Pieces (1982)

Welcome to the grindhouse!

No October would be complete without at least one totally trashy, low-budget drive-in special. This year I arbitrarily selected 1982’s slashploitation flick, Pieces. Or, as it was known in Spain where it was shot, Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche (A Thousand Screams Has the Night). How fucking rad would that title have been?

I’m sure everyone knows what a grindhouse movie is but I’m the kind of guy who repeatedly introduces friends at parties, even if I know they’ve met before. That way even if someone forgets a name they can pretend they knew it all along, and that I’m an asshole for suggesting otherwise. Doesn’t bother me and folks appreciate it, I think.

So just to make sure we’re all up to speed: the term “grindhouse” comes from the old New York City burlesque clubs, where one went to find strippers specializing in risqué “bump and grind” dancing. The first recorded use of the word seems to be the 1943 movie Lady of Burlesque, based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s mystery novel, The G-String Murders.

Flash forward a few decades and the term came to be applied to any kind of theater that displayed cheap, prurient fare. By the 1960s and ’70s, it referred almost exclusively to single-screen movie theaters that showed movies built to deliver gratuitous amounts of sex, violence and gore.

The movies themselves were generally of the worst quality, often filmed in foreign countries where labor and production costs were dangerously low. Still they generated loyal and sometimes substantial cult followings. Those audiences would grow up to shape the landscapes of modern horror and action movies as we know them today.

If you haven’t done so recently, I suggest you get some friends together, have a few drinks, and sit down for a wicked taste of the cheesy, the bizarre, and the grotesque: the grindhouse feature film.

If you let your children play with puzzles, they will become serial killers. Fact.

The story: Timmy just wants to put his nudie puzzle together in peace. The little boy is in his room, minding his own business, when mom shows up and demands to know where he got such smut. She orders him to fetch a plastic bag so they can gather up all his sinful contraband and torch it. Clearly enraged that she plans to burn plastic and endanger the environment, Timmy returns with an ax instead and hacks her into bloody chunks before sitting back down to finish his puzzle. The coppers arrive but Timmy plays dumb. They let their mustaches do the thinking and assume he was a witness to this horrible crime, rather than the perpetrator.

I told you.

Forty years later, 1982 Boston (which looks shockingly like 1982 Spain) is rockin’ hard. College dudes and righteous babes frolic in the sun, music plays, and all is well in the world. For no damn reason whatsoever, a skater girl rolls right through a giant mirror. We never find out what happens to her. Grindhouse!

Next we see a sunbathing beauty who politely asks the gardener if he’ll be chainsawing the shrubbery much longer. “Just a few minutes, miss,” he assures her, before lopping her head off in broad daylight. Grind fucking house!

I'm only counting one mustache. Are you sure that's enough?

But have no fear, the police are on the case. With help from college guy Kendall (chosen completely at random) and an undercover female tennis pro (what?), they’ll try to track down the chainsaw-wielding maniac before he’s able to collect enough lady bits to assemble his very own life-size jigsaw puzzle.

But first, we’re gonna need to see some titties.

I wonder what she was studying.

Biggest letdown: Aw, come on. Letdown isn’t a word you can use when your expectations are already rolling around on the floor. Unquestionably, Pieces is not even one of the better exploitation movies of the early-80s, let alone an objectively good film. There’s nothing scary about it, the acting is mostly atrocious and the vocal track is so far out of sync with the actors’ lips you’re not always sure you’re hearing the words they were actually speaking during filming. But that’s the beauty of sleaze. If you go in expecting more, you’re bound to be disappointed. If you’re disappointed, you haven’t had enough to drink.

130 pounds of pure stud.

Why you should watch: So many reasons. The prime draw when this movie came out would have been two things: nudity and gore. There really isn’t a ton of nudity: maybe four topless scenes and two full-frontals (male and female – very egalitarian!) in the entire movie. It’s a fair amount but modest compared to some of the near-porn that passed for slasher movies in those days. The gore, on the other hand, is actually quite decent given the minimal budget and utter lack of effects technology. I particularly enjoyed the naked, bifurcated co-ed next to the crapper. Tasteful!

Cutting edge effects. GET IT?

My recommendation is to make sure you get the most recent DVD version of this movie because it contains a crucial bonus feature. I know it’s not technically part of the movie and therefore outside what I usually talk about, but in this case it’s worth making an exception. The DVD includes a remastered audio track that was recorded in front of a live audience at the Vine Theater in Hollywood. Much of the joy of the old grindhouse flicks was derived from the communal experience. These were movies meant to be viewed in a social environment with most people halfway (or more) on their way to blotto, and possibly with a few homeless guys giving each other handjobs in the back row.

Just give it a second and you'll hear my scream. Light travels faster than sound.

The crowd at the Vine was definitely boisterous and more than a few of them thought they were auditioning for Mystery Science Theater 3000. None of that matters. The movie is infinitely more entertaining if you feel free to revel in the ridiculousness. You can laugh along with a gang of like-minded fans, whistle at the babes, and make lazy jokes about the rampant homo-eroticism. It’s all in good fun.

Perfect form. Textbook.

Memorable Moment: There are literally more than I can count. One that stands out features Mary, who is not only the world’s worst professional tennis player but also some kind of undercover cop. She’s walking alone on campus at night, presumably as bait. She has no backup of any kind though, so the plan is less than optimal. Someone moves in the bushes ahead of her, and we assume it’s the killer. But instead of a guy in a black fedora with a saw, out jumps a fucking NINJA. He flings a few kicks in her general vicinity, causing her to lose her gun and fall down. The assailant gets too close and she gives him an old-fashioned nutshot, bringing him to the ground as well.

From behind comes the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw, which couldn’t possibly be another red herring. Yet when she turns it’s none other than young Kendall. He spotted her from his dorm window right next door, but decided it would be best to traverse the hundred feet between them via dirtbike. And what does he say when he finds her standing over a woozy Asian man? “Oh hey, it’s my kung fu professor!” Ice that cake with a racist line about Cato not remembering what happened because of bad chop suey and you have yourself some certified grindhouse GOLD. “See you rater!”

Choice quote: “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking in a waterbed at the same time.” I believe she’s quoting Shelley.

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