Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review - Pieces of Darkness (1989)

Pieces of Darkness VHS Cover


 Among the many companies from the 1980's to distribute low budget and shot on video films to unsuspecting, and most times, disappointed cinema buffs looking for a new grade A horror thriller from their local video store shelves, not many others approached marketing their products quite like Legacy home video. Whole other video labels used lurid and grotesque drawings and pictures to ensnare horror hounds into watching, or at least renting their low-fi video epics, Legacy had another approach in mind. There catalogue of releases, many of which are still unknown to me, used bright and surreal pop art for their releases. For example, the 1989 video release of the SOV thriller Venus Flytrap, has no images from, or pertaining to the actual movie on the front cover. At first glance, and even second Venus Flytrap looks more like an experimental art house film, other than the shlocky, but still highly entertaining cheese fest featured on the tape. Did this marketing tactic work? Who's to say, I for one can tell you that this bizarre and eye-catching cover enticed me enough to see the movie.

Legacy Home Video Logo

This leads us to the film in question, Pieces of Darkness, released in 1989 by Legacy with an equally abstract and nightmarish cover as Flytrap. Whereas Venus Flytrap has earned a small cult following for it's likable characters and curious homophobic subtext (The director would later go on to direct gay porn), Pieces of Darkness was not so lucky. Long forgotten as a footnote in the realm of Shot on video cinema, POD is an anthology featuring 3 stories, all having to do with betrayal in one form or another. The back of the box claims it is "A macabre medley of sci fi terror" when nothing remotely science fiction related happens in the film. Another thing to note is the back of the box claiming the movie to be 90 minutes, where the actual movie doesn't run much more than 70 minutes, which is a good thing. The short runtime makes all the stories fast and easy to get into.

Back Cover

The first segment, The Bootmaker is introduced my a decaying army sergeant, who spouts off incredibly misguided one liners such as "I shove grenades up my ass to loosen my hemorrhoids!". Were off to a good start already. The first segment centers around two Vietnam vets who are the only surviving members of their platoon. Jealousy and insanity overcomes one of the men after he suffers visions of his lost platoon. Murder of his comrade is the only answer.

Our Host

The second story, Choice Cuts, is my personal favorite from the lineup, and tells the story of two brothers who own a butcher shop. The younger brother, who is kind and very homely, falls in love with a local woman, much to his older brother's protest. A very spontaneous fight breaks out between the older brother and the younger brother's gal-pal, ending with her accidental death via hitting her head. As you can imagine, the younger brother does not take the news very well.

Choice Cuts

Our last story, That's Showbiz is about an out of work actor, who has left his loving girlfriend for no decreeable reason, and has killed his best friend for landing a part he wanted so very badly. When an audition is offered to our lead, he accepts and goes on stage to start his reading. Now is a good time to mention a very interesting thing I noticed during this scene. When our lead walks onto the stage in front on a red curtain, it almost looks as though he is a ghost, as you can very clearly see the curtain through his torso, as if he were half invisible. Was this intentional, given how this last segment ends? Who's to say. My best bet is whatever camera they were using was just that shitty, which is a lot more likely than it being an intentional video effect added in. Either way, this is the most surreal part of the whole film. Another point of interest is that the first two segments, both directed by George Bonilla, have their respective introduction told by either the zombiefied army sergeant or an undertaker by a campfire telling you to stay put for more horrific stories. The last segment, directed by J. Johnson Jr. III, has no intro and starts with the stories title card. I guess J. Johnson was not a fan of tacking on goofy bookends onto his stories, even though these intros are arguably more entertaining than the stories themselves.

That's Showbiz

What else is there to say about Pieces of Darkness? The video quality in all of the stories is the worst of the worst, muddy, washed out, oftentimes very grainy, and has a habit of turning your actors into semi-translucent specters. If your looking for loads of blood and gore, look elsewhere. While POD does have it's fair share of bloodshed and ghouls, it is nowhere near as gruesome as a lot of other SOV's of the time have to offer. Despite all of it's faults, Pieces of Darkness is still an immensely entertaining and enjoyable cheapo anthology, with memorable lines spouted off by some of the very worst actors imaginable, surreal and sometimes overly jaunty synth music droning on over scenes of people digging holes and walking through jungles, and a fair dose of awkward simulated sex thrown in to keep things interesting. If all of that wets your appetite, Pieces of Darkness is the movie for you. If you are looking for a little something more, this movie is nothing more than a curiosity piece, a strange enigma of the no-budget scene of the late 80's. You have been warned.