Monday, January 24, 2011

Splatter Giallo...Hecho En Espana!




Two nights ago, I finally experienced a film that I should have seen a long time ago: Juan Piquer Simon's Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche, better known as Pieces.  Co-written by producer Dick Randall and John Shadow (which may or may not be yet another alias for Aristide Massaccesi, more later on), Pieces is a magnum opus of exploitation that the trailer above only hints at.

In 1942 Boston, a boy is chastised by his mother for doing a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman.  She sends him from the room to fetch a sack in which to dispose of the offending pastime.  He instead returns with a large axe and proceeds to do away with her.  He is busy cutting her up with a handsaw when the police arrive, drawn by a neighbour who heard the mother's death throes.  They find the boy whimpering in a closet, babbling about the large man who broke in and they escort him from the house.

Forty years later, the man the boy has grown into begins once again to build the nudie puzzle...and complement it with a puzzle of his own: The pieces of numerous co-eds, gained through chainsaw dismemberment.  The cops are called in to solve the case...and away we go.

What follows is a crass piece of gratuitous nudity and gore that is balletic in its' prurient brilliance.  The black-gloved, trenchcoated killer stalks the campus, miraculously invisible in all his movements, carving up half-undressed girls in dark corners (and broad daylight!) with a bright yellow chainsaw that he even manages to sneak into an elevator with an unsuspecting victim.

Pieces is exploitation heaven.  Blood flows copiously, breasts and a penis are proudly displayed and not one frame tries to be anything other than gratuitous.  That is the film's purpose: lowbrow entertainment elevated to something more simply because how true to its' intention Pieces is.  Christopher George chows down on a cigar in every frame.  His real-life wife, Lynda Day, is the tennis pro/cop who goes undercover to catch the madman.  Ian Sera plays the cocky college student that George enlists to help with the case, against the wishes of his partner (played by Frank Brana).

Although often classified as a slasher film, Pieces is more readily identifiable as a giallo.

Slasher films are often noted for their simple plotlines, masked killers, and use of the character commonly known as the Final Girl.  The usual characteristics of the Final Girl are her "virginal" nature (she rarely has a nude scene, has sex or partake in drugs or alcohol), her screen time occupies the bulk of the picture, and she is personally responsible for dispatching (or almost dispatching) the killer in the final reel.  Friday The 13th, Halloween, Scream, et. al. are responsible for contributing to the definitions of a slasher film.

As discussed in an earlier column, the giallo has its' origins in Italy, features a black-gloved killer whose identity is most often obscured by keeping identifying characteristics off-camera, elaborate and gory murder sequences involving shiny cutting instruments, off-kilter logic, and a distinctly European presentation of sex and nudity.  Great examples are Profondo Rosso and Lo Squartatore di New York, along with our two giallo Nasties, Tenebre and Blood Bath.

In Pieces, most of the screen time is given to the setpieces: the killer stalking, a topless girl either fleeing or ignorant of what is coming up behind her...and deep crimson liquid flying in all directions when the two collide, a sure sign that we are in giallo territory.  There is no Final Girl.  While Lynda Day's character is a definite candidate, she doesn't appear for the first time until halfway through the picture.  The character who comes up being the focus isn't Christopher George's cop, either.  It's Ian Sera's portrayal of ladies man Kendall that comes closest to the role of Final Girl, and his carousing with numerous females (including displaying his penis for the audience in one scene) negates his being Final Girl material.  Finally, (SPOILER ALERT) neither Day nor Sera is the killer's dispatcher.

Slasher film scholars (I'm looking at you, Jim Harper) take note: Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche is a prime example of giallo, made more impressive due to its' being hecho en Espana.

Now here's the thing that's been driving me bonkers: Authorship of the treatment that director Juan Piquer Simon turned into the screenplay.  Writing credits are given for producer Dick Randall and one "John Shadow".  Numerous sources report that John Shadow is one of the many aliases used by Aristide Massaccesi, best known as Joe D'Amato, director of two Nasties and one of the legends of Eurosleaze filmmaking.  What complicates things is the existence of a John W. Shadow, writer/director of Microscopic Liquid Subway To Oblivion.  This John W. Shadow was married to one-time Miss Teen Sweden Ewa Aulin, star of Microscopic Liquid Subway, from 1968 to 1972.  In 1973, Ms. Aulin starred in La Morte Ha Sorriso All'Assassino, aka Death Smiles On A Murderer, directed by Aristide Massaccesi, the only film Joe D'Amato ever signed with his real name.  I have never heard of D'Amato being married at any point in his too-brief life.  The relationship between Shadow and D'Amato is too close (due to the linkage of Ms. Aulin) for one to make a definitive call on authorship without ironclad evidence from someone involved in the production.  The Pieces DVD (an amazing 2-disc set from Grindhouse Releasing) contains an interview with Juan Piquer Simon where the director is said to confirm D'Amato's involvement...except I watched that 55-minute interview twice and never heard his name mentioned.  Simon states that he was given a 15-page treatment that he turned into a screenplay.  He does not state who wrote the treatment and claims sole credit for the shooting script.  SO, until I find some information stating conclusively that D'Amato was involved (which I hope to find - as a fan of the man I'd love to be able to include this in his filmography) the debate will rage on.

I LOVED this movie and I give it a hearty recommendation to you.  Now I need to figure out which Nasty is next.  I just got a copy of Delirium in the mail, so the list of hard-to-find Nasties just got a little shorter.  I'll be back with you soon.  Just don't get on an elevator with anyone who keeps their hands behind their back.  They may be holding a chainsaw.  I'll heed that advice.  Because my name's Justin.  JustinCase.


  1. Justin - I also notice that they managed to do an entire 30 second trailer and only included about 4 seconds of actual footage and never really did give any clue as to the plot. Makes me wonder if the trailer was made before the film was completed.

  2. Possible. At 30 seconds, it's either a TV spot (which would preclude showing too much) or a teaser meant to pique the interest of the grindhouse filmgoer. Whatever the reason, it sure makes me want to see the film!