Pieces, The Director's Vs. American Unrated Cut (DVD/ Blu-rayComparison)

Pieces is the latest Grindhouse title to be revisited on blu-ray in a new, 2-disc set. They've been steadily working their way through their catalog, revamping all their past special edition DVDs, and they've done another stellar job here. A brand new transfer, new extras, and what's creating possibly the biggest stir online, new limited edition packaging.
If you're not already familiar, Pieces is a Spanish slasher film that's famous for how it doesn't put on any airs. One of its famous taglines is "It's exactly what you think it is." But I don't think that's exactly true. Certainly the bulk of the film is a very formulaic, traditional slasher film about a mysterious killer murdering students on a campus, with a couple of very perfunctory cops on the trail. But it's got some very strange moments of humor, some of which are totally cliche (the chesty girl innocently asking the anatomy professor what the pectorals are), whereas others are totally out there and original, making the film stand out. A Bruce Lee parody guy suddenly jumps out and attacks one of the cops in the middle of the night, only to apologize ("must've been bad chop suey!") and run off into the night. Or a really funny gag where the killer boards an elevator with his next victim while hiding a chainsaw behind his back. Even the premise of one of the police officers being a beautiful young woman/ tennis pro who decides to go undercover at the college is clearly having some fun by taking the insipid extremes of the genre and playing them up to the point of parody.

But it never really turns the corner into full parody. It's still mostly an actual slasher that follows the numbers without comment. Christopher George plays it pretty flat and the dubbing is genuinely poor. The silliness is there just enough to keep you involved, while it works to deliver as a genuine slasher, with some genuinely gruesome kills. All in all, it's an enjoyable time for a slasher fan, but it's probably not far out enough to convince more mainstream audiences.
Now, Grindhouse already released Pieces as a 2-disc DVD set in 2008, but one important inclusion here is that they've added the uncensored director's cut alongside the unrated American version that was on the DVD. Both versions have entirely different audio tracks, and the DVD did also include the Spanish audio as a secondary option. But the proper director's cut is actually about a minute and a half longer, and differs in more than just the audio. So I spent last night going through both versions to break down the differences.

First, of course the credits are different, in English vs in Spanish, where the American version has a red, bloody knife next to their title card of Pieces, while the Spanish has plain white on black text of the original Spanish title, Mil gritos tiene la noche. Also, the American version plays the full opening flashback and then cuts to the credits. The director's version intercuts back and forth between the two. Then there are differences at these rough time codes:
8:33 We see more of the killer putting together the infamous puzzle. This is a recurring difference between the two cuts. Both versions cut to the killer putting together the puzzle, but the Spanish version goes on longer, showing the killer adding more pieces before cutting away.

13:45 There's a little bit of extra dialogue from the dean as he's being interviewed by the police with the professor.

16:10 More extended puzzle solving.

40:10 There's a little extra dialogue between the reporter and the dean.

51:43 Extra shots of the kung-fu professor after he's been knocked to the ground and our lead student is explaining who he is.

59:50 Still more extended puzzle solving.

1:14:52 There's a longer shot of the cop on the phone, with an extended line of dialogue.

And of course, there are alternate closing credits in Spanish.

And the audio is substantially different, and not just the music. One thing you'll notice if you watch both versions is that the translations often go in completely unique directions. For example, at 27:04, the cop says "I have the strange feeling that somebody is watching me" in the Spanish audio and "I wonder what the hell he's doing with all those pieces that are missing" in the English! That's not just a subtle variation in the translation! Somebody took some real liberties here.
Grindhouse's 2008 DVD on top; their 2016 blu-ray below.
Grindhouse has created a brand new 4k scan of the original camera negative to trump their own, previous hi-definition restoration from 2008, and it's a very obvious improvement. Colors and brightness are a lot more natural, compared to the blown out older discs. Though both releases preserve the film's 1.66:1 ratio with almost identical framing, this is far more than just the improvement you see from putting the same transfer on a blu-ray over a DVD. Lines are much cleaner, too - check out the New England Patriots pennant on the upper left of the second set of frames, and how much clearer it is to read.

So like I already mentioned, both releases have the Spanish and English audio, with new DTS-HD tracks for the blu, plus removable English subtitles. Both versions also offer you "Vine Theater Experience" audio track in 5.1, where you hear the English audio with a packed theatrical audience recorded live at a screening of the film. I watched it that way, too; and apart from some laughter and applause at the more outrageous scenes, they're generally pretty quiet and you're mostly just listening to the English track with some echo.
Most of the extras are the same across the two versions, with a couple key additions to the blu. So I'll start with what's the same. The primary extras on the DVD were two, quite in-depth (almost an hour long each) interviews with director Juan Piquer and co-star Paul Smith. That was mainly it, although there were a bunch of easter eggs and bonus trailers hidden away. Those included two brief interviews with producer Stephen Minasian, bonus clips from the Smith interview, footage of Eli Roth at a Pieces screening, and some more footage of Piquer at a screening, including a bit where he shows nude photos of some of the actresses from the film.

All of that stuff, easter eggs and all, has been ported over. Some of them are in the bios & filmographies section, one of the producer interviews has been moved to the regular interviews section, and some are still hidden easter eggs on disc 1. But they're all there. This time around, they've also recorded a brand new commentary by Jack Taylor, who played Professor Brown. He's only in a small percentage of the film, so he does one of those "let me talk you through my entire career" commentaries, but he does at least occasionally acknowledge what's happening on-screen, and keeps coming back to Pieces every so often. So, all in all, a middle of the road commentary: not one to go out of your way to acquire, but worth listening to if you've got the disc.

And Grindhouse has also added the feature length documentary 42nd Street: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Notorious Block, by Calum Waddell (who also moderated the commentary track). It's not about Pieces, except in the indirect way that Pieces is one of the many B-films that would've played on 42nd St in its day. It was already released as an extra once before, on 88 Films' blu-ray of Anthropophagous, so you can read more about it on my coverage of that. And as that was a UK release, this will be its debut for many region A viewers.
And the packaging. The original DVD's wasn't too bad either; it came with an insert of liner notes by the beloved Gore Score author Chas Balun, which opened up into the film's original poster. But I'd say the blu-ray tops it. They do lose the fold-out poster, but keep Balun's notes in their new 8-page booklet with an additional essay by Rick Sullivan. And this release comes in a cool, embossed slipcase. But more impressively, it comes with a complete CD of the film's original soundtrack remastered from the original studio tapes, including the composer's voice coming in sporadically to label the tracks. It doesn't, however, feature the funky electro songs the girls dance to in the English dub, but I guess you can't have everything.

Also, the first 3000 copies of the set came with a puzzle, as depicted in the film. It is a genuinely cut puzzle you can disassemble at solve at home, though it's split into a lot fewer pieces than you see in the movie, so it's super easy. Still, it's one of the most clever packaging gimmicks I've seen with a special edition blu, and it's rather durable and well made.
So Pieces may not be the best film in Grindhouse's line-up, but it's a fun watch. And Grindhouse has definitely given it top notch treatment, probably even better than the film deserves. I know they've said they're done once they finish releasing their library onto blu, but given the terrifically high standards they've been consistently reaching, I hope they reconsider and stick around.

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