The audacious tagline for Pieces‘ grisly poster – “It’s exactly what you think it is” – isn’t kidding: Juan Piquer Simon’s 1982 splatterfest is precisely what one would expect from the director of gross-out creature feature Slugs. The constituent parts of Pieces may be strictly by the numbers, but their sum is nevertheless a riotously good time. Opening with a Halloween-esque prologue, the killer’s gimmick is his dual fascination with jigsaw puzzles and ladies’ bodies. It’s not hard to guess how these hobbies might slot together.
As a little boy, his mother catches him playing with a jigsaw puzzle with a naked model on it, her hilariously over the top reaction resulting in him murdering her with an axe. Skipping ahead forty years to the present day, the grown-up killer starts making his own human jigsaw, constructed with the parts he lops off from the hapless female students of the local university. Prime suspect is the chainsaw-wielding gardner Willard (Paul Smith), a lumbering, hirsute giant with a permanent squint.
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Popeye’s cartoon nemesis Bluto, Willard might as well hang a red herring around his neck, so obviously is he telegraphed as the culprit. More likely a suspect is Professor Brown (Jack Taylor), a cringingly-stereotyped gay professor whose specialism in anatomy and the unlikely sexual teasing he suffers from his ludicrously pneumatic students raises alarm bells as the potential killer. Much of the fun of Pieces is in spotting the false suspects, and one shot in particular where all the suspects are arranged – Agatha Christie style – in the frame, is knowingly silly.
Less successful are the instantly forgettable chainsaw-fodder characters, none of whom successfully fill the role of hero or heroine. Such is the result of Pieces‘ derivative plot, cribbing elements from assorted slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th, but which never quite cohere. That said, there’s buckets of fun to be had when the cardboard cut-out cast do meet their gruesome ends, with the strewn heads, limbs and torsos all satisfyingly bathed in luminous orange corn syrup. The whole thing is surprisingly well shot, too, the vibrant colours of the campus and shadowy swimming pools a reminder that horror needn’t be doused in dour brown and grey.
Librado Pastor’s score is terrific too, capturing a Carpenter-lite sound that will delight modern fans of retro-styled fare like It Follows, and Arrow Video’s release, featuring the uncut Spanish-language version and alternate score by Umberto, as well as the original soundtrack on CD, nicely fill out the package. Pieces may not be in the same league as the slasher classics but fans of the genre will find much to enjoy in this knowingly silly exercise in day-glo splatter.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell