P: Pieces (1982)

Letterboxd ♠ Master List

If you know me at all, you know that I hate slasher movies. Hate them with the heat of a thousand suns. Hate them with a passion I usually reserve for licorice candy and overlong meetings. I hate hate hate them. Yet here I am watching Pieces, which is the platonic ideal of everything I hate about them. Not for nothing is its tag line “It’s exactly what you think it is!”

Why am I doing this? Because it’s Hubrisween.

The opening is, I admit, pretty effective. “Thirty years ago” a boy is putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman when he’s discovered by his abusive mother. She starts screeching at him that she’s going to burn all his things, resulting in an axe to her head and the boy sawing her body apart. When the cops finally come, he hides in a closet and says the bad man did it.

If you need any early indicators as to attention to detail in Pieces – though this prologue takes place circa 1952, the mother is yelling at her homicidal child to get a “plastic bag” to burn his porn stash in, and they have a touch tone phone.

In the present of 1982, on your typical fake college campus, a girl riding a skateboard crashes through a huge mirror, and this all it takes for our now grown axe-wielding kid to start putting together his blood-stained jigsaw puzzle and assembling a woman of his own from the chainsawed-off body parts of nubile young co-eds in various stages of undress (that this is the trigger is never expressly alluded to in the movie).

Director Juan Piquer Simón delivers a movie that is almost more giallo than slasher – the preponderance of red herrings (you just know Paul Smith is not the killer, no matter how ham-handedly the movie tries to make you think he is), the utter uselessness of the cops (Christopher George and Lynda Day George), and because of that uselessness, the solution to the killings lies with an outside investigator, in this case student Kendall (Ian Sera). The only thing that keeps it from being a giallo is it lacks that genre’s devotion to artistry, to finding beauty in the worst places. What it does have is nothing that will quell accusations of misogyny in either genre – the murder scenes are drawn out, graphic, and exclusively female. Possibly the most remarkable thing about Pieces is the ending, when Simón reasons that most slasher movies have a shock ending that comes out of left field… “but what if mine came all the way from the parking lot?” It’s that outre.

“I’m not THAT worthless!”

How bad are the cops? The decision is made to keep the murders quiet to avoid a panic, which allows the killer to act with impunity, multiplying his potential number of unguarded, unaware victims. How you manage to cover up a girl getting decapitated with a chainsaw in broad daylight is quite beyond me, though. The fact that Christopher George is the detective in charge caused me to assume this movie was Italian, not Spanish, for many years.

As Joe Bob Briggs pointed out in his Last Drive-In marathon, Pieces is a picture of what Simón thinks college in America is like: non-stop sex, right down to a water bed in the training room (was this ever a thing? I mean, just look at me, I’ve never seen the inside of a training room). Well, at least it gives Lynda a chance to really go for that Oscar nom:

And, oh please, let’s not forget this (and somebody owes Goblin some money):

But, alas, one bit of glorious over-acting and a surprise cameo by Bruce Le does not move me to suddenly overcome my hatred of these things. The best I can say is that it’s undeniably trash, but at least it’s fairly well-made trash.

It was exactly what I thought it was.

 

Slugs (1988)

In a dramatic departure for covers, this is actually pretty darned close to what happens in the movie

In a dramatic departure for covers, this is actually pretty close to what happens in the movie

Next month, in our annual Hubrisween marathon, I’ll be revisiting the very first movie I ever reviewed. In my usual demented brain-damaged crab fashion, I will now re-visit the second movie I ever reviewed, which is Slugs, a 1988 horror movie directed by Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón, whose biggest hit stateside was probably 1982’s Pieces (“It’s Exactly What You Think It Is”).

I didn’t care for Slugs back in ’88 or ’89, whenever it was. My entire review consisted of a list of each and every horror movie cliche which you will encounter during its runtime, up to and including, “Hey (Hero), if anything happens to me, take care of my wife.” The only one I couldn’t complain about was the alcoholic hermit saying, “Whut’s thet dawg a-barkin’ at?” and that’s only because the dog doesn’t bark, it just refuses to go into the abandoned house infested with killer slugs.

Killer. Slugs.

You two are so frickin' doomed, i didn't even look up your character names.

You two are so frickin’ doomed, I didn’t even look up your character names.

And that’s not one of the reasons I hated the movie (it is right there in the title, after all); I have watched movies about giant mollusks, murderous tires, bloodthirsty pianos and meteorological events made of man-eating fish; I am not going to balk at a movie about killer slugs, even if as a predator, they only slightly more mobile than the monster in Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It was the rote nature of the thriller that grated on me.

So here I am, 27 years later, and Arrow Video has put Slugs out on blu-ray. A number of my friends are very excited about this. I’m talking about being as excited as me hearing a pristine 35mm print of Chimes at Midnight had been found. So here is another chance for an older, wiser version of myself to give a movie another chance.

BAD SLUG! BAD! BAD!

BAD SLUG! BAD! BAD!

As you know (or could have surmised by my above rambling), this movie is about a small town being invaded by a horde of large, carnivorous black slugs (in the most famous shot, we find that the slugs have a toothy maw) traveling through the sewer system, having been spawned by some toxic waste dump in the town’s past. Their mucus is toxic, and can paralyze their victims. Also, as we find out in a particularly Cronenbergian sequence, if your alcoholic wife cuts one up in a salad and you eat it, blood flukes will proliferate in your body and make your head explode. Oops!

Pretty impressive in 1080p.

Pretty impressive in 1080p.

So it’s up to a heroic Health Inspector (Michael Garfield) a doesn’t-want-to-be-a-hero sanitation engineer (Philip MacHale) and a dubbed high school biology teacher (Santiago Alvarez) to combat the menace. There is a lot of time spent trying to get the local bureaucrats to do something about the bloody bodies piling up, but they can’t close the beaches on the 4th of July  jeopardize a sweet business deal already in trouble because the guy negotiating it had his head explode at a ritzy restaurant. So our heroes come up with a formula that makes the slugs explode instead (I guess they were immune to salt), and dump it in the slugs’ breeding ground, which also blows up half the damn town, and serves them right.

The problems with the movie are largely structural: it never really allows itself to build any momentum to its final scene. Two men in hazmat suits blundering around a sewer system with outdated maps, trying not to get eaten should be claustrophobic and terrifying. Instead we’re told to be afraid of motionless rubber slugs and flowing water and I’m constantly checking to see how much time is left. There are times I admit I’m distracted by wondering how slugs can pull people off boats or drag dead bodies along the ground…

"We hate each other a lot, right?" "Right."

“We hate each other a lot, right?” “Right.”

As to the much-reviled cliches: They’re there, but I’ve mellowed about them. These are what Simón thought would make for a commercially successful movie (along with some unrepentant 1980s gore), and apparently, he was right. The special effects are quite good; the exteriors were all shot in New York, while the interiors and almost all the effects were filmed in Madrid, Simón’s home turf. This means there is an awful lot of dubbing in evidence, some of it lamentable, but really that’s part of the charm for its fans.

Those fans are going to be ecstatic about this blu-ray, too. Arrow Video are the guys who brought us a flawless Blood and Black Lace and the quality on Slugs is equally breathtaking. A 1080p presentation from the original film elements, and those elements must have been blessed by the Pope because they are amazing and show not the slightest wear.

slugs5Arrow also has their usual bonanza of supplements, but the best for my money is an audio commentary track with Shaun Hutson, who wrote the original novel. Hutson is refreshingly level-headed and entertaining about what became of this, his first book; he speaks disarmingly about his first viewing at a film festival, and the differences between the two (mainly, his book takes place in London, not small town America).  The conversation, having 92 minutes to breathe, ranges over horror movies in general and Hutson’s hatred for Stephanie Meyers in specific: “You ruined vampires!”

like Shaun Hutson.

This is an amazing time to be a genre fan with an HDTV. Are there movies I wished Arrow Video had concentrated on other than Slugs? Of course I do. But I still have to admit this is a wonderful package, beautifully presented, and I commend Arrow for taking such care with a long-neglected stepchild of the horror movie world.

Keep it up, folks. Please.

“DON’T make out when your parents aren’t home!”

Buy Slugs on Amazon. The movie, not the flesh-eating beastie.