Stroke of Midnight



How I managed to make it to 2008 without seeing Pieces is really beyond me. I’m a huge fan of early 80’s slasher films, and a fan of Pieces director Juan Piquer Simon. But there it is, I let one get by me but I can now start to make up for lost time.

The film opens with a prologue set in Boston, 1942. A young boy is studiously doing a jigsaw puzzle in his room as his mother comes in. She see that the puzzle is of a nude woman and freaks out beating the child and cursing his dead father. The boy kills her with an axe, rather than have her get rid of his porno stash. The film then jumps forty years into the future to a supposedly large college campus. The characters keep talking about how large the school is, but there only appears to be about a dozen students and five teachers. Co-eds begin meeting grisly ends and the police are called in to investigate. Detective Bracken (Christopher George) and his sidekick played by Frank Brana start the investigation. Their investigation basically consists of having faculty and students investigate for them. One of their main helpers is Kendall, who looks like a cross between Screech and Horshack and has every girl on campus hot for him. Detective Bracken has Kendall looking for suspects, helping his partner go through faculty files, even asking his to protect undercover cop/pro tennis player Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George). This stuff gets laughably bad as they do everything but give the kid a gun. The grisly murders continue. Body parts are being taken from the victims, and the police have no leads. Mary Riggs goes to interview the dean of the college as Kendall and the detectives realize he may be the killer and rush to save Mary from being the final piece of the homicidal puzzle as they discover the dean is the boy from the prologue and he is assembling a new “mother” out of various body parts.

The plot, such as it is, zips along at a fast pace but without much mystery. It’s pretty obvious to everyone that the dean is the killer. There are a number of red herrings, including a camera mugging Paul Smith (Dune, Return of the Tiger) but none of them are dangled with much conviction. The film is quite gory, but really pretty tame by contemporary standards. The real joy of the film is how damn goofy it is. The whole thing is just silly by any standards. It starts with the absurd anachronisms in the 1942 prologue including an obviously early 80’s nude model on the puzzle, a push button telephone, and a New England Patriots pennant (the Patriots didn’t become a team until the 1960’s). The unnamed college has virtually no students or staff, and in fact was filmed in a villa and it’s grounds. Of course the most absurd is the geeky ladies man Kendall and the supreme faith the police have in him. Pieces boasts some laugh out loud dialogue. One amazing scene involves the killer sneaking onto an elevator with his victim by hiding his chain saw behind his back. The end of the film really grabs your…attention as well. Through it all the film is very likeable and infinately watchable, a near perfect midnight movie.

The film has had a pretty bad time of it on home video with this being the first authorized release on DVD. The disc from Grindhouse Releasing looks amazing with a hi-def transfer and anamorphic widescreen. The DVD contains three very different viewing experiences with the different audio tracks available. There is the standard English dub, the Spanish language track with subtitles with less laughable subtitles and a better musical score by Librado Pastor, and finally the Vine Theatre track which was recorded live and includes a large audience and all of their laughing, screaming, and cat calls.

I wish the disc had a good commentary, but the extras are all superb including a long interview with director Juan Piquar Simon and another with Paul Smith. There is also a short bit with Piquar showing off bits of memorabilia from the film including the infamous puzzle and the test shots of the model the puzzle was made of. It is a bit surprising to see such an odd little film get the super deluxe treatment, but really cult films benefit the most from such packages as they are so important to the people who love the films.

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