Now On Blu-ray: JP Simon's PIECES On Blu Looks Better Than Could Have Been Imagined
One of my first DVD reviews here at ScreenAnarchy was for the Arrow Video DVD release of Juan Piquer Simon's Pieces. At the time I was a virgin to the wonder of this incredibly bizarre and impossibly entertaining piece of Spanish gore-trash, but over the last five years I've returned to Pieces more than once.
When it was announced that the film would be receiving a Blu-ray release from underground home video heroes Grindhouse Releasing, I was beyond excited, and now that I have the disc in hand and I've spent hours combing through its myriad bonus features and easter eggs, I can say like the other critics before me that this is clearly the definitive release of the film, and that it is a bargain at any price.
Since I've already talked about the film at length in my previous review from 2011, I'll attempt to constrain the bulk of my comments to the new release. A starting point for those who are unaware of its brilliance, however, is worthwhile. Here's the synopsis from Grindhouse Releasing:
Grindhouse Releasing is proud to present the sickest and most violent of all the early ’80s slasher movies. A psychopathic killer stalks a Boston campus, brutally slaughtering nubile young college co-eds, collecting body parts from each victim to create the likeness of his mother who he savagely murdered with an axe when he was ten years old! Pieces is a wild, unrated gorefest, with enough splatter and sleaze to shock the most jaded horror fan.
No, dear friends, you don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre, and it is exactly what you think it is!
Pieces is one of the most pure exploitation masterpieces ever created, and if you haven't seen it, you need to rectify that immediately. In my previous comments about the film, I gave a concise pitch for anyone out there who may still be holding out:
When watching Pieces, you get the impression that no one on screen realized what kind of film they were starring in. Everyone plays their role completely straight, and the film works as a horror/comedy in a way that 95% of other horror comedies don't. This is one of the rare gems, like Re-Animator, that is simultaneously funny and incredibly gory without showing its hand too much in either direction.
I'd hate to give away too much of the film's plot, which is really fun and goofy, but suffice to say that there is never a dull moment. Pieces runs only about 82 minutes, but none of those minutes are boring, and even when someone isn't being actively hacked to bits, you want to see what will happen next.
The film itself is amazing, and my comments from that original viewing may even be understating the value of Pieces as a cornerstone of early '80s exploitation cinema. Upon re-viewing the film -- several times, in fact -- for this review, my opinion of the film has only raised to the point that I implore any horror or sleaze fan to seek out this pure creation, and what better way than Grindhouse Releasing's brand new and impeccably detailed release.
Grindhouse Releasing, the brainchild of the late Sage Stallone and Academy Award winning editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker), is absolutely unique in the world of home video distribution companies. The company is dedicated to preserving and restoring the underground classics from the forgotten film world of the '70s and '80s. They began as a theatrical exhibition company back in the '90s -- a tradition they still proudly uphold -- when they brought such classics as The Beyond and Massacre Mafia Style into repertory theaters around the country.
I was there in '98 when The Beyond toured those rep houses, sitting in the old UC Theatre in Berkeley, California letting the surrealist brilliance wash over me. It was one of a series of turning points in my life and the way I relate to cinema as an artform and not just a form of entertainment, and I have Grindhouse Releasing to thank for that experience.
Since the late '90s they've been attempting to curate definitive editions of their films, a small but potent stable, for home video, first on DVD, and now on Blu-ray. With ten Blu-ray releases under their belt as of this edition, they've got a perfect record of providing connoisseurs with exactly what they want and the releases these films deserve, and Pieces is no different.
First and foremost among this set's many merits is the incredible presentation of the film in two complete versions from brand new 4k restorations from the original camera negative. First is the version with which most American viewers will be familiar, the 83 minutes English language dubbed version that bears the title Pieces, and second is the Spanish language dub titled Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche (The Night Has One Thousand Screams) which clocks in at 86 minutes. Both look absolutely gorgeous, and from the first scene you can tell you're in for something special, because they each look like they could've been shot yesterday.
Both films not only have different spoken langauges, both dubbed due to the varied native tongues of the actors on set, but also different original scores. Pieces has a largely typical synth-style score, similar to what was heard in Italian horror films of the era, created by Stelvio Cipriani. Mil Gritos, on the other hand, has a largely piano based score that lends a more dramatic feel to the film and somehow manages to underscore the ridiculous goings-on in a harsher way.
Also included as a bonuc feature is a brand new full score from Umberto, which is quite a bit moodier and more menacing than either of the originals but blocks out the dialogue. The final audio experience available is the "Vine Theater Experience" in which a live theatrical viewing was recorded in 5.1 so that those at home can recreate the fun of seeing Pieces with a crowd. Normally I'm not a fan of these gimmicky fan tracks, but this one is fun and definitely adds to the mood.
Those audio tracks aren't the only to be had, thankfully, as Grindhouse also presents us with an audio commentary from star Jack Taylor, moderated by Calu Waddell of High Rising Productions. Arrow's previous disc had a track from Tony Timpone, but this new track is quite good and makes for a great complement to that one. Waddell laughs a bit too much at his own jokes for my own taste, but he does keep the conversation moving with Taylor and unearths several lovely tidbits about the film and its making.
The primary bonus feature in the set also features Waddell in a big way, and that is the feature length documentary 42nd Street Memories. This doc, previous available on the UK's 88 Films' release of Anthropophagus, is a look back at the fabled grindhouse wonderland that was NYC's 42nd Street in the '70s and early '80s. We have interviews from all walks of the experience from directors and producers to exhibitors and fans, all telling their stories about the heyday and eventual decline of "The Deuce" when Rudy Giuliani decided to clean up the streets.
There are a lot of talking heads, and while it is informative, it's not terribly engaging beyond the surface level. I'm glad it's here, but its definitely a bonus feature rather than a stand alone, I'm more a fan of Waddell's cannibal doc that appeared previously on Grindhouse's Cannibal Ferox set.
Not satisfied with one feature length documentary, Grindhouse has also included a pair of hour long interviews to the set. First up is an archival interview with JP Simon titled Pieces of Juan, from Spanish director Nacho Cerda of Aftermath/Genesis fame. This interview, made in 2008, talks in depth about Simon's career before and leading up to Pieces including his experiences with his stars like Jack Taylor and others. It's remarkably in-depth and expansive and probably best of its kind with Simon.
Also included is an interview with the late Paul Smith, who plays The Reddest Herring Willard in Pieces. Like the Simon interview, Smith's is not restricted to his work on Pieces, but instead tracks his career from the beginning to his later years -- Smith died shortly after the interview was conducted -- and is a fascinating insight into the work of one of '70s cinema's greatest "heavies".
That covers the bulk of the extras, but that's far from all. There are at least three or four Easter Eggs to be found in the set, from bonus footage with JP Simon to interview outtakes with a Bruce Le expert on the late imitator's appearance in Pieces, and more. If you dig enough, you'll find plenty of surprises. Along with the hidden items, there are also text biographies of all of the principal cast and crew, plenty of promotional artwork, stills, and more. Grindhouse has also included a CD with the Stelvio Cipriani soundtrack that has been spinning in my player since I received the set, add to that the booklet with writing from Rick Sullivan of the Gore Gazette and the late Chas. Balun of Deep Red, and you've got a definitve release that will be nigh impossible to beat.
The price is a bit steep for casual buyers, but the sheer volume of content bears it out and makes this a bargain. If you're looking for something special and you've never seen Pieces, you're in for a treat. However, if you have seen Pieces and want the best possible presentation, Grindhouse Releasing's Blu-ray set is exactly what you think it is, and more!