Color, 1981, 89m. / Directed by Juan Piquer Simon / Starring Christopher GeorgeIan Sera, Lynda Day George /
Grindhouse (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Poor J.P. Simon. While directors like Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato certainly had their moments of hackwork, nobody else has managed to hit the bottom of the barrel as consistently as this guy, who assaulted audiences with the likes of Cthulu Mansion and the MST3K favourite, The Pod People. Thankfully some of his anti-masterworks overcame their shortcomings and have ascended to bona finde cult status, and none reigns more supreme than the tasteless and relentlessly entertaining Pieces. Shuffled into coast-to-coast theaters at the height of slasher mania in the early '80s, it became an instant drive-in favorite with its prominent unrated status and the unforgettable tagline, "You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw masscare." Of course, the predictable yelps of protest quickly ensued over its supposedly misogynist depictions of college women being attacked by a jigsaw-happy lunatic, though in fact this Spanish-shot film owes far less to its '80s slasher cohorts than to the genre's decade-earlier ancestors, the Italian gialli, which Pieces both imitates and nearly parodies to a completely absurd degree.

In the obligatory prologue, set here in 1942, a young boy works on a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman. His mother bursts in and angrily chastises him, to which he responds by taking an axe to her head. The neighbors arrive with the police to find the house splattered with blood and the little boy hiding in the closet. Flash forward forty years later, as an idyllic Boston campus is being terrorized by a chainsaw killer who removes different body parts from his victims. The officer in charge, Lieutenant Bracken (City of the Living Dead's Christopher George), enlists the aid of tennis player Mary (Lynda Day George) and unbelievably dippy, he-slut pig college student Kendall (Ian Sera) to sniff around for clues on campus. Meanwhile young girls continue to fall prey to the killer, in settings ranging from a swimming pool to a waterbed(!), all executed in graphic detail. Can our undercover sleuths discover the killer before he realizes their plan? And can anyone explain the ridiculous final scene?

If there were any doubt about the giallo influence on Pieces, the hilarious motivations for the killer's activities (triggered with a head-scratching early scene involving a dense roller skater flying to her death in a big pane of glass) should quickly reveal its true intentions. Plentiful suspects (including a chainsaw wielding groundsman played by Popeye's Bluto himself, Paul Smith!), endless police procedurals, a mysterious killer in black, and often naked women being terrorized in dark settings -- yep, it's all right here. Even the catchy, pulsating CAM library soundtrack for the English-language version liberally douses the film with excerpts of Stelvio Cipriani's score for Bloodstained Shadow. The best way to enjoy Pieces is probably as an unintentional comedy, thanks to Sera's doe-eyed and wholly unsympathetic performance, while the endless parade of female nudity is too ludicrous to take seriously. Sleaze fans should also watch for Franco regular Jack Taylor as a know it all professor, who has some of the best lines when he stumbles onto one gory crime scene.

Thanks to its profitable grassroots theatrical run ("It's exactly what you think it is!") and wide video distribution, Pieces became one of the more notorious splatter titles during the '80s with the predictable backlash by critics who took it way, way too seriously. The gore content is fairly high but never convincing, with rubber torsos and latex mouths getting shredding by various sharp implements. Vestron released it unrated on video, and the same lackluster full frame master was used for a Japanese laserdisc release. Meanwhile a very mildly widescreen (1.55:1) edition turned up on Venezuelan video under its Spanish title, Mil gritos tiene la noche (or One Thousand Cries Has the Night). Then infamous, thankfully defunct DVD rip-off label Diamond issues a bargain-priced digital duplicate of the Vestron transfer with shallow contrast, careless compression, and inconsistent colors, which subsequently made the rounds in several dubious, cheapo horror movie collections.

Needless to say, the hearts of trash film fans everywhere began to pitter pat when Grindhouse announced that it had acquired the legitimate rights to Pieces and would be releasing it in an edition finally worthy of its stature. The film kept popping up in major cities for horror festivals almost every year in the interim from its announcement in 2004, and finally after four years of waiting, the remastered, double-disc special edition finally arrived. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely, no question. The excellent, very film-like transfer looks immeasurably better than anything we've had before, and while the film will never win any technical awards, you finally get real color here, correct framing, and much, much crisper audio. Lynda Day George's showstopping howl of "Bastard! Baassstard! Baaassstaaarrrrd!" has never resonated so strongly in any home theater. As if that weren't enough, you get no less than three viewing options. First up is the standard English version with the piecemeal CAM soundtrack; then there's the Spanish-language version, so you can chuck those Venezuelan tapes away now. This edition contains a more organic and effective original score by Librado Pastor (whose only prior credit was Satan's Blood), which makes the film seem more respectable but may not appeal to die-hard fans. Also, the beloved disco aerobic workout scene suddenly becomes a soft, sleazy jazz routine in the Spanish version, which might be the breaking point for many viewers. Last up is the "Vine Theater Experience" recorded at the venerable fleapit favorite in Hollywood in 2002, with a fairly rowdy crowd much in the same mold as what Fox did for the DVD of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, albeit without the same number of one-liners here. Disc one closes out with the original Spanish opening titles (which then continue on to the main feature if you don't shut 'em off) and the hilariously effective, very short U.S. trailer.

And onward we march to disc two, which contains the lion's share of the bonus material and a host of Easter Eggs as well, all accessible through some hilarious, blood-spraying animated menus. "Pieces of Piquer" features the much-maligned Mr. Simon talking for a very jovial one-hour overview of his career, covering his days as a distributor in Spain to his early directorial efforts with whacked-out "adaptations" of Jules Verne novels, such as Mystery of Monster Island (out as an indispensable Midnite Movies release on DVD). Of course, Pieces gets most of the screen time, and Simon also covers the origins of the script, co-written with the "huh?" combo of two deceased exploitation legends, Dick Randall (French Sex Murders) and Joe D'Amato. His affection for the genre make this a lot of fun with no dead time whatsoever despite the running time. Next up is "The Reddest Herring," an interview with the extremely versatile Paul L. Smith, one of the best scowlers in the business, who appeared everywhere from Midnight Express (as one of the world's scariest prisoners) to the still-neglected "holy crap" masterpiece, Sonny Boy (as one of the world's scariest husbands). Now living in Israel, he's extremely cheerful and has a great demeanor that makes you immediately wish he'd get back in front of the camera again. The cast and crew filmographies contain plenty of hidden trailers and goodies best left unspoiled, an in addition to a traditional batch of stills and promotional artwork, you also get a video still show with Simon showing off the final and unused nude shots taken for the prominent jigsaw puzzle in the film. (An additional Easter Egg reveals even more, so happy hunting!) Along with the expected slew of Grindhouse trailers (including the usual suspects like the always golden Massacre Mafia Style, which is still frustratingly unavailabel, and new additions like Death Game and Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell), you also get an enthusastic set of liner notes by the Deep Red master himsef, Chas Balun. Easily one of the most essential and rewarding horror releases on DVD this year, or probably any year, as long as you know what you're getting.

Color, 1987, 90m. / Directed by Juan Piquer Simon / Starring Michael Garfield, Santiago Alvarez / Anchor Bay (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Talk about truth in advertising. Slugs (or as it's credited on film, Slugs: The Movie-- as opposed to Slugs: The Musical) exists solely to provoke the viewer's gag reflex and, much like the director's other hilariously fumbled features, piles on unintentional laughs from a clueless, partially dubbed cast. They don't make 'em like this anymore, and while that might be a good thing, Slugs is rarely boring and never tasteful. The "plot," adapted from a supermarket novel by Shaun Hutson(!), follows the ever so slowly paced attempt by slugs to take over a small town. You see, pollution has gifted the slimy creatures with teeth and a taste for meat, rather than the usual garden greens. In the opening sequence they chomp down on a hapless boater; then they slide into garden gloves, get chopped up into poisonous bits for a suburban husband's salad, and even attack a hamster. Enter our not terribly intrepid hero, health inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield), who suspects something slimy's going on when he's not busy fumbling around with his negligee-clad wife. Gradually the town escalates into a panic, so it's down into the sewers we go for an explosive finale.

Honestly, who ever thought this movie would wind up on DVD? The laserdisc back in the '80s seemed to be stretching it, but sure enough, Slugs has been dressed up in a sparkling new widescreen transfer and looks much better than it probably should. Colors are nice and splashy, especially when fake blood is spewing across the screen, and now you can really appreciate the artistic integrity in such showstoppers as a guy's head bursting into a mass of baby slugs right in the middle of a chic restaurant. The DVD also looks markedly different from the laserdisc and videotape versions, which were completely open matte and had a squarish, sitcom appearance that somehow added to the cheapness. Here it looks more like a real movie, with deeper blacks and more formal compositions, while also cropping out some hysterically accidental, goofy frontal nudity during the "teen" sexy-slug attack scene. The mono audio sounds fine and milks every bit of tension from that ridiculous stock music score, which wouldn't sound out of place in a Russ Meyer film. The disc also includes the lurid theatrical trailer, which wouldn't get shown on a single screen today, and a nifty replica of the theatrical poster, a variation on the original book cover sleeve.

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