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You Don’t Have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre: On Spanish Cult Slasher Pieces (1982)

There are slashers, and then there is Pieces.

I am going to begin with a confession. I once wrote an article on underrated slashers for a mainstream genre magazine solely so I could promote the idea that you haven’t seen a slasher until you have seen Pieces (Spanish title: Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche). Nothing else comes close. Nothing. Even though I also wrote about nine other films (all of them brilliant in their own way) for said feature, it was really all about Pieces, and I have no shame in admitting it. If anyone ever tells you, “well I have seen it, but I don’t remember much about it”, like someone said to me once, the chances are they are lying to you to look cool. Because if there’s one thing you can say about Pieces, it’s that once seen, it’s never forgotten. Any mention of the film and you will be forever compelled to leap in with a rousing chorus of “baaasstaarrrdd!!!”

Because of Pieces, director Juan Piquer Simon is something of an unsung hero in Euro horror. Unsung, because despite the film’s cult status, it is still relatively unheard of in mainstream circles; a hero because Pieces is pure brilliance in every way imaginable. Prior to making the 1982 slasher, he already had a few “gems” under his belt. Simon’s 1979 take on the superhero film, complete with cardboard vehicles and a scenery chewing Cameron Mitchell, Supersonic Man, is another title that occupies a special place in my heart. The fact it has a disco theme, while Supersonic flies through “space”, as an opener on the Spanish language version, is just the icing on the cake in one of the most bizarre Hollywood rip-offs of the decade. The director must also be applauded for getting icons Peter Cushing and Paul Naschy on the same bill for 1981’s Mystery on Monster Island, as well as for terrorising an entire town with molluscs in 1989’s Slugs.

By the time Pieces came around the slasher cycle was in full swing. 1981 had been a particularly brilliant year, where the subgenre reached its peak. However, between ‘82 and ‘84 horror was saturated with body count movies and the cycle eventually burned itself out. Low budgets, coupled with sex and violence, guaranteed a quick and lucrative turn over that required very little monetary investment. And because of this, while the slasher was predominantly an American genre, European filmmakers decided to get in on the action too. For example, Jess Franco made Bloody Moon (1981) and Lucio Fulci directed The New York Ripper (1982). Then there were other video nasties like the Italian produced Madhouse (1981, directed by Egyptian filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis), Italian-US co-production Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981, Romano Scavolini) and Absurd (1981, Joe D’Amato) to add to the Euro-slasher fold. The beautiful thing about European slashers is although they took the core formula, they were able to push the bar much further than their American peers when it came to graphic sex, violence and themes of perversity. It is no coincidence that a large amount of the slasher titles on the UK Video Nasty list of banned films hail from Europe.

Probably because it wasn’t released until ‘84 in the UK, Pieces — in a heavily cut form on home video — escaped the Video Nasty hoo-hah. That doesn’t mean it isn’t as gloriously OTT as many of its banned contemporaries; even more so in many respects, especially when you consider it starts out with a young boy axing his pious mother to death when she catches him assembling a naughty jigsaw. He is just about to add in the all important last piece, saving the bush shot as best til last, when she barges in on him. The result is glorious carnage, leaving little to the imagination. After blowing its metaphorical load in the first five minutes, one has to ask, can it really get any better than this?

The answer is yes. Much better, this is only just the beginning. Throughout the next hour and twenty minutes or so Simon piles on gore and absurdity in equal measure. Fast forwarding 40 years to a modern day Boston (where the film supposedly takes place) a random girl on rollerskates careers into a sheet of glass being carried across the road, never to be seen or spoken about again. Meanwhile at the local college someone is hacking up students with a chainsaw — hence the cheeky tagline which accompanied the release, “you don’t have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre. Simon bypasses the need to build tension in favour of unrelenting visceral action. That, and the odd bizarre moment like a guy bursting out of nowhere to show off his karate…

The fact that most of the script (in part courtesy of Joe D’Amato) is so ludicrous only adds to the fun. Not to mention the fact that Simon assembles one of the best casts in Euro-slasher history. Christopher George (City of the Living Dead, 1980, Graduation Day, 1981) stars as Lt Bracken, in his penultimate role before an untimely death just a year later. Here he plays the lead detective in a case so mysterious the law have to admit, “Right now we’re just buying clothes without labels and trying them on for size”. George’s wife, Linda Day George, also stars as a cop, Mary Riggs, who just so happens to be a former tennis champion. Riggs is sent on campus disguised as a tennis coach to get some inside information. In one of her best moments, she misses the opportunity to save a girl from being chainsawed in half (in one of the most gratuitous shower scenes you are ever likely to witness) because she’s too busy outside playing tennis. The sight of the girl’s eviscerated corpse sends the actress into a wild frenzy of overacting, as she screams out the immortal round of “baaaaaasstard”, as each one becomes more hysterical in pitch than the other.

Joining the likes of the Georges are other Euro-cult stars Edmund Purdom (The Fifth Cord, 1971), as the college Dean, and the inimitable Jack Taylor, in the role of Professor Brown. Taylor, an American actor, with a strong history in Spanish horror by this point — working extensively with the likes of Jess Franco and Paul Naschy (to name a few) — is always a joy to watch. His performance in Pieces is no exception. There are also appearances from Spanish cult actor Frank Braña (Blind Dead sequel El ataque de los muertos sin ojos, 1973), playing Sgt Holden, and Paul L Smith (Midnight Express, 1978) as the creepy groundsman Willard; a man with serious anger management issues.

You would think that all the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, red herrings, and copious violence would make a mess of a film. On paper it shouldn’t work, but it does. There is something entirely debauched about Pieces that makes it nothing less than a pure joy to watch.

The film has recently been restored by Arrow Films in glorious 4K and comes packed with a host of valuable extras. The specs are as follows:

Brand new 4K transfer from the original camera negative
Two versions of the feature: Pieces, the US theatrical version, and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, the original uncensored director’s cut, presented in Spanish with original score by Librado Pastor [Blu-ray exclusive]
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original English and Spanish Mono Audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
5.1 Vine Theater Experience
Alternate Re-score by composer Umberto
Brand new audio commentary from The Hysteria Continues
It’s Exactly What You Think It Is! – brand new featurette offering up an appreciation of Pieces by various filmmaker fans
Brand new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo
Pieces of Juan – a career-spanning interview with director Juan Piquer Simón
The Reddest Herring – extensive interview with actor Paul Smith, including a discussion of Pieces
Audio Interview with producer Steve Minasian
Image Galleries
Theatrical Trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold
Soundtrack CD featuring the entire original score

 

About Kat Ellinger

Kat Ellinger is the Editor-in-Chief at Diabolique Magazine, and the co-host of their Daughters of Darkness and Hell's Belles podcasts. She has also written for BFI, Senses of Cinema, Fangoria and Scream Magazine, and provided various home video supplements, commentary, liner notes, on camera interviews and audio essays, for a number of companies including Arrow Films, Kino Lorber, Indicator, Second Run and Cult Films. Kat is the author of Daughters of Darkness (Devil's Advocates, Auteur), and All the Colours of Sergio Martino (Arrow Films).

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