Pieces/1000 Cries Has the Night/Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche (1983) -**½
Behold the power of an excellent tag line. This giallo-style slasher movie from Spain would seem to have very little going for it. First of all, the mere fact of its Spanish origin might be expected to act as a deterrent for many potential viewers, and knowing what I do about Spanish horror films, it isn’t exactly easy to argue against that line of reasoning. Secondly, writer/director/producer Juan Piquer Simón performed the same three functions on both Slugs and The Pod People, a resume fit to strike terror into all but the stoutest of hearts. Then there’s the simple fact that 1983 was a little late in the game to be making a film that sticks this rigidly to the original giallo recipe. Finally, have a look at that cast… Christopher George as the leading man? Was that really the best they could do? And yet with all those strikes against it, Pieces/Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche is a relatively widely seen and well (if not necessarily favorably) remembered movie. Why? My guess is, it’s all about the tag line: “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!” Heaven knows that’s what made me pick it up at the video store for the first time back in the late 1980’s.
So where, if not to Texas, will we be going for this particular chainsaw massacre? How about Boston? Because this is an 80’s slasher movie, we have to begin by establishing a motive for the killer, and to that end, we join young Timmy Reston one afternoon in 1942. Timmy is up in his bedroom, where he is assembling a jigsaw puzzle the subject matter of which establishes that there is no way in hell this is the early 1940’s. Not that they necessarily didn’t have naked pinup girl puzzles in those days, mind you, but everything about this puzzle— the girl’s pose, her hair and makeup, her overall build… to say nothing of the fact that we’re talking about a color photograph here— positively screams “early 80’s.” Regardless, Timmy’s impure thoughts are intruded upon when his mother walks in and has a fit over what she catches him doing. Tossing the puzzle across the room, Mom orders Timmy to fetch her a plastic garbage bag, and then begins rifling through his dresser drawers and such in search of more smut, ranting all the while about how Timmy is going to grow up just like his dirty-minded bastard of a father. (By the way… Given that the great revolution in commercial plastics didn’t really take hold until the late 40’s and early 50’s, and that during World War II, synthetic materials of all kinds were considered so valuable strategically that it became next to impossible to find nylon stockings, what do you think the chances are that the average American household would have had plastic garbage bags on hand in 1942?) Well, when Timmy comes back up to his room, it isn’t a trash bag he brings with him, but an axe— with which he proceeds to bash in his mother’s forehead. Timmy has the good sense to tell a few convincing lies when a concerned neighbor brings the cops over after Mrs. Reston fails to answer both phone and doorbell despite signs of the house being occupied.
40 years later, Timmy still seems not to have gotten over that long-ago incident. He still has both the offending pinup puzzle and the bloodstained clothes his mother had been wearing that day, and since our first look at him as an adult takes the form of a tight closeup on his black-gloved hands, I think we know pretty well what he’s about to get up to. Sure enough, a girl at one of Boston’s many colleges has her studying in the park disrupted when a man with his face concealed by a scarf and goggles fires up a chainsaw just a few feet from her. The chainsaw guy says he won’t be long, and indeed he isn’t. But instead of pruning the bushes, he prunes the girl, decapitating her and then making off with her head.
Enter Detective Lieutenant Bracken (Christopher George, from Mortuary and The Gates of Hell). He and his partner, Sergeant Randy Holden (Frank Braña, from Kilma, Queen of the Amazons and Return of the Blind Dead), arrive a short while later to interview Dean Foley (Edmund Purdom, of Monster Hunter and Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks) and try to get some kind of handle on the background of the case. The dean reveals himself as a suspect early when he deals with the cops in a most uncooperative manner. Then again, Professor Arthur Brown (Jack Taylor, from The Curse of Nostradamus and The Bare-Breasted Countess) doesn’t exactly radiate innocence, either. He is said to live alone with his mother (foster mother, perhaps?), and he is frequently the butt of sexually suggestive jokes from his female students. Oh— and he teaches anatomy. Let us also not forget Willard the groundskeeper (Paul Smith, of Dune and Gor), whose job frequently places him among the campus shrubberies with a chainsaw.
Needless to say, that girl in the park is only the first of many to get carved up. You see, whoever the grown-up Timmy Reston is, he’s putting together his jigsaw puzzle again, and each time he completes a section of the woman’s body, he feels compelled to go out and harvest the corresponding piece of a real girl for the parallel project he’s got hanging up in his walk-in freezer. And interestingly enough, it seems that just about all of “Chainsaw Charlie’s” victims are girls who have had some manner of intimate relations with a boy named Kendall James (Ian Sera, of The Pod People and Christina). Naturally, this makes Kendall a suspect, too, at least in the eyes of the police. After all, they don’t know that the killer has to be somebody of sufficiently advanced age to have been about ten years old in 1942. But Bracken and Holden can find no more hard evidence against Kendall than they can against Willard or Brown or anybody else, and they decide to bring in some assistance. This assistance takes the form of policewoman Mary Riggs (Linda Day George, from Day of the Animals and Ants!), who goes undercover at the college as a tennis coach, on the theory that she, as an attractive young woman, will catch the killer’s eye. And for some reason that never really does get explained, Bracken soon comes to trust Kendall sufficiently that he practically deputizes the boy, and takes the ridiculously irresponsible step of enlisting him to watch Mary’s back.
It’s not like you really need me to tell you this, but Pieces is an immensely stupid film. From the ludicrous “birth of a psycho” scene at the beginning to a twist ending so retarded it makes Friday the 13th, Part 3 look like The Evil Dead, hardly a moment goes by in which Juan Piquer Simón doesn’t make an ass of himself. Truth be told, as a director, from a technical perspective, he isn’t at all bad. Pieces is well-shot, and while there’s nothing truly exceptional about it, there are a few scenes that are nicely done as far as camera placement, lighting, and the like are concerned. There’s even one point at which Simón gives off a little spark of real creativity. It comes when Mary Riggs unwittingly enters the killer’s lair, at which point the camera passes, without calling any attention to it, through a succession of sets that we’ve been seeing brief glimpses of off and on throughout the entire movie. The audience (or at least those of us who are at all observant) know what Mary has gotten herself into, but she doesn’t, and Simón’s decision to treat this scene with the same nonchalance that Mary feels going into it actually makes it much more suspenseful than would have been the case had he gone the usual route: “Ooh— look at this sofa… remember it? What about that chest of drawers over there? He’s the killer, I tells ya, the killer!” But as a writer… Oh my God! You’ve got to wonder how Simón thought his audience was going to respond to such absurdities as the scene in which Riggs, walking the campus alone, believes she is being trailed by the killer, and then ends up in a pitched battle against the school’s kung fu instructor, who was out jogging, and thought Mary was the killer stalking him. Furthermore, the dialogue in Pieces is consistently disastrous, as when one of the future victims announces her doomed-ness by proclaiming that “There’s nothing in the world more beautiful than smoking pot and fucking on a water bed at the same time!” Once you’ve seen the movie, the tag line becomes even more impressive; you’ve got to admire the bravery of anybody who would deliberately invite comparisons between this cinematic abortion and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.