Back in the early 1980’s Italian cinema seemed content with capitalising on and plagiarising American movies, starting with Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (which claimed to be a sequel to Dawn of the Dead) and coming to a head through the work of Joe D’Amato, possibly the most hack director that country has ever offered the horror genre. Having already flirted with the slasher movie with the notorious Anthropophagous and Absurd, D’Amato took a back seat whilst Juan Piquer Simón filled in as director for his next attempt to cash in on the current trend, with his 1982 splatter yarn Pieces. Taking its cue from Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (by fellow Italian Romano Scavolini), Pieces focused on murderous children, mutilation and inconsistent plot twists in a way that only a filmmaker like D’Amato could produce.
Opening with a boy’s homicidal rage after his overbearing mother takes away his jigsaw puzzle, causing him to hack her to pieces with an axe, we flash forward forty years to a college campus where a series of brutal murders has both the student and staff on edge. The Pieces of the title refers to the twist ending, where the killer’s handiwork is revealed, a woman that has been sewn together from various body parts, showing that his jigsaw obsession is still with him. A detective, Christopher George (of City of the Living Dead fame), leads the investigation, which for some reason involves an undercover student and a famous tennis player helping him uncover the truth. Despite a completely ludicrous script and some dire acting, the film manages a shocking finale that almost makes up for the previous ninety minutes.
The premise itself deserves some praise, as D’Amato (writing under one of his many pseudonyms, John Shadow) manages to add a few unique touches and moments of camp humour (albeit unintentional), and those elements that reduce it to shlock are the same as most Italian horrors from the era (bad dubbing, inconsistent plot, poor acting). Simón is certainly no Dario Argento, in fact he even falls short of Lucio Fulci, but there are plenty of gruesome set pieces to keep viewer’s entertained, such as the opening scene which sees the young boy mutilating his mother with an axe, only for the police to later find the bloodbath and believe him to be a victim. But, as with many films of the era, the artwork, title and promotional material gives an impression that Pieces is far more gruesome and sadistic than it really is.
Pieces was released during the slasher heyday and managed to find a cult following on VHS, mainly due to its graphic violence. The scenes in between are pretty amateur though, with an extremely annoying skateboard sequence and lots of pointless red herrings. Yet while this is a perfect example of how not to make a film there is something appealing about Pieces, perhaps it is the excessive gore or the male-cringing climax, but either way this is what could only be described as a guilty pleasure. Whilst it is extremely flawed, its sheer audacity refuses to allow it to become simply mediocre. Whilst its tagline, ‘You don’t need to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre,’ unfairly compares it to a seminal classic, Pieces at least offers the occasional inspired moment, lost among a string of clichés and fillers.