Since the introduction of the horror/thriller-centric streaming service Shudder in 2016, viewers have had the opportunity to stumble across films that could typically only be found tucked away in the corner of their local video store (if they still have one).
The service has made easily accessible the genre films that would be overlooked when slotted on the same screen as the latest Marvel effort on Netflix. Pieces is one such film that has been kept in a spotlight due to Shudder’s efforts, and thankfully so, as it cartoonishly blends smut, mystery, and a disregard for logic to keep you smiling through the chaos.
The film wastes no time in revealing its exploitation leanings, as it opens with young Timmy putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman. When his mother walks in and chastises him for playing with “filth” he appropriately responds by murdering and then decapitating her with a hacksaw. Cut to 40 years later and it appears that Timmy is back on the prowl, this time offing young women on a Boston college campus. It’s up to the local police to identify the killer before the body count climbs.
The narrative is fairly routine for slashers of the time, but the execution is what makes the film such an enjoyable ride. Pieces takes from the Italian giallo style and carries an aura of mystery with its proceedings. The cops are presented with a ragtag roster of suspects including campus hearthrob Kendall (Ian Sera), Anatomy professor Arthur Brown (Jack Taylor) and groundskeeper Willard (Paul Smith). The latter of which encapsulates the absurd joy of the film.
It’s clear writers Dick Randall and Roberto Loyola wanted Willard to be the film’s red herring, but something gets lost along the way and Smith plays Willard as a full-on caricature complete with bug-eyed stares. At one point he stumbles onto a crime scene and decides to touch the murder weapon before attempting to assault and flee from three officers.
The laughable creative decisions continue from there with a late-night campus stroll that ends with a kung-fu surprise that’s explained away as the result of “bad chop suey,” and a speaker-shattering line read from Lynda Day George’s distraught Mary. Those are just a few examples, but Pieces has more than enough out-of-left-field plot turns and line reads to fill its sub-90 minute runtime.
Putting the comedic aside for a moment, the film still delivers on its central concept and earns its place in Shudder’s catalog. When allowed to breathe, the film’s mystery is able to bring an unnerving air to a scene. Director Juan Piquer Simón’s location decisions, he often chooses tight spaces like a bathroom or elevator, do a great job of furthering this feeling of no escape. It’s also not afraid to repaint the walls with red and provide some stomach-turning albeit memorable visuals; and expect disembowelment or two.
Pieces has one of the most apt taglines I’ve ever seen, proudly declaring “It’s exactly what you think it is!” This bold acceptance of what the crew has created fosters a sense of endearment that undoubtedly aided its cult status. Pieces is undeniably Pieces up until the very end. Inexplicable, exploitative, entertainment.