Here's an exercise in cinema that's pure trash, but pure enjoyable trash at that. Yes it's another slasher film, but somehow, maybe since it's a Spanish/Puerto Rican production which often plays like a very violent giallo, it seems a little more than just routine. Helmed by the same guy who gave us MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND and SLUGS, and written by the sleaze-team of director Piquer (uncredited), Joe D'Amato and Dick Randall (FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS), who also was a producer, PIECES is a must for Euro horror fans, even if you have a low tolerance for the slasher trend of the early 1980s. Previously available in unauthorized versions from several budget DVD companies, and then officially through Grindhouse Releasing, the company continues its perfect track record by not only issuing the movie on Blu-ray with a stunning new transfer, but wrapping it up in one hell of a three-disc collector’s package (two Blu-rays and a CD)!
In the pre-credit opening (very disturbing and reminiscent of Dario Argento's DEEP RED, in a campy sort of way), we go back to the early 1940s to see a perverted little boy putting together a very early 1980s looking puzzle of a totally nude pin-up model in his bedroom. When his overbearing mother catches wind of this, she has a shit fit, but before she can trash his porn paraphernalia, the tyke hacks her to bits with an axe. He then proceeds to assemble the blood-filled puzzle just before a nosy neighbor arrives with the police to find the boy hiding in the closet, pretending to be in a state of shock.
Forty years later, we arrive at a Boston college where the co-eds smoke grass and converse about having sex on waterbeds. On this campus, there's a chainsaw killer stalking pretty girls, and the film wastes no time displaying luscious nude bodies being chopped to bits. Lt. Braken (a cigar-chomping, trench-coated Christopher George during his late 1970s/early 1980s low budget exploitation salad days) arrives on the scene but is baffled by the vast assortment of red herrings that the university has to offer, including Spanish sleaze regular Jack Taylor (NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS) as a middle-aged professor who lives with his mother, Edmund Purdom (DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS) as the English-accented dean and a landscaper in the form of big, bearded Willard (Paul Smith, the actor best known for playing Bluto in Robert Altman's POPEYE, making the most hysterically exaggerated mugs for the camera). Frank Brana (RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD), a veteran of Spanish exploitation films, plays George’s sidekick, Sgt. Holden, and has some of the best lines. Another horror film favorite, German-born Gerard Tichy (FACE OF TERROR, THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER) has a brief part as college psychologist.
With its cast of English-speaking stars, PIECES also has a nerdy looking "campus stud" (Ian Sera, the hero of MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND) that helps the police in their investigation, pretty gals prancing around naked and getting wiped out in the most grisly manners imaginable, Christopher's then wife Susan Day George (as an undercover tennis champ on campus), who gets to profoundly overact (watch her reaction after a girl is slaughtered in a shower... "bastard!!"), and just enough gore (some truly well-crafted gross-out chainsaw-murder effects) to cause the MPAA to let the film be released unrated when it played American theaters, where it became something of a box office hit in late 1983. The surprise ending owes a lot to Narcisco Ibanez Serrandor's LA RESIDENCIA/THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, but the final shot was totally unnecessary and reflects the type of stupidity that would be a mainstay in horror films throughout the rest of the decade and the years that followed.
Anyone who remembered how PIECES looked on the dark transfer used for the mid 1980s Vestron VHS video release, or owned any of the various unauthorized DVD versions, was be pleased at how Grindhouse’s 2008 DVD release looked, but their new Blu-ray is absolutely stellar. The U.S. theatrical version of PIECES has been transferred in 4K from the original camera negative in 1080p HD, in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The image is clean of blemishes and boasts brilliantly distinct colors and a solid filmic grain structure that’s pleasing to the eyes. Flesh tones are natural and spot-on, the detail is excellent in its textures and black levels are consistently deep. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is a fine representation of the International English track used for the American release, which maintains the original voices of some of the main cast members and the sleazy slasher-appropriate library music by CAM. A Spanish language track (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) offers a much different piano-dominated score by Librado Pastor, and “The Vine Theater Experience” track (which includes a brief video intro) was recorded at a 2002 theatrical screening at the a Hollywood theater where the film was screened in a revival. The expectedly rowdy audience hoots and hollers at lines like, “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and f**king on a waterbed at the same time.” Another audio track includes an entirely different score by Humberto (musician Matt Hill), featuring music only without the dialog. The slightly longer original Spanish director’s cut (MIL GRITOS TIENE NOCHE, which translates to a very giallo-sounding “One Thousand Cries Has The Night”) again with the Pastor score is also presented in excellent quality equal to the American cut, and there’s optional English subtitles (as there is for the American version).
With Disc 1 carrying the American and Spanish versions of the film, there is also a new audio commentary (on the American version) with actor Jack Taylor, moderated by Scottish writer and film critic Calum Waddell. Since Taylor has had a long career in international genre and exploitation films, this is a real treat for fans. Taylor starts by recalling how he got the part in PIECES after working with the same director on JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (WHERE TIME BEGAN) and that he shot his scenes entirely in Madrid (exteriors were shot on location in Boston). Waddell asks the kinds of questions we want to know about, and Taylor has a sharp memory as he recalls a career which goes back well over 50 years. From going to Mexico to do film and television, and then working a lot in Spain, Taylor not only reflects on (with fondness) his cast-mates from PIECES, but also such greats he collaborated with as directors Jess Franco, Roman Polanski, Leon Klimovsky and Amando de Ossorio and actors such as Paul Naschy, Soledad Miranda, Ray Milland and Lina Romay (he also reveals that he worked as an art director on Franco’s THE BLOODY JUDGE). The still gallery section is separated by production stills (including test shots of some nudie cuties), publicity materials, video covers, “Bits and Pieces” (theater marquees, Variety box office gross listings, revival showing adverts, t-shirts, etc.) and the “Juan Piquer's Still Show” (7:58) which is video footage (in Spanish with English captions) of the director conversing and showing off some of his PIECES collectibles, including the original nudie jigsaw poster used for the opening of the film. More footage from this session (4:31) can be found in the bonus section as an “Easter Egg”. The original U.S. theatrical trailer (0:32) is also included on this first disc.
Moving on two Disc 2, picked up from the 2008 DVD are two invaluable career interviews, each nearly an hour long. “Pieces of Piquer” (55:25) has the director (who passed away in 2011) talking about his long career, but with most of the questions centering on PIECES. Fans that’ve never seen an interview with Piquer before will be impressed by his affinity to the genre, as he also talks about his days as a film distributor in Spain, as well as revealing how a dead pig was used to create PIECES’ most impressive gore effect. “Paul Smith: The Reddest Herring” (57:46) has the actor (who passed away in 2012) interviewed in his home in Israel, talking about his international career in films such as EXODUS, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, POPEYE, DUNE and many others. He apparently had a lot of fun doing in PIECES in Spain, but obviously has no affection for on-camera gore, as he jokingly creates a phony scream when such a topic is mentioned. Also in the interviews section is a brief audio interview (2:59) with producer Steve Miniasion (of Hallmark Releasing Corp. distribution fame), conducted by David Szulkin, on the subject of PIECES (there’s also a chainsaw-shaped “Easter Egg” featuring more footage of Piquer hanging out and talking in front of the camera, mostly on the subject of Christmas-themed horror movies.
New to this Blu-ray is "42nd Street Memories: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Notorious Street" (81:47), Calum Waddell’s engaging feature-length documentary which examines Manhattan’s infamous exploitation and adult film “grindhouse” district from its heyday to the eventual Disney takeover and cleansing. Accompanied by film clips which fit the subject matter, as well as pics and footage of the vintage (and now mouth-watering) theater marquees, the new interviews bits are a treat; tight and well edited. Anyone with the slightest interest in cult cinema will love hearing the sorted stories and experiences (as well as the history) from those who were there, including producers, directors, actresses and film historians. The numerous talking heads include Samuel M. Sherman, Larry Cohen, Frank Henenlotter, Jeff Lieberman, Lloyd Kaufman, Greydon Clark, Tom Holland, Matt Cimber, Buddy Giovinazzo and many others. Terry Levene, the film distributor behind the New York City-based Aquarius Releasing Inc., proves to be a most fascinating interview subject.
Cast and crew filmographies are included for Juan Piquer, producer Dick Randall, producer Steve Minasian, Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Edmund Purdom and Paul Smith. Within the text of the filmographies, you’ll find a handful of cool trailers, and in the case of Piquer and Smith, there’s some extra video interview footage (there’s another “Easter Egg” in the “filmographies” area with The Bruceploitation Bible author Michael Worth talking briefly about Bruce Le, the martial arts star who has a cameo in PIECES as a karate instructor). There are also a bunch of trailers for Grindhouse Releasing titles, some that are still in the works: CORRUPTION, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, THE BEYOND, CAT IN THE BRAIN, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX, MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE, GONE WITH THE POPE, THE TOUGH ONES, THE SWIMMER, THE BIG GUNDOWN, ICE HOUSE (aka LOVE IN COLD BLOOD), SCUM OF THE EARTH (aka POOR WHITE TRASH II), AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL and PIECES (the re-release trailer).
In addition, there’s a soundtrack CD featuring the score by CAM (Stelvio Cipriani, Carlo Maria Cordio and Fabio Frizzi) and the cardboard slipcover has an embossed image of the chainsaw killer. The insert booklet contains liner notes by the late Chas Balun (Deep Red) and Rick Sullivan (Gore Gazette), and topping things off is the inclusion of a mini jigsaw of, you guessed it, the nude pin-up model puzzle seen in the film (this is limited to the first 3000 units). 2016 has just begun, but by the end of it, you can be rest assured that Grindhouse’s terrific PIECES Blu-ray package will be on many a “best of” and “top ten” list! (George R. Reis)
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