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Pieces (Arrow Video) 
Written by: on September 6th, 2011

Theatrical Release Dates: USA, September 23rd, 1983
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Writer: Dick Randall and John Shadow
Cast: Christopher George, Ian Sera, Lynda Day George, Edmund Purdom, Jack Taylor,

DVD released: September 5th, 2011
Approximate running time: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66.1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English / Dolby Digital Mono Spanish
Subtitles: English
DVD Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99

Boston, 1942. As a young boy pieces together a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman, his mother enters the room and goes berserk. “Where did this filth come from? Answer me!” she screams while beating the boy and demanding that he disposes of it. The lad reacts by picking up an axe and hacking her to death. When the police arrive, they are lead to believe an intruder committed the crime, and the child was a witness to the murder… Forty years later at an esteemed university: attractive female students are being massacred on campus and their bodies chopped up – for the killer is creating a human jigsaw puzzle. World-weary detectives Bracken and Holden are baffled and are asked to keep the murders under wraps, so enlist the assistance of one of the students Kendall James, who keeps his ear to the ground in hope of discovering the killer’s identity. Police woman and tennis pro Mary Riggs goes undercover also in hope of revealing who the murderer is – suspects include the sinister handyman Willard, the refined Dean of the university, and Professor Brown who contaminates evidence at one of the crime scenes. As the investigation progresses the killings continue, as the murderer pieces together his ghastly creation. 

Any film that bares the credit “produced by Dick Randell” insures schlock, sleaze and Z-grade filmmaking. His productions – The French Sex Murders, The Clones of Bruce Lee, For Y’ur Height Only and Slaughter High, to name just a few – were funded from multiple sources, sometimes with dubious connections, and are usually cheap, silly and riddled with head-scratching ineptness. However, what makes many of the movies enduring is that Randall, a notorious prankster, encouraged tongue-in-cheek humour that heightens, rather than attempts to play down, the limitations of poor dubbing, clumsy direction and slapdash narrative. This does not excuse many of his films from being simply awful, but it nearly always makes them watchable since they are not only comedic but have an element of unpredictability at the cost of conventional filmmaking logic.

Set in America but lensed in Spain, Pieces is a prime example of Randell’s absurdist style. He receives co-writing credit on this film and perhaps this is why the film is even more off-the-wall than usual. The narrative is a bizarre display of random elements and set pieces that unfold without logic or reasoning: the police seek the assistance of a student who at one stage is one of their only suspects; a victim enters a narrow elevator with the killer, not noticing the huge chainsaw hidden behind him; a martial arts expert springs into action attacking Mary and Kendall for no reason, only to explain afterwards “I am out jogging, and next thing I know I’m on ground – something I eat, bad chop soo-ey!”. The actors play their roles straight which is part of the fun (according to Jack Taylor in the accompanying interview, he was never under the impression that the film was supposed to be comedic). Christopher George (City Of The Living Dead), appearing in one of his final roles before his death at 52, brings to the film his tired, laid back charm which is a welcome presence. Euro genre regulars Edmund Purdon and Taylor lend solid support, while Ian Sera (Monster Island and several other Juan Piquer Simón films) plays the unlikely campus stud Kendall (“I’ll control myself Kendall, if we do it again!”). Along with plentiful over the top gore (the murder on a water bed is effective, although blunted somewhat by the killer’s prop knife obviously bending at one point), and lashings of nudity (including a brief but surprising instance of male full frontal exposure), Pieces is crowned with a Carrie-style ‘alligator grin’ ending which doesn’t make much sense but is a suitable finale to a gleefully ridiculous picture.

The DVD:

Seemingly taken from the same transfer as the Grindhouse Releasing DVD from the US, Arrow’s disc is about on par with that edition of the film. Framed at its correct aspect ratio of 1.66.1, the image is strong with very little damage. Blacks appear quite dark without much definition, but this seems to reflect the original cinematography of Juan Mariné (Black Candles). 

Two audio tracks are offered on the film in English and Spanish. Besides the different language dubbing, the most significant variation between the two is the music score, with the English edition featuring library tracks by CAM while the Spanish version is by Librado Pastor. Pastor’s soundtrack is quite elegant and the piano piece which plays over the opening credits is quite beautiful, although the crudeness of the electronic CAM music on the English track adds to the eclectic oddness of the film as a whole (there are English subtitles on the DVD which can be played with the Spanish audio).

Apart from the wonderfully effective TV spot (30 seconds) – “Pieces: It’s Exactly What you Think It Is!” – Arrow Video have not included any of the extra features from the US DVD released by Grindhouse Releasing but instead have created their own set of additional content. “Pieces Of Jack: An Actor’s Experience Of Spanish Splatter” (18 minutes) is an entertaining interview with the American actor who discusses his career working in Spain, with directors such as Jess Franco, as well as Pieces itself. Taylor also does an on-camera introduction to the main feature, which has become a regular component of Arrow’s DVDs. In an interesting deviation from their usual extras, the remainder of the features do not include anybody directly involved in the main film. The audio commentary with Fangoria magazine’s Tony Timpone and Calum Waddell is an enlightening listen. While they discuss Pieces, the primarily conversation delves more into the theatrical experience and film distribution of exploitation cinema of the early eighties (there are some interesting nuggets of trivia such as how Aquarius Releasing, who released Cannibal Ferox and Basket Case, did not acquire Pieces since they thought it was terrible; or that Dick Randell used to write gags for Milton Berle). This approach is a welcome change, while Waddell is more confined and focused on this commentary then he was on the tracks for Island Of Death and Slaughter High. “Pieces of Deconstruction: Looking Back At A Grindhouse Gorefest” (22 minutes) has filmmakers Scott Spiegel (Intruder) and Howard S. Berger (Original Sins) plus writers Michael Gingold and Santos Ellin Jr. discussing the cinema release of the film. There is some wonderful insights in this featurette since it puts the film’s American theatrical release into context – Berger recalls seeing a sparse newspaper advert for Pieces which prompted him to go see it, Ellin Jr. saw it at a theater on 42nd Street, etc. But at 22 minutes, the featurette runs a bit too long (the endless gushing over Pieces grows a bit tiresome) but it is a decent additional feature to the disc and nice to see a different slant on the extra content.

Last but certainly not least is a booklet containing linear notes by Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA. In a tight and lean writing style Thrower is more specific about details regarding the film’s production which the extras on the DVD itself do not cover – such as the fascinating background information on director Juan Piquer Simón, American producer Steve Minasian (who was involved uncredited in the Friday The 13th series and co-financed many of Dick Randell’s later pictures), and how Minasian convinced Edward Montoro of Film Ventures International to distribute the film in the States. These liner notes are a welcome addition to this DVD edition of Pieces.

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