31 Days of Halloween — Day 9: Pieces (1983) — by Dr. Shock

Pieces 1983

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.


“Pieces” – It’s exactly what you think it is!

This is the tagline for director Juan Piquer Simon’s “Pieces,” and it says it all. Produced in 1983, when slasher movies were all the rage, “Pieces” doesn’t waste time on things like plot or continuity, yet will absolutely blow you away with its high level of violence and gore.

Following a brief flashback to the 1940s, in which a young boy named Timmy (Alejandro Hernández) bludgeons his overbearing mother to death with an ax, we jump ahead to modern times, where a killer is stalking the beautiful female students of a prestigious Boston-area college. The detectives assigned to the case, Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) and Sgt. Holden (Frank Braña), have very few clues to go on; most of the girls have been chopped up with a chainsaw, and in each instance, the killer has carried off a piece of his victim’s body.

With no sign that the murderer intends to let up, Lt. Bracken sends his colleague, undercover officer Mary Riggs (Lynda Day), in to pose as the school’s new tennis instructor, and even asks one of the students, Kendall James (Ian Sera), to keep an eye out for anything unusual. Over time, a few suspects do emerge, including the creepy-looking gardener Willard (Paul L. Smith) and anatomy professor Arthur Brown (Jack Taylor), both of whom seem to have something to hide, but is either one the actual killer, or is it someone else entirely?

There are times when “Pieces” will have you scratching your head, wondering what’s going on. Aside from the fact that Lt. Bracken, saying his resources are limited, all but deputizes an inexperienced college student (Kendall) to assist with the investigation, there’s a completely inexplicable moment when Mary Riggs, walking around the campus at night, is attacked by a random kung fu expert played by Bruce Le, one of the period’s many Bruce Lee impersonators (Along with “Pieces,” producer Dick Randall was also making kung fu movies in Europe, and supposedly demanded that this scene be included to help promote his other projects).

The film’s continuity also suffers on occasion. Take, for example, the discovery of the second victim, Jenny (Cristina Cottrelli), who was hacked apart when she went for a swim in the gymnasium’s pool. By chance, both Kendall and the spooky gardener Willard show up on the scene at the same time, and because Willard was standing next to the chainsaw, Kendall assumes he is the killer and rushes off to fetch the authorities. Before long, Sgt. Holden and a pair of security guards burst in, and after a brief melee, they take Willard into custody. But a few scenes later, Lt. Bracken is complaining that they have no idea who the killer is! Even if they couldn’t hold Willard due to a lack of evidence, his being there at the time of the discovery, not to mention the fact that he works almost daily with a damn chainsaw, should have at least made him a prime suspect.

That’s what “Pieces” does wrong. I can sum up what it does right in two words: kill scenes. The violence in “Pieces” is both sudden and brutal, and the blood flows as freely as in any other slasher movie from this era. Even the flashback scene at the beginning is bloody as hell (after hitting dear old mom over the head with an ax, little Timmy proceeds to cut her up with a saw, and makes a fairly big mess in the process). And this wouldn’t even rank as one of the movie’s top five goriest kills (the winner, in my book, is the murder of Suzie Bell, played by Leticia Marfil, who is dispatched while taking a shower. To be honest, I’m not sure which is more shocking: Suzie’s murder or the shot of her lifeless body when she’s found).

So, even if “Pieces” doesn’t challenge your mind, it will certainly do a number on your stomach, and if you know that going in, you’re bound to have a great time watching it.

— Dr. Shock


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8 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 9: Pieces (1983) — by Dr. Shock

  1. —SPOILERS BELOW—

    Day 09 – The Dentist (1996)

    Despite what a natural fit they seem to be in the world of horror, there has been a serious lack of evil dentist horror films. I don’t really understand it. Dentists are one of the most natural things to have a phobia about that you shouldn’t be afraid of. Luckily, there’s at least 1996’s The Dentist to partially fill that void. This is a film I’ve been watching every once in awhile for the last fifteen years. Directed by Brian Yuzna and written by his frequent collaborators, Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon, this non-HP Lovecraft inspired tale often goes unnoticed, but to this day I still consider it one of the hidden gems of the rough 1990’s horror.

    As I said, dentists are one of the most natural fits in horror. Over the course of this film, practically every conceivable dentist related fear is examined. Some of those fears are fairly minor such as a dentist accidentally stabbing your gums with a sickle probe, causing you to bleed. Another small fear realized is dealing with the anesthesia injection that that long needle. However, it doesn’t take long before the fears are increased until they’re things of your worst nightmares. This includes sexual assault after nitrous gas, the dentist using the drill to destroy your tooth, and worst of all – forced extraction of all of your teeth without any anesthesia. I wouldn’t even consider myself as someone who has a fear of things being done to my teeth or even timid of dentists, but there’s some scenes in this film that had me cringing and nearly covering my eyes due to the noise of the scraping against the teeth and the close-up shots of the teeth extractions or stabbings with the sickle probe. If you have a fear of going to the dentist, these scenes alone will make The Dentist a terrifying film to watch.

    Although I have watched this film several times over the last fifteen years, this is the first time I was able to sit back and appreciate the camera work. Credit to cinematographer, Levie Isaacks, for his camera work that went hand-in-hand with showing Dr. Feinstone’s madness. Nearly every time Feinstone is shown on camera, the camera is always moving. The more insane Feinstone is at any particular moment, the crazier the movements. A “Sane” Feinstone sees the camera just slowly moving just enough that you may think the cameraman came to work drunk. The further away Feinstone’s sanity goes, the more the camera will slant from side to side, a dreamy effect will be added, and the music will kick in. Some of the best scenes for this camera work is when there’s a drastic change whether it’s normal camera angles while the shot doesn’t contain Feinstone, only to then begin moving around once he walks into the room or midway in the film as Feinstone shaken back to reality with the camera finally relaxing from it’s constant movements. If you’ve never watched The Dentist, I’d urge you to watch it just to witness such a small budget film try to impress with it’s camera shots.

    A funny thing about The Dentist is that regardless of how many times I watch the film, the character I find the most unlikable isn’t the killer dentist, his cheating wife, or the sleazy man from the IRS, but rather it’s the talent manager, Steve Landers. Played by a young Mark Ruffalo, Landers manages to annoy me each time I watch the film. It’s not as if he does much in the film either. While his client, April Reign, is in with Dr. Feinstone, Landers turns his attention towards the teenager, Sarah. Inflating her ego, he encourages her to show him how she walks as if she was a model. You can see the excitement in her eyes at the idea of being discovered at a dentist office. Yet, Landers grows bored and blows Sarah off to rudely ask about the status of April. After putting together what happened to April and barging back in to punch Feinstone out, Landers pushes Sarah aside in both coming back into the dentist office and back out. Unlike the other Feinstone, his wife, and the man from the IRS, it’s not as if Landers is supposed to be a villain. He’s just an asshole that kept disrespecting some poor teenage girl. In some odd way, that makes Landers a bigger villain in my eyes because at least Feinstone has the excuse of being insane. What’s Landers’ excuse?

    Speaking of Sarah, I have mixed feelings on her character. On one hand, she’s the most sympathetic character of the film and one of the few that you can actually like. Besides all of the crap she endures from Landers, Sarah is simply a kid that is trying to get her braces removed. It’s two years in the making and everything and everyone keeps getting in the way. This teen has done nothing wrong, but everyone is disrespecting her and once she finally gets her braces removed, she has to deal with crazy old Feinstone trying to decide if he should just kill her since all of that hard work in fixing her teeth will simply be wasted by not brushing enough or eating sugary candy. At the same time, although she is the closest thing to a final girl that this film has, how much do we truly care about her? We don’t know anything about her backstory and other than her two appearances at Feinstone’s office, we don’t see her anywhere else. Getting to know her character outside of the dentist’s office could have gone a long way in adding to the emotion of her attempts at surviving a hunting Feinstone. I’d argue that including both the subplot with Sara and Feinstone’s wife was too much. You either ditch Sarah’s character to allow the film to end with Feinstone’s revenge against his cheating wife or greatly diminish his wife’s role and instead spend the a good portion of the film to getting to know Sarah for the big finale.

    Other problems with the film includes the ending. After Sarah’s fate is revealed, it seemed as if the creators didn’t know how to end the film. The story moving towards Feinstone at the school with the police hot on his tail didn’t have any real emotion to it. After all, what are the stakes of this scene? It’s just random people that we have never met having their lives possibly threatened by Finestone. Without Sarah or Finestone’s wife being in the picture, the film lacks direction. It’s also very noticeable that The Dentist had a small budget. Despite a couple of great torture scenes, some of the kills are done as cheapily as possible. This means either the kills are bloodless or shot in such a way that the viewer only sees the blood splatter without seeing the wound be inflicted.

    Overall, The Dentist remains a hidden gem for 90’s horror for me. A killer dentist is such a natural fit for the genre and Corbin Bernsen does a swell job at selling the downward spiral of insanity in his character. The camera work is far superior than it has any business being in such a small picture like The Dentist. So while the script had some flaws with the lack of attention given to the characters outside of Finestone, the film would have greatly benefited from being better organized. Still, it’s a movie about an insane dentist that causes plenty of mayhem. It’s fun for all ages!

    Rating: 7/10

  2. Hey gang! Spooky season review!

    What a revisit. The debut film of B movie director Jack Sholder, and one of the first films from New Line Cinema, is this highly entertaining and strikingly intelligent slasher.

    
When the power fails in a New Jersey (jersey !!!!!represent!) community, four murderously insane men walk out of a mental facility and head for the home of their new doctor!
Although it was lost among the numerous slasher films of the early 80’s, Alone in the Dark is one of the smartest killer thrillers of the genre. Sholder delivers an above-average story all the way. He has one especially bizarre opening sequence, then follows with a plot that grows more intense through out. The film builds to a great claustrophobic climax, and then a memorable (and some what humorous) conclusion. The story packs some solid suspense, heated violence, and the occasional good jolt. One thing that really sets this tale above that of the average slasher flick is the fact that the films characters are believably well-rounded and even quirky at times. Yet another unique element of this story is the fact that it has a splendid kind of dark humor toward the idea of ‘mental health’. It’s almost a satire on the subject. Sholder’s direction is quite good, giving some tight action sequences and well-timed shocks. Also good is the unique music score of Renato Serio.
Another thing that sets this film above the norm is the wonderful cast which includes a number of veteran actors. Jack Palance is excellent in his role as the leader of the crazed villains. Donald Pleasence is a welcomed trip as a ‘different’ kind of psychologist, lol at “violin bow needs more rosin” scene. Martin Landau makes for a perfectly creepy madman (duh). The supporting cast, namely Dwight Schultz, are great as well.
I love this. So much fun. It’s definatly in my top ten slasher movies.

    9/10 for me.
    I believe the DVD is out of print, and there’s no blu ray available, if you can find it, snag it!

  3. Day 9: Day of the Dead (1985)
    Rating: 7.5/10

    This is the third in Romero’s “Dead” movies. An isolated government group is trying to survive and study the zombies in an apocalyptic world. Internal conflicts between the scientists and military have deadly consequences. Romero comes up with another unique take on zombies and DOTD is very solid as the third entry in a set of films. This was my first viewing of many to come.

  4. Day 9: The ABCs of Death (2012)

    Rating: 4.5/10 (low priority rental)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – Interesting concept for a collection of shorts.
    – Huge variety in theme, tone, subject matter and execution among the shorts.
    – There were a few standout segments, including “X is for XXL,” “L is for Libido” and, on the silly side of the scale, “Q is for Quack.”

    What I didn’t like:
    – While an interesting concept, in practice, having 26 shorts is just way too much.
    – Because there are so many, each segment is way too short to really develop any interesting ideas.
    – The quality of many segments is really poor, almost as if some of the directors didn’t take this project seriously.
    – Some of the segments were offensively grotesque.

  5. Day 9 – Return to Horror High

    YOU GUYS! HOW COME NOBODY TALKS ABOUT THIS MOVIE? SERIOUSLY!?! I avoided this movie like the plague because the poster just looked so damn stupid. Whenever it popped up on 80s slasher lists I ignored it because it looked too ridiculous. Now granted, it is a horror comedy, but is the good kind of horror comedy. It would actually be an excellent double bill with Friday the 13t pt. 6. The plot for this is creative, it’s meta before being meta in horror films was a thing, and it is legitimately funny while remaining in the world of an 80s slasher. I dug this thing a lot. 8.5/10

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