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Entries in Pieces [1983] (1)

Sunday
Dec272009

Pieces (1983)

The Gold Standard of Awful

The cosmos gave me an early Christmas present this year in the form of J.P. Simon’s slasher masterpiece, Pieces. Even non-horror fans can enjoy this perfect storm of awkward dubbing, bizarre dialogue, and a visible evolution of horrendous acting that builds from character to character, climaxing in the most entertaining delivery of the word “bastard” you’ll ever see. The genius of the film, though, is that there are some genuinely disturbing scenes dropped into the middle of absolute schlock; which is why Pieces is my new favorite Bad Movie.

We begin with a little boy chopping his mother to bits (pieces) in 1942. She’d caught him putting together a nudie puzzle and got halfway through confiscating his porn when he put an axe through her forehead. Flash forward to a Boston college campus in 1982. A mysterious madman has begun dismembering co-eds with a chainsaw and making off with parts (pieces) of their bodies. The baffled police enlist the help of a goofy student named Kendall (Ian Sera) and an undercover cop/tennis player named Mary (Lynda Day George) to hunt down the maniac. Half the fun of watching Pieces is guessing which of the older male characters is the killer; each attracts and deflects suspicion so many times that every line delivery could be followed by cheesy organ music (“dum-dum-duuuuum!”).

There are two reasons people watch this kind of movie: nudity and inventive kills (preferably gory ones). Pieces provides both in spades, but in ways that are both surprisingly bad and occasionally effective. Sure, you have plenty of college girls showering or sitting up in bed after making love, but you also see plenty of our hero, Kendall. I don’t know if J.P. Simon was going for realism or simply trying to level the exposed-flesh playing field, but Ian Sera’s nude scene is just plain weird: as he stands at his dorm window, yapping to his girlfriend about possibly seeing the killer, our attention is torn between his early-eighties dick fro and the incompetence of his performance.

The murders are evenly split, in terms of effectiveness. On the one hand, you have a bookworm brutally decapitated in broad daylight (apparently on an entirely empty quad); on the other, you have another girl who is torn in half in the shower, shown briefly as a bloody, disemboweled mess (the effects in Pieces are top-notch). Then there’s the haunting murder of a nosy female reporter, who is stabbed repeatedly on a waterbed; the killer misses his stabs as often as he lands them, and the ones that land are really hard to watch. This scene is offset by one in which a girl gets her arms sawed off in an elevator: she welcomes a tall guy in a black trench coat and fedora into the car with her, not realizing that he’s carrying a chainsaw behind his back as if it were a bouquet of flowers.

The film’s climax is a roller coaster of cool ideas mixed with shittiness. We go up with the killer’s reveal, in a scene right out of James Bond; we plummet with Lynda Day George’s horrendous portrayal of a woman who’s been slipped a paralyzing drug. We go up again with a spectacularly gruesome jump-scare of a body falling out of a book case, and run completely off the rails with the movie’s closing shot: Kendall gets his balls ripped out and we freeze on his expression. His face is contorted in a way that suggests the “before” picture of a Preparation H ad.

There is so much to recommend in Pieces. It’s a head-scratching, breath-catching disaster that takes all the stale conventions of bad slasher movies and makes them compelling through a ninety-minute chain of happy accidents. It may even be the template for modern horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead (I give Pieces a slight edge, though, because its badness is earnest, and not a kitschy wink at the audience). I love this movie to death (pieces).

Note: For a real treat, savor the performance of Paul L. Smith as Willard, the campus handyman. His lovechild-of-Bluto-and-Popeye look makes him the funniest and least effective red herring ever.