On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: It’s Exactly What You Think It Is…

Few moments in recent memory have brought me as much joy as the realization that my IndieWire After Dark partner Alison Foreman had never seen “Pieces.” She’s one of the few people I’ve met whose knowledge of slasher franchises dwarfs my own, so I figured the window to introduce her to the bloodiest chainsaw massacre in Boston history (and the shockingly incompetent investigation that followed it) had closed a long time ago. Once I learned that it hadn’t, I knew that “Pieces” was the only way to kick off this column’s first month of Halloween picks.  

Juan Piquer Simón’s Spanish slasher flick became a formative text for me when I discovered it in college, instilling in my impressionable young mind that bizarre films that don’t quite achieve their ambitious goals are often more interesting than ones that do. Shot for an estimated $300,000 in Spain (and released in America with a delightfully off-kilter English dub), “Pieces” is remarkable for how incapable of being generic it is despite its best efforts. The poster makes no attempt to hide its limited ambitions, boasting two of the greatest horror taglines of all time: “You Don’t Have to Go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre” and “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is.” While the first claim is factually irrefutable, the second is considerably more dubious — because, Dear Reader, “Pieces” could not be further from what you think it is. 

The film tells a relatively simple story of a man who remains traumatized by childhood memories of his mother confiscating his pornographic jigsaw puzzles (let he who hasn’t been there cast the first stone), and deals with his anger by slaying a multitude of college girls with a chainsaw. But while it boasts some genuinely cool kills (and crams an excellent bodies-per-minute ratio into its brief runtime), “Pieces” soars because it punctuates the gore with some of the strangest vibes you’ll ever encounter.

I’m talking fashion that inexplicably straddles the line between ‘80s New Wave and Plymouth Rock Pilgrim Chic. I’m talking police procedural scenes that are so poorly written that the cops investigating these murderers resemble an RPG character who can’t stop running into the same corner. There’s needless nudity (of both the male and female varieties), incoherent supernatural occurrences, and the strangest college professor you’ll ever encounter on screen.

The tropes of the slasher genre are so well documented that I’m instantly bored when anyone other than a “Scream” movie tries to lampoon them. But “Pieces” remains hilarious to me after countless rewatches because it’s not a parody — or even a conventionally “bad” slasher movie, for that matter. It’s as if an alien who had never seen a movie (but read a poorly-written summary of the genre) attempted to make a “Halloween” rip-off with the worst A.I. software ever invented. It’s a bouillabaisse of minor artistic choices that each go awry in their own way, a cacophony of errors that ultimately builds into a symphony so glorious that nobody could have ever intentionally made it. —CZ

The Aftermath: …Except Not at All!

John Kramer’s Jigsaw might disagree, but to me, the best puzzles are designed to be solved at least twice. It was with this in mind that I dove into my second…and then third…and then fourth “Pieces” viewing in less than 24 hours. Each was more deliriously satisfying than the last. It’s on right now in the background as I type. Look at those leotard ladies go!

Despite its name, this blood-soaked 1982 charmer isn’t a movie to be picked for parts. You can sell some genre fans on lesser slashers by encouraging them to endure the bad to get to the good; texting through the mundanity of “Prom Night” is worth it for Jamie Lee Curtis, for example. But “Pieces” boasts an internal logic that demands your complete attention and repeat viewings — presenting enough essential narrative clues alongside baffling artistic choices to gleefully gaslight you into wondering if all that bullshit was really bullshit at all.

It wasn’t until my second round of “Pieces” that I put together why that trick board chick smashing into a gigantic mirror Benny Hill-style even mattered. (In case you missed it, little Timmy’s mom shattered his bedroom mirror before she got axed for wrecking his no-no puzzle, and that random college girl’s street accident is what triggered Dean Foley’s killing spree.)

I was equally elated realizing that my initial mockery of the unseen killer — rifling through a wastepaper basket in broad daylight to get deets on when two kids would be fucking in a pool — was actually me missing a huge hint about his identity. After working so hard to look like Paul Dano’s Riddler (Panama hat notwithstanding) in other scenes, the Dean would’ve needed no excuse to go dumpster diving in his own campus library.

And why, pray tell, did those detectives let a random kid help them hunt down a serial killer like he was McLovin’ in an extreme gore version of “Superbad”? Because they knew he had been trained by the school’s kung fu professor, of course!

Even more fun was my realization that one could theoretically sort out which body part belonged to which victim in the final meat puzzle reveal. But the leeway I’ll give Juan Piquer Simón and screenwriters Dick Randall and Roberto Loyola has to stop somewhere, and that there are two reasonable contenders for which chick got to be the head is positively maddening to me. Narratively, the first girl decapitated on the lawn has got to be it. But watch the scene closely and you’ll notice they used two dummy heads; her hair inexplicably switches from flippy shortcut to the pool woman’s long blonde locks. (Which character would rather grab Kendall’s penis? Is that the key?)

Mary Riggs (aka Slasher Detective Barbie) was particularly vexing to me. There was no reason for her to get caught up in the murders, much less forced through a whole new drugging MO by the killer. And yet, her quirky characterizations make her an absolutely essential component of the film. Why did she go from being a famous tennis player to a really abysmal homicide investigator? Why couldn’t she see her gun on the ground when it was truly right the fuck there? And why, why, WHY did she say “BASTARD” like that?

The best slashers manage to evoke a universe you can feel yourself falling into; that’s why so many of them end up as franchises. Justifying a sequel here would be next to impossible, but that’s fine. There are already countless mysteries worth revisiting “Pieces” to solve. Even when the only solutions left are “Well, the director didn’t think about that…” and/or “Well, the director appears to have been a bit of a pervert…” there’s gratification in attempting to suss out the answer.

To relegate this outright delight to silent screenings in some grindhouse-themed pizza joint, or to only enjoy clips of its crimson-red kills, is to miss the glue keeping all these silly little pieces together. What a movie and what an October it’s going to be here at IndieWire After Dark. With a Week One pick as good as this, I wouldn’t want to have anyone but Christian Zilko on the case. (You’re a college freshman, right?) —AF

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “Pieces” on Shudder and Peacock. It is also available for rent on VOD platforms. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

  • Rent’s Due! Sweet, Sick ‘Small Apartments’ Lets You Vicariously Kill Your Landlord with Matt Lucas
  • ‘Creative Control’ Promises That Sexual Mediocrity Will Outlive the A.I. Revolution
  • Cuddly Rock Men, Absent Triangular Fathers, and Ringo Starr Are Here to Soothe Your Inner Child in ‘The Point’

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