Bits and Pieces (1985)

If Leland Thomas, an ex-army combat photographer in his lone writing and directing effort, wanted to blow out all other SOV horror films released in the wake of Boardinghouse (1982; that review is coming!) — the first home video-era shot film — then he succeeded. (Blood Cult was the first SOV video store-only distributed film; Boardinghouse, while making it to the stores, began as a mail-order only release.) This is graphic, gruesome, crude, rude, and scuzzy. While Bits and Pieces is remembered as an SOV — and quacks like an SOV — it wasn’t shot-on-video, but on 16mm film in the summer of 1985 in and around Los Angeles — Burbank and the San Fernando Valley, in particular. But, no matter. Bits and Pieces is still an SOV’er forever in our VHS-pumpin’ hearts.

The overseas VHS of Bits and Pieces: a gagged, beheaded woman? Punch the membership card. We’re weird that way.

The set up is pretty simple: someone is killing the patrons of a male strip review, cutting them up into “bits and pieces,” as we are advised by the most unlikely news reporter to ever hit the field. Bits and Pieces is either incompetent or — in a Tommy “The Room” Wiseau twist — intended to be “bad” to push the funny to soften the graphic X-rated gore. And this film is gore and a bag o’ chips. Is this a pseudo-porn, like Spine? No, but there is bondage, as was in Spine. But the cheesy porn-esque music is “wah-wah’in” everywhere. But this is less Spine-bondagey and more Dead Girls-slashy. Oh, and our killer hears “wind chimes” in his head, we think; unless that was an artistic choice by the soundtrack composer (who’s connected to Spine; more on that later). Yeah, that’s it. This movie isn’t that “high” on the art to go “subjective” into the killer’s head.

So the “someone” is Arthur, and he has Norman Bates not-an-average-guy issues with his mommy — and he lives just down the street from head scalpin’ Frank Zito who plops hairpieces onto his mannequin collection — which leads Artie to carry conversations with an armless mannequin adorned in a red wig. Of course — in his mind — the mannequin talks back, berating him that he’ll never find a girl as pretty as her.

Man, does this film have the padding — no pun intended. There is a LOT of male stripping in this film. And lots of beat-up looking babes hootin’ and a tootin’ it up. That’s where we meet Tanya — the psych undergrad, natch (Sheila Lussier) — and her friend Rosie (Suzanna Smith) as they leave the “2001” strip club (a homage to 2001 Odyssey, the club in Saturday Night Fever, perhaps). So, one blow to the head later, and Tanya’s kidnapped. And our red-headed mannequin tells little Artie “how” to inflict the pain in his homespun Grand Guignol.

So Tanya ends up in a dumpster and makes the papers. Rosie goes to the cops. And we get our required, dry-as-toast inept cop in Lt. Carter. And we have another girlfriend, Jennifer (Tally Chanel), and it looks like Arthur has got some more kidnappin’ for faux-mommy mannequin to attend. And there’s a lot of “ensuing” in this film: Jennifer screaming and flailing through the woods. And while murders are afoot, Rosie goes on beach dates. And there’s hot tube interludes. And male strippers. And glasses of wine. And nary a one worried about a strip club-stalking serial killer. Yikes, and I thought the people in Stallone’s D-Tox were dumb, always putting their eyes up to peepholes at every door knock and door bell — with a serial-killing peephole-driller on the loose.

Lovely.

Well, this sure ain’t Bill Lustig’s Maniac (1980), because Bits and Pieces doesn’t have that film’s unsettling “creep” factor. And it sure as hell ain’t Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and doesn’t have anything from that film. If only our dippy Lt. Carter was Charles Bronson’s Leo Kessler and S.E Zygmont (Arthur, our serial) was Warren Stacey from J. Lee Thompson’s 10 to Midnight (1983).

But you know what: I love this movie: Leland Thomas is Wiseau-committed to giving us a deep psychological study into his poor, hapless killer f’d up by an abandoning dad and floozy mom. To that end, through flashbacks — because this ain’t no Jason Vorhees-cum-Micheal Myers just-kills-for-killing slasher romp — we learn the whole mannequin snafu with the wig n’ lipstick thang is because, as a form of punishment for spying on her and interrupting her boozin’ it up, she forced Artie to wear a wig and make up. Oh and the salami scene. Mommy taunts little Artie with summer sausage meats. And she turns into a bloody skull in a wig screaming at him. Yeah, NOW, I can’t help but think of Wesley Stuart, portrayed by Gerald “Simon & Simon” McRaney inflicting his own Night of Bloody Horror over his mommy issues. And that J.N Houck cardboard horror is bad, but is looking a lot better to me now — especially in the acting department — after my sitting in our Arthur’s flashback counseling sessions. And, like Wessy-pissy pants in that film, Artie kills mommy. The rest will be plot spoiling. . . .

So, is there life after Bits and Pieces?

Remember the Spine soundtrack Easter Egg we dropped? Don Chilcott, the musician responsible for Spine’s scuzzy, slasher-appropriate synth-soundtrack, also scored Bits and Pieces. Don never stopped rocking: he became a successful studio musician and a respected guitarist and lead vocalist for several California-based blues bands.

Remember, in our review of Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror, when we discussed that everyone — even in Hollywood — has to start somewhere, and Oscar-winning editor Verna Fields, who worked for Pete on the film, later earned an Academy Award for her work on Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and edited American Graffiti (1973) for George Lucas? Well, producer Richard Bansbach also worked on that influential shark fest’s second-unit for the film’s land-based shots; he also directed the Jaws-rip, Claws (1977). (Nope, not Islands Claws. That was in 1980 and a different, but sorta-the-same, movie. Well, the first was a bear, the second is a crab . . . oh, never mind!)

The BIG KAHUNA of the cast and crew is Thomas L. Callaway. He worked as the cinematographer on the USA Network favs Creepozoids and Slumber Party Massacre II (both 1987), as well as Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1989). And Callaway is still at it — 120-credits strong — with a lot of Lifetime movies, and is David DeCoteau’s go-to camera man for the likes of A Husband for Christmas (2016) and A Christmas Cruise (2017). (Yes, we have a Lifetime and Hallmark and Up Channel X-Mas flick fetish goin’ on at B&S.)

Did you see Chuck Vincent’s Warrior Queen (1987)? Well, that was Suzanna Smith’s only other role; Tally Chanel, who did a few of Chuck’s movies, was in that, as well. (Chuck’s done 55 T&A soft-porn flicks that ended up on Showtime or the USA Network in the ’80s; you’ve seem a couple of them, such as Bedroom Eyes II.)

Now, Sandy Brooke, who plays Ms. Talbot, Rosie’s (Suzanna Smith) tweaked mom . . . oh, do we ever know her around the B&S About Movies’ cubicle farm! She was an SOV warhorse, as she also appeared in David A. Prior’s SOV debut film, Sledgehammer*, as the lead, Taura. (Visit our week-long tribute to him; just search his name on our site and you’ll find all of his films.) Sandy was also in Fred Olen Ray’s Star Wars-dropping Star Slammer (1986), Ron Marchini’s directing sidekick Paul Kyriazi’s One Way Out (1987) (Join us for our two-day Ron Marchini tribute with this career wrap up), Terror on Alcatraz (1987; with Aldo Ray as Frank Morris!), and she ended her career with (YES!) David DeCoteau in Nightmare Sisters (1988; with Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer!).

Denied. No trailer to share, but wow! VoicesInMyHead does it again, as you can watch Bits and Pieces — uncut — on their awesome You Tube page. Spend some time there, as they have LOTS of great ’80s VHS oldies to enjoy.

* That review on the BIG KAHUNA of SOVs that is Sledgehammer, is coming. Oh, you know it. Search for it.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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