[review by JA Kerswell]
Someone is killing the female patrons of a funky male strip revue and, as the moustachioed local TV anchor solemnly intones into the camera, cutting them up into “bits and pieces”!
|"News at 10. Bits and Pieces kills again and moustaches are back in style .."
This little known mid 80s trash opus is a veritable smorgasbord of unintentional laughs. If I was wearing mascara I’d have looked like a panda by the time the credits rolled. Or, perhaps director and co-writer Leland Thomas (who cameos as ‘large stranger’ in the film) was playing clever all along.
The plot (what little there is of it) treads a well worn path. Arthur (a one-time credit for S.E Zygmont) is the loony loner, whose Mommy issues have set him on a woman-hating path. Zygmont blends Norman Bates with Crispin Glover, and admirably manages to keep a straight face as talks to an armless mannequin in a red wig who gives him sass back about finding the perfect girl. Sounding like a cross between Edith Massey and Pamela Voorhees, mannequin Mommy tells him: “They’re all pretty - like me!” or shouts “Find her Arthur. FIND HER!”.
I seem to be on a roll of on reviewing slasher movies with male strippers. I can’t think why. BITS AND PIECES offers up not one but two hunky floor-shows, with women whooping and hollering as they wave their cocktails in the air; as the sexy songs offer up such morsels as: “Baby, do you like my body? What are you hoping to find?”. After their fill of pecs and ass, Tanya (Sheila Lussier) and Rosie (Suzanna Smith) leave the exclusive 2001 Club Strip Bar and part ways - but not before Tanya confides to her friend that: “Being a psych undergrad is such hard work!”. Yet, this doesn’t help when Arthur stalks her (accompanied by what sounds like elevator musak and wind chimes). He bashes her across the head and takes her back to his torture dungeon, where mannequin Mommy encourages him to kill her.
|"Mommy, they think you're dangerous, but I know you're 'armless!".
The next morning, Rosie tells her mother (Sandy Brooke) all the juicy details about the strip club over breakfast. She recalls: “I was really surprised! The guys were really cute and some of their routines were kinda clever.” However, her good mood is soured after Tanya’s body is found in a dumpster and makes the front page of the local newspaper. She goes to the police to make a statement to Lieutenant Carter (Brian Burt) and then discusses the murder with her friend Jennifer (Tally Chanel). Little does she know that Arthur and his Mommy have unfinished business with her …
BITS AND PIECES is a whole lot of fun, but for all the wrong reasons. The more seriously it takes itself the sillier it gets. Of course, it’s hard to take Arthur’s conversations with his mannequin Mommy seriously (bringing to mind Herschell Gordon Lewis’ talking heads in THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967) as well as Bill Lustig’s MANIAC (1981) and, of course, PSYCHO (1960)). The film attempts to explain his motive, when, after spying on his drunk mother and a trick in a flashback scene, young Arthur is forced to wear lipstick and a red wig as surf rock blares on the soundtrack. His mother screams at him: “I wish you were dead. Damn you!”, as a wonky toybox plays tunelessly in the background for good measure. In another flashback we see a now adult Arthur’s virility taunted by his mother, as she waves a salami in his face. This causes him to snap and kill her with a butcher knife; her face suddenly becoming a dimestore skull in a red wig snapping its jaws at him. Mommy issues, indeed.
Despite thumping the desk and shouting “We’ve got to stop this fucking psycho!” to anyone who will listen, middle-aged, balding Lieutenant Carter offers to take young Rosie’s mind off the brutal murder of her best friend by suggested a jaunty date at the beach! This romantic interlude lasts all day, with frolicking on the sand followed by cocktails in a hot tub and then white wine in front of a roaring open fire (Rosie purrs: “I love to watch the flames”). In fact, the date lasts so long that three people are murdered elsewhere during it! However, my favourite scene in BITS AND PIECES was undoubtedly Jennifer running away from Arthur through woods like Jan Brady with a feather cut, swinging her arms in white stilettos and pastel outfit. Perhaps the funniest thing I’ve seen this year. Although the bit where Rosie’s Dad is bludgeoned midway through faux-conducting to an LP comes a close second.
|"A Banana Daiquiri should take your mind off the brutal murder of your best friend."
However, it’s not all laughs. The film does become somewhat leering in its depiction of the humiliation of Arthur’s victims. Hey, I know I’m reviewing a cheesy, sleazy slasher flick from the mid-1980s here, but these scenes seem somewhat at odds with the breezy daftness of the rest of the movie. Having said that it never lasts for long before the cheese returns. Like Rosie forgetting her psych training and telling Arthur, when she meets him: “You’re CRAAAAZY!”. Amy Steel she aint. Also, whilst lots of blood flies about the film is pretty light on graphic gore - for reasons explained below.
It may or may not come as a shock to hear that BITS AND PIECES was written in five days and shot on 16mm film in ten. It was filmed in and around Burbank and the San Fernando Valley in California during the summer/fall of 1985. Director, Leland Thomas, started his career as an Army combat photographer before heading to California from his home state of Utah. After 20 years, or so, he was approached by someone who wanted to make a slasher movie. So he bashed out a quick script with his business partner Mike Koby and BITS AND PIECES was born. His background in combat photography no doubt helped shooting the grisly, but ill-fated gore effects. He recalls in an interview with film maker and fellow subgenre fan Philip Escott, of 441 Films, that Burbank policemen and firefighters sat around and ate donuts as the stage blood flew. Sadly, most of the gore ended up on the cutting room floor when the producers decided that the film would achieve better international sales without it (see candid snaps at the foot of this review). No film elements remain apart from a couple of gory stills. Thomas now laments he didn’t make a better movie, and at one time he would threaten to show students in film class this as an example of how not to make a movie. Perhaps not surprisingly, the film bypassed theatres and debuted on VHS on the Trans World Entertainment label in the United States in 1986; hitting cable around the same time.
BITS AND PIECES was Thomas’ sole feature directorial credit. It was also the only acting credit for lead psycho S.E Zygmont, as the bug-eyed Arthur. I could find no information about him bar an acidic missive to the LA Times about someone’s dress at the 1986 Oscar ceremony. He very probably prefers it that way.
|Jennifer (Tally Chanel) can see a bright light and Johnny Depp at the end of a long tunnel.
Suzanna Smith didn’t do much else after her Final Girl Stint as Rosie (her only other credit was WARRIOR QUEEN (1987)). Sheila Lussier, who played first victim Tanya, had acting credits up until 2008. She dabbled in the subgenre again with small parts, again as victims of a psycho, in THE NIGHT STALKER (1986), PERFECT VICTIMS (1988) and RUN IF YOU CAN (1989). Bubbly, Israeli-born actress Tally Chanel (who was hobbled by those white stilettos) was also in THE NIGHT STALKER and (somewhat ironically) RUN IF YOU CAN. Chanel dated Johnny Depp for a spell in the early 90s. The amorous cop, Brian Burt’s, sole other acting credit was as Customer #2 in the TV sit-com CHEERS. Sandy Brooke, who plays Rosie’s Mom, had a solid exploitation resume with credits in such fare as STV slasher SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), TERROR ON ALCATRAZ (1987) and NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1988). She now has a successful wedding video business.
A few other notable names off camera included producer Richard Bansbach, who directed the on-solid-ground JAWS (1975) rip-off CLAWS in 1977. Thomas L. Callaway, who also produced, started his successful cinematography career with BITS AND PIECES. He also shot CREEPOZOIDS and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II (both 1987), CLICK: THE CALENDAR GIRL KILLER (1990). He also worked on FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988) and, at time of writing, recently shot DEEP BLUE SEA 2 (2018). Most of the other producers had bit parts as cops in the movie. Don Chilcot, who co-composed the film’s eccentric soundtrack, made the music for SPINE, another slasher, the following year.
According to the director, all film elements for BITS AND PIECES have been lost. So, don’t go expecting a Blu-ray release any time soon. Still, if any film suits that washed out, fuzzy VHS transfer it’s this one.
Behind the scenes photos courtesey of Phillip Escott (from the collection of director Leland Thomas). WARNING: graphic gore!
female: 5 / male: 3