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February 2, 2015

Mil gritos tiene la noche

by Franz Patrick


Mil gritos tiene la noche (1982)
★★★ / ★★★★

A boy is caught by his mother putting together a jigsaw puzzle which consists of a naked woman that leaves nothing for the imagination. Extremely disgusted and angered by the fact that her son has something so demeaning in his possession, she forces the boy to leave the room while she cleans up. He leaves for a few seconds but he returns with an ax in hand and kills his mother eventually.

Forty years later, a chainsaw-wielding madman attacks a student in broad daylight in a New England university. The mangled body is left on the lawn but her head is nowhere to be found. Lieutenant Bracken (Christopher George) and Sergeant Holden (Frank Braña) are in charge of investigating and capturing the killer.

“Mil gritos tiene la noche,” directed by Juan Piquer Simón, is able to capture and retain an unsettling vibe throughout even though we know that women must die for the sake of the murderer completing his human jigsaw and severed body parts are shown with little to no pretension. The attacks are quick but brutal with enough variation in them to keep me interested—an accomplishment given the story’s set of tired tropes.

The hunt for the third victim holds the most suspense because she is actually made aware that something is very wrong. Alone in the dark studio, she hears strange sounds next door and suspects that someone might be watching her. She is smart enough to run and I rooted for her to get away and share her experience with the police. I enjoyed that the investigators are not treated as footnotes that appear only in the beginning and during the final act. They actually have an active role when it comes to talking with people who can help them, from the dean of the university (Edmund Purdom) to Professor Brown (Jack Taylor), head of the anatomy department, down to the caretaker of the grounds (Paul L. Smith).

As questions are raised, one considers that perhaps one of them has something to hide. The question is, are the interests they are willing to protect related to the university’s reputation or is it regarding a sick hobby which involves putting together body parts from various sources to create a sort of woman Frankenstein?

The balance among relaxed conversations, pointed questioning, and brutal attacks create a sense of place consisting of ordinary folks thrusted into a situation so bizarre and grizzly, it made me wonder how I would have reacted if something like it happened in the university I attended back when I was an undergraduate.

There are some characters that are possibly worth knowing further but are underwritten. For instance, Sylvia Costa (Isabel Luque), a reporter, gets word from a number of students that something terrible is unfolding on campus. While the performer seems feisty enough for the role of a plucky reporter, the script fails to give her a solid foundation. At best, she is allowed to look eager while standing next to someone important. It would have been interesting to hear from her what the select few from the outside world think of a potential cover-up.

Lastly, a character named Kendall (Ian Sera) is somewhat difficult to take seriously. Although he is a college student who proves to have a great potential to be a cop, his licentiousness works against him. The contradiction might have worked if he were the lead character and if the material had enough time to hone in on his more subtle motivations.

Nevertheless, “Pieces,” based on the screenplay by Dick Randall and John W. Shadow, features plenty of nudity and gore alongside careless dubbing and terrible acting but the work is neither defined nor restricted by them. In a way, its negatives, a handful of them quite cheeky, almost dull its more jagged angles.

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