Hello and welcome to the second entry in the One Movie One Scene series, which I am calling “Woman Viciously Stabbed to Death, Perfectly Good Waterbed Ruined.”
Scene: waterbed kill in Pieces
Here’s the trailer:
Feel free to watch it again in case you missed the title of the movie. It’s Pieces, by the way.
And here’s a weird old ad for waterbeds:
Pieces, the 1982 (1983 in the US) film, was the product of contributions from at least three countries, that we know of. It was written by an Italian and an American, directed by a Spaniard, and the cast was made up of actors from all three countries. It was also filmed in Spain but set in Boston. Now, I’m from Boston, and I can tell you, the similarities between Valencia, Spain and Boston are uncanny—I say I can tell you, but I won’t…because I would be lying. One of my favorite goofs in the movie comes early on during a flashback to “Boston, 1942” in which we see a New England Patriots pennant in Timmy’s room. This is funny because the Patriots didn’t exist until 1960, and even then, they were the Boston Patriots. As far as goofs go, and especially in this movie, that’s pretty minor, but as a Bostonian I do find it amusing.
Pieces is much better). However, it is a Spanish movie doing a weird hybrid of the Italian Giallo and the American slasher. So, in a way, it’s a knockoff of a knockoff. It also comes at somewhat of a weird time. By the early 80’s, the Giallo was well past its prime, having been overtaken by the slashers it inspired—and Pieces is clearly leaning heavily into the slasher sub-genre, but with some elements of the Giallo. However, with a 1983 US release, it came past the peak of the slashers and closer to the end of that brief but fruitful period (even 1982 was past the peak of 1980-81, but arguably still in the sweet spot; the slasher craze was a fairly short one, so even the difference of a year, e.g., 1982 to 1983, can be significant).
All this to say that, even before watching it, you get the sense that this is kind of a strange movie—and possibly a bad movie as well. But, if you’re anything like me, you also get a sense that it could be strange and bad in a wonderful way. One of the signs of its potential wondrousness is the movie poster—at least the US version (though the Spanish version is cool too, even if it oddly makes the killer look vaguely supernatural).
This movie has not just one great tagline, but two. The, “It’s exactly what you think it is!” tagline is one of the few things that suggest that someone, somewhere had enough awareness to recognize just how fucking insane the movie they were putting out really was. Someone--maybe not someone involved in the production, quite likely someone involved only in the marketing—knew that this was really the only tagline a movie like this needs. There’s no vagueness (a la “The Night Has 1,000 Screams”), no monstrous killer cloaked in shadow with lightning in the background. There’s a giant chainsaw (which is just resting on a table, for some reason), a stitched up female corpse, and a one-word title. You really don’t even need the taglines, but they’re the icing on the cake.
I don’t want to ignore the one other thing going on here—the warning. I like that in it the movie is referred to as a “performance”, which is an odd way to refer to a movie. “Performance” suggests something live, like a play. While I think it was just a case of unusual, perhaps slightly inapt word choice, I like the fact that we can choose to read more into it if we are so inclined i.e., we can regard Pieces as some weird type of performance art. If you’ve seen the movie, this may almost seem like a possibility. If you haven’t seen the movie…well, you need to see it.
Mostly everything in Pieces feels like the product of ineptitude that ranges from noticeable but acceptable to, “how could you fucking miss it and how the fuck did that make it into the movie?”. I mean, there’s stuff that, even if it were something that was merely suggested but ultimately rejected, you would question what the fuck that person was even thinking. In this movie, that is the stuff that makes it into the movie—hell, that largely is the movie. As an example of this, I will say only this: kung-fu instructor.
Now, there actually is a reason for the inclusion of this scene, and it’s a wonderful reason that aligns perfectly with every other weird, crazy thing about this movie (i.e., the producer was also making a kung-fu movie at the same time, so you know, why not?). But it’s not a good reason in anything remotely resembling the traditional sense—you know, like a reason having to do with narrative or character development, or even just providing a showstopper set-piece. It does neither of those things—at all. And yet, there it is. It is a bizarre little non-sequitur; a brief, strange interlude. Its utter lack of both rhyme and reason is almost sublime.
And yet, this is not the scene that we are here to talk about. While that scene is both terribly great and greatly terrible, it does not stand out from the rest of the film for being different; it distinguishes itself by being the height of random weirdness in a film that is largely random weirdness. The scene in question stands out because it is a brief moment during which the film appears to overcome its ineptness and create something……not inept. Ept? No, more than merely “not inept”, it actually presents us with something good—something that transcends the inept, unintentionally hilarious, random, weird shit that is the rest of the movie. Something that is disturbing and violent but also, dare I say, artistically rendered?
I think it’s important to note that, with the exception of the death by axe in the opening, this is the only murder not committed with a chainsaw. The fact that the weapon is a knife rather than a chainsaw—which really is a fairly ridiculous choice for a murder weapon (there is actually a scene where, in an ill-conceived attempt at stealth that is woefully too little, too late, the killer hides the chainsaw behind his back!), is a small concession to plausibility and one of the first indications that we have taken a brief detour from the total batshit insanity that is the rest of the movie.
I would also like to point out that I’m not sure what the building where the murder takes place is supposed to be, or why there’s a waterbed. Possibly because a character earlier in the movie says something about how great it is to have sex on a waterbed and then smoke a joint? (Okay, I really should provide the actual quote, because it’s worth it; what she says is, “The greatest thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time”).
Most likely the sole reason for the waterbed is to provide what is the most effective element of the scene, which is the mixing and splashing of the victim’s blood and the water from the punctured mattress as the bed becomes essentially a pool of blood in which the victim futilely thrashes before receiving the final, fatal stab in a particularly gruesome fashion.
The majority of the scene takes place in slow motion, which makes it both more horrifying but also more visually interesting—particularly the way the slower speed allows a better look at the bloody water as it splashes and catches the light, revealing in greater detail the drops and sprays of red.
I couldn’t find a clip of this scene, unfortunately. But I believe this clip aptly demonstrates the “everything is better in slow motion” principle we are dealing with here.
The scene is extremely violent, and as noted, the coup de grace is particularly vicious. Blood aside, though, it’s not especially gory—unlike, say, the murders by chainsaw in the elevator and shower. It is, however, more disturbing than either of those scenes—largely because it is not so over the top and gratuitous (even though I do like those scenes precisely because they are over the top and gratuitous).
This probably sounds strange, but I was reminded of this scene while watching the movie Gone Girl, when she cuts her captor’s throat while they are in bed. Obviously, they are very different scenes in numerous ways, but they do share two key features: a bed and a lot of blood. There’s also the fact that, for me, that scene in Gone Girl was one of the few that made an impression on me and which I can vividly recall. So, in a way, it’s similar to how I feel about the waterbed scene in Pieces—it’s almost like a scene from a different, better movie. Perhaps a strange connection to make, but there you have it. I’m sorry to even bring up Gone Girl though, because Pieces is way, way better than that movie.
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