve people up in a hurry.
*. The hybrid nature of Pieces is underscored by the setting. It’s obviously a European production, what with the dubbing and nonsensical dialogue, and was indeed shot in Spain, but apparently we’re in the Boston area. But it’s a very peculiar New England college, where girls go skinny-dipping at noon in the campus pool and there’s a kung-fu professor on staff.
*. The script is silly, and apparently many of the lines were improvised to pad the running time. So we get one girl telling us that “the most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time,” and another telling her boyfriend that he can gag her to keep her quiet during sex (an unfortunate word choice given today’s porn habits). Perhaps the film’s highlight (out of many candidates), however, is Lynda Day George howling out “Bastard! Bastaaaaaaaaard!” She sure seems upset!
*. So Pieces is a funny film, and not always intentionally so. It does, however, show some signs of real cleverness. The murder on the waterbed, for example, is an inspired bit of work. And the gore effects, a specialty of exploitation director Juan Piquer Simón, are actually quite well done, considering the period and the budget.
*. Ultimately, however, the whole thing collapses into hilarious nonsense. I mentioned how the college is a bizarre place, but the film itself approaches the surreal. I don’t just mean the kung-fu professor (Bruce Lee imitator Bruce Le, in a baffling cameo), or the bonkers ending. But instead think of how strange it is that the first girl is killed out in the middle of a campus lawn by a man with a chainsaw, and no one notices. Or look at how long the one girl has to walk from the dance class to the women’s washroom. What’s up with that?
*. You’ll have guessed from all this that I really enjoyed Pieces. The mystery story could have been better done (the red herrings are too obvious and the final reveal is disappointingly handled), but the rest of it is adorably zany. It’s gone on to gain a cult status among horror fans, and deservedly so. This is trash you can love.