I have this one second-cousin, named Larry, who has always been somewhat of an enigma. Quirky in several ways, mysterious in others, he's the guy that my pops and other relatives tell weirdly funny childhood stories about, to further explain his eccentricities. Some family members prefer to not engage in one-on-one convos with Larry, in fear of being cornered and forced into strange idle chatter, but not I. In fact, his personality kinks suit my interests more well than most others. Prime example: Christmas Eve, a few days ago. Larry and I got to talking, inevitably circling into a discussion of literature and cinema, two areas of interest we share in common.
The most intriguing bit of nostalgia he blessed me with was a fond memory of sneaking away from his parents as a teen, hopping on a bus into Manhattan, and catching double features of grindhouse-era exploitation cinema. Naturally, my ears perked up, and envy settled in.
The sleazy, sticky-floored, darkly-lit, shoddy-quality-film-reel experience of exploitation double features is one of the many things I wish I could've partaken in; replacing the overpriced, crowded confusion of my local AMC and/or Loews with much more quaint, cost-effective theaters where people were most likely having sex three rows behind you, while a couple of the older gentlemen seated within would probably exit the theater and proceed to break some laws, or at least some sense(s) of decency.
My fascination with the grindhouse experience is twofold: the just-discussed atmosphere of the terribly-maintained theaters, and the low-grade, morally-depraved films themselves. Watching over-the-top-in-gore slashers in the comfort of my bedroom or parents' living room doesn't quite gel, largely because of roommate/parent interferences and "You're fucking sick, Matt" damnations. Being that my setting options for such viewings are limited, though, that is precisely how I checked out two beloved exploitation slashers, 1973's Torso and 1982's Pieces. Months, maybe even a year, back, I'd read how horror aficionado/geek Eli Roth (creator of Cabin Fever, and the Hostel films) organized a double feature screening of both flicks at Los Angeles' New Beverly Theater, an act of "you must see these on a big screen" fandom. Roth is one of those dudes who's seen practically every horror film ever made, and talks about both his favorites and least-liked with contagious glee.
Torso and Pieces are two of his all-time most-cherished, so, regardless of whether I'd watch at home or somewhere more suitable, I had to check them out. And thanks to Netflix, availablity is no problem.
First up, Pieces.
A truly awful film in terms of execution and common sense, but not one without its charms. It's a shameless Texas Chainsaw Massacre derivative, and not something I'd rush back to watch again anytime soon, but I can understand why the Eli Roths of the world swear by it. The set-up: masked serial killer stalks hot coeds on an otherwise-lifeless college campus, slicing and dicing the PYTs with his trusty chainsaw in an effort to construct a jigsaw puzzle of human limbs. His very own Frankenstein's monster. Milton Bradley banned, too-controversial game: Fun with Ed Gein
That's it, plot wise, but really, what more would you expect from an '80s slasher anyway? The dialogue is atrocious, and Pieces has some of the worst dubbing this side of a Godzilla flick. And, even for an exploitation-era horror film, Pieces goes a bit too far with its "rawness" during some of its elaborate kill scenes. Namely, one part where the killer has cornered a cute tennis player in a girls' locker room shower, taunting her with his buzzing chainsaw. She's terrified, understandably, but rather than focus on her scared eyes, director Juan Piquer Simon zooms in on her crotch as she pees her pants. Quite the gentleman's act, right? While watching from the comfort of my couch, even I cringed, and shouted, "Oh come on, man, that's just unnecessary!"
Simon does deserve kudos, however for the bit where the knife jams into the back of the chick's head and exits through her open mouth, all while she's squirming on a blood-filled waterbed. That was quite impressive, and well handled. Hey, what do ya know? Youtube has said scene, in embeddable glory!
Then there's the acting in Pieces, though which is across-the-board subpar. Especially guilty is the main protagonist, a curly-haired, questionably-successful-with-the-ladies, 30-something-year-old university student entrusted by the police department to act as their "eyes and ears," and good-lord is he one of the most annoying, unlikeable characters around. As Pieces moved forward at a gory clip, I was afraid that dude would survive, being that he's the main guy and all, but fortunately I was wrong. Dead wrong. The film's final moment serves him with one fuck of a sendoff, and the concluding image is now up there alongside Sleepaway Camp amongst the most "what the fuck!" final images in horror history. This ending alone salvaged Pieces, elevating it from a forgettable dirtball featuring some pretty nifty kill scenes into a batshit-crazy tour-de-force of awesome stupidity.
I recommend watching this whole clip, but to see the stellar ending image, fast forward to the 1:15 mark. It's fucking amazing. Who knew that serial killer had been some sort of mad scientist with the capability to renanimate a corpse all along? Makes absolutely zero sense, but still rocks hardcore.
Torso, on the other hand, is a much more fascinating piece of work.
Originally, Torso was attached to a print of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the two were shown as a double feature here in American. Artistically, it's surprisingly impressive, full of beautiful cinematography and shots that even the most tight-collared of film critics would have to commend. Even nicer on the eyes is the film's untouchable roster of female talent, an endless supply of stunningly-gorgeous women that lifts Torso into the upper echelon of eye-candy films I've ever seen. One girl in particular had me seriously sprung, like totally head-over-heels infatuated. Which made her eventual demise unexpectedly tragic (in a purely hormonal sense, of course; her character is as underdeveloped as they come).
Here's her curtain call, a logic-less head-scratcher: she's just avoided a raping at the hands of two motorcycle-riding hippies who had been feeling her up at some random hippie drug-orgy. As an escape route, she's stumbled into the muddiest, most perfectly-fog-drenched woods imaginable (don't ask), where our killer just happens to be hanging out, of course. Enjoy (this is actually a great-looking sequence, if nothing else). You can't get the clearest of looks at the actress, but even quick glances should justify my gargantuan-sized crush on miss thing. And excuse the partial nudity (yes, I do realize that posting such a video will have people thinking, "Matt is pretty twisted, huh? This is the kind of shit he watched during his free time?" Yes, it is. Wanna fight about it?):
Torso is basically another "college students being picked off one by one" story for the first hour or so. During which I was constantly confused and left with no fucking clue as to what was going on. Random people are killed, backstories are given that aren't ever touched upon again. Thankfully, Torso takes an inspired detour for its final 30 minutes, a cat-and-mouse stalker scenario in some fancy villa where four sexy-as-hell chicks have gone to hide from the killings going down on campus, and engage in some steamy lesbian sex (just for the fuck of it). What commences at the villa is all pretty intense, slow moving to effective degrees, and even takes a No Country for Old Men-like "less is more" approach to the deaths of some key characters. Also of worthy note: during the climactic mano-y-mano fight between the killer and the potential hero, one dude lands a sweet-ass dropkick straight out of Jackie Chan's Greatest Hits. Bravo!
Torso has tons of flaws (from some laughable acting, to overlong bits of pointless character exposition), but by the end credits I found myself pleasantly satisfied. If I can get my mitts on a DVD copy for no more than $15, I may even purchase. Because, even like the inferior Pieces, Torso is the kind of film that we'll never see made again, at least here in the States (makes sense that Torso come from Italy, actually). The director, Sergio Martino, couldn't give two shits about acceptance; he simply wanted to push the slasher genre forward with as much artistry and reckless taste-abandonment as he could. Sure, he was far from a Stanley Kubrick-level master, or even Dario Argento, but not many are, anyway.
I'd take something with only half the fun of Torso over a new Saw film any time, any day. Fuck, I wish I could've grown up 20-25 years ago. I would've been in grindhouse nirvana.
1 week ago