Sunday, August 24, 2008

You'll Have To Wait Until Oct 28th For a Chainsaw Massacre

Pieces (1982) holds a very special place in the heart of just about everyone who grew up on the slasher films of the early 80s. A perennial favorite at the local Video Vault, it wasn’t unusual to find the space behind the ultra-lurid VHS box empty (“No, we’re not renting Splatter University instead – because it sucks, that’s why!”) It’s been years since I’ve sat down and watched the film from beginning to end, as it never got a proper US DVD release, and the import that I had picked up years ago had gone missing in the back of a closet. It was recovered during a recent fact finding expedition, but before I had the chance to give it a spin, I find this:


Featuring a pair of the best taglines in exploitation history, “You Don’t Have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre” and my personal favorite, “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!”, Pieces quickly became infamous for its copious bloodletting and plentiful nudity – two items that the very film that it chose to rip-off had almost none of. After The Texas Chain Saw Massacre bowed in 1974, it became an overnight watermark for nearly all subsequent low-budget horror productions. Out massacring the Massacre became a decades-long game of one-upmanship in terms of gore, while none we able to recreate the palpable air of fear of Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece. Eventually they stopped trying.

Made with European money by a Spanish crew, Pieces dispensed with any semblance of serious minded horror in the attempt to stuff as much blood and boobs into 90min as humanly possible. It was the second to last film for star Christopher George (the actor died of a heart attack in 1983) and came at the end of an admirable string of grindhouse classics, including Lucio Fulci’s The Gates of Hell and William Girdler’s Grizzly, which used George’s square-jawed countenance to excellent effect. But the film’s most memorable performance comes from Paul L. Smith. The larger than life Smith (imagine Sydney Greenstreet with the face of Peter Lorre) was a very active genre player in the 70s and 80s, appearing as a heavy in projects as diverse as Robert Altman’s Popeye – you’ll never guess who he played! – and Alan Parker’s Midnight Express. In Pieces, Smith plays one of cinema’s most obvious red herrings; a school handyman if memory serves, who lurks around crime scenes smiling like a mental patient while lovingly caressing his chain saw.

A new interview with Smith is just one of the delights waiting inside Grindhouse’s 2 disc set, so I’ve decided to hold off on revisiting the picture until it streets in October.