On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark gives a feature-length performance to celebrate fringe cinema in the streaming age.
First, the spoiler-free pitch for an editor’s midnight movie – something weird and wonderful from every era of film that deserves our memory.
Then the spoiler-filled aftermath, as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.
The Pitch: It’s exactly what you think…
Few moments in my recent memory have brought me as much joy as realizing that my IndieWire After Dark partner Alison Foreman had never seen “Pieces.” She’s one of the few people I’ve met whose knowledge of slasher franchises dwarfs my own, so I assumed that was the window to tell her about the bloodiest chainsaw massacre in Boston history (and the shockingly incompetent investigation , which followed), was closed a long time ago. When I learned that wasn’t the case, I knew that “Pieces” was the only way to kick off this column’s first month of Halloween picks.
Juan Piquer Simón’s Spanish slasher flick became a formative text for me when I discovered it in college. He conveyed to my impressionable young mind that bizarre films that don’t quite achieve their ambitious goals are often more interesting than those that do. Shot in Spain for an estimated $300,000 (and released in the US with a wonderfully unusual English dub), “Pieces” is notable for its inability to be generic despite its best efforts. The poster makes no attempt to hide its limited ambitions, boasting two of the greatest horror slogans of all time: “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre” and “It’s exactly what you think.” While the first claim is factually irrefutable, the second is much more dubious – because, dear reader, “Pieces” couldn’t be further from what you think.
The film tells a relatively simple story of a man who remains traumatized by childhood memories of his mother’s confiscation of his pornographic puzzles (if you weren’t there, cast the first stone), and who deals with his anger by engaging a variety of college students kills girls with a chainsaw. But while it boasts some really cool kills (and offers an excellent body-per-minute ratio in its short running time), “Pieces” stands out because it underscores the gore with some of the weirdest vibes you’ll ever experience become.
I’m talking about fashion that inexplicably straddles the line between ’80s New Wave and Plymouth Rock Pilgrim Chic. I’m talking about police scenes that are so poorly written that the cops investigating these murderers resemble an RPG character who can’t stop running into the same corner over and over again. There’s gratuitous nudity (of both the male and female variety), unrelated supernatural events, and the strangest college professor you’ll ever encounter on screen.
The tropes of the slasher genre are so well-documented that any time anything other than a “Scream” film tries to lampoon them, I immediately get bored. But “Pieces” remains hilarious to me even after countless rewatches because it’s not a parody – nor is it a conventionally “bad” slasher film. It’s as if an alien who’s never seen a movie (but has read a poorly written synopsis of the genre) tried to make a “Halloween” rip-off using the worst AI software ever invented . It’s a bouillabaisse of smaller artistic decisions, each of which goes wrong in its own way, a cacophony of mistakes that ultimately adds up to a symphony so glorious that no one could ever have made it on purpose. —CZ
The consequences: … Except not at all!
John Kramer’s Jigsaw may disagree, but for me the best puzzles are designed to be solved at least twice. With that thought in mind, I plunged into my second… and then third… and then fourth “Pieces” view in less than 24 hours. Each one was insanely more satisfying than the last. It’s currently running in the background as I type. Check out these jersey ladies!
Despite its name, this blood-soaked 1982 charmer isn’t a film you can pick and choose roles for. You can make some genre fans less bad by encouraging them to endure the bad to get to the good. For Jamie Lee Curtis, for example, the mundanity of “Prom Night” makes it worthwhile to text. But “Pieces” has an internal logic that demands your full attention And Repeated viewings – which, in addition to baffling artistic choices, offer enough key narrative clues to gleefully make you wonder if the whole nonsense was nonsense at all.
It wasn’t until my second round of Pieces that I figured out why the trickboard girl crashing into a giant mirror Benny Hill-style even matters. (In case you missed it, little Timmy’s mother smashed his bedroom mirror before being punished for destroying his no-no puzzle, and this random college girl’s road accident was the catalyst for Dean Foley’s killing spree.)
I was equally thrilled when I realized that my initial mockery of the invisible murderer – rummaging through a wastebasket in broad daylight to find out how two kids would fuck in a pool – was actually because I was given an important clue his identity had escaped. After working so hard to look like Paul Dano’s Riddler in other scenes (his Panama hat notwithstanding), the dean wouldn’t have needed an excuse to dumpster dive in his own campus library.
And why, please tell me, did these investigators let a random kid help them hunt down a serial killer like he was McLovin’ in an extreme gore version of Superbad? Because of course they knew he had been trained by the school’s kung fu professor!
What was even funnier was my realization that in the final reveal of the flesh puzzle, you could theoretically figure out which body part belonged to which victim. But the leeway I give to Juan Piquer Simón and screenwriters Dick Randall and Roberto Loyola has to stop somewhere, and the fact that there are two reasonable contenders for the girl to take the lead is driving me crazy. According to the story, it must be the first girl to be beheaded on the lawn. But look closely at the scene and you’ll notice that two dummy heads were used. Her hair inexplicably goes from a loose cut to the pool girl’s long blonde locks. (Which character would rather grab Kendall’s penis? Is that the key?)
Mary Riggs (aka Slasher Detective Barbie) particularly annoyed me. There was no reason for her to be implicated in the murders, let alone forced by the killer to take a whole new drug modification. And yet their quirky characterizations make them an absolutely essential part of the film. Why did she go from a famous tennis player to a truly miserable homicide detective? Why couldn’t she see her gun on the ground if it was right there? And why why why she said “BASTARD” like that?
The best slashers manage to conjure up a universe you can empathize with; That’s why so many of them end up as franchises. It would be nearly impossible to justify a sequel here, but that’s okay. There are already countless puzzles that make it worth revisiting “Pieces” to solve. Even if the only remaining solutions are “Well, the director didn’t think about it…” and/or “Well, apparently the director was a bit of a pervert…” there’s satisfaction in trying to figure out the answer .
To limit this pure enjoyment to silent film screenings at some grindhouse pizzeria or to enjoy only snippets of his crimson kills is to miss the glue that holds all those silly little pieces together. What a film and what an October there will be here at IndieWire After Dark. With such a good first week pick, I wouldn’t want anyone but Christian Zilko on the case. (You’re a freshman, right?) —AF
Those brave enough to join in the fun can stream “Pieces” on Shudder and Peacock. It is also available to rent on VOD platforms. IndieWire After Dark posts midnight movie recommendations every Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET. Read more about our crazy suggestions…