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Human Beasts (1980)

aka The Beast's Carnival
aka El carnaval de las bestias

Director: Paul Naschy
Starring: Paul Naschy, Eiko Nagashima, Lautaro Murua, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernandez
Not Rated 88 min

After betraying his Japanese employer, a cold-blooded thug-for-hire named Bruno Rivera (Paul Naschy) takes refuge in a large, beautiful home in the Spanish countryside owned by a seemingly kind doctor. The doctor and his two beautiful daughters nurse the wounded hit man back to health and even help hide him from the vengeance-minded Meiko, Bruno's former lover and the sister of the man Naschy betrays and kills. While convalescing, the good doctor makes sure Bruno is well-fed and medicated, while the sexy daughters vie for his romantic attentions. Everything, however, isn't as great as it seems on the surface. Bruno begins to experience strange dreams and visits by a ghostly figure who randomly appears in his room. And while his hosts prepare for an upcoming feast, Bruno can't help but notice that the sound of the pigs being slaughtered for the meal is awfully similar to human screams........

I'm deliberately skimping over the plot synopsis for this movie. HUMAN BEASTS is a weird and wild ride that ends as a completely different kind of movie than it begins, an I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it. The movie begins as a crime flick, turns into a ghost story/mystery, and then ends as something altogether different. It's definitely not perfect - the early scenes involving the Japanese gangster are laughably awful. The only thing less convincing than the action scenes in this section is the ridiculous toupee Naschy wears during them. However, once Bruno gets to the strange house in the mountains, it becomes a much more interesting movie. There is beautiful Spanish scenery, even more beautiful Spanish actresses, some surprisingly kinky sex action, and some standout scenes of grisly violence. There's also a farcical dinner/costume party scene that feels like Naschy's attempt at social commentary. I'm not exactly sure what he's trying to say, but it seems like he's saying something.

HUMAN BEASTS takes a good amount of time getting where it's trying to go, but patient viewers will be rewarded with a terrific ending that packs a fantastically macabre punch. It isn't Naschy's best, but it is one of oddest and most interesting works in Naschy's filmography.

3.5 out of 5.


Pieces (1982)

Director: Juan Pierre Simon
Starring: Christopher George, Linda Day George, Frank Brana, Paul L. Smith, Edward Purdom
Not Rated 85 minutes
Buy PIECES at Amazon

PIECES has one of the greatest tag lines in motion picture history: "It's EXACTLY what you think it is!" It certainly is, and then some. This is a nasty, violent, sleazy little gem that is an absolute blast from start to finish.

The film opens in 1945, in a home in a well-to-do neighborhood. A boy is in his room assembling a puzzle of a nude woman when his mother storms in and discovers it. Mom has a category five shit fit over the puzzle, and starts raiding the kid's room for any other pornographic contraband. While she is rifling through the kid's belongings, junior quietly sneaks up behind her with a very large axe. He swings.....and swings....and swings, until chunks of mom's body are strewn about the room. The kid, now covered in his mother's gore, sits down to finish assembling his prized possession. He hears a neighbor, accompanied by the police, enter the house, so he hides in the closet. Poor kid, they decide, must have seen a madman butcher his mother.

Flash forward to a college campus in the modern day. Sexually liberated babes are in abundance, which is good news for the now grown kid who has decided to assemble a real-life version of the puzzle. A trench coat-wearing detective (Christopher George) and his trusty partner (Frank Brana) must follow a trail of body parts to find the killer. Is it the stuffy, British accented dean (Edward Purdom, HORROR SAFARI)? Is it the oddball professor (Jack Taylor)? Maybe it's the hulking, menacing groundskeeper (Paul L. Smith)? Red-herrings and weird encounters abound, until the final scene where the chainsaw-wielding maniac is unmasked.

PIECES was released when the slasher genre was running hot and heavy in America. Most of those films are dainty little wusses next to this movie; PIECES is a grue-slinging, boob ogling, hunk of sleaze that chews up anything critics might consider morally objectionable and spits it right back in their smug faces. Written by JP Simon (who also directed this, as well as 1988's SLUGS), Italian sleaze merchant Joe D'Amato (ANTHROPOPHAGUS; EMANUELLE IN AMERICA), and schlock producer Dick Randall, this is a movie that carefully lists all the ways to tastefully tell a murder mystery, and then does the exact opposite. All of this is done with leering, lingering eye on the horrid details. It's great.

When I say "great," I don't mean it in the traditional sense of film evaluation. I mean it in the sense that PIECES delivers the goods with more gusto than any other slasher from the era. There are several graphic chainsaw murders that leave little to the imagination, a gaggle of naked ladies, and few truly puzzling, yet hilarious, moments. Of course, there is plenty of bad acting (Linda Day George, as a cop who goes undercover as a tennis instructor, being one the worst offenders), silly dialogue, and a complete lack of concern for tension and suspense. What PIECES lacks in intelligence and finesse, however, it more than makes up for in cheap thrills.

What more can I say? If you are a horror fan, you should already own this. If not, do yourself a favor and pick up the awesome two-disc set from Grindhouse Releasing. It's got a ton of special features that will tell you more about this movie than you would probably ever want to know.

5 out of 5.