Castilian Crimson presents

A PIECE OF PIQUER

THE JUAN PIQUER SIMON INTERVIEW

 


Before the tremendous impact of Alejandro Amenabar's THE OTHERS, it was Juan Piquer Simon who, as a Spanish filmmaker, found the greatest success in the United States with a horror film.  The film was PIECES (Spanish title: MIL GRITOS TIENE LA NOCHE; English translation: NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND SCREAMS).  Released in 1982, PIECES fed the public's hunger for stronger terror movies in the "slasher" style of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th, films which had reinvigorated the horror genre by setting a controversial benchmark of what could be accepted as entertainment.  Juan Piquer ("Simon" was added for publicity purposes) also made envious inroads into co-production deals with the United States, monies habitually denied to other Spanish directors of fantastique during the Golden Age of Spanish Horror.  PIECES benefited from this arrangement, both in financing and in distribution within the lucrative United States market. 

Born in the Mediterranean town of Valencia on February 16, 1935, Juan Piquer became seduced by the cinema at an early age and studied fine arts and design in school.  He enrolled in Madrid's Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematográficas in 1957 and subsequently found work in Spanish television.  Later, he created a commercial ad company that attracted local and European customers, and made two documentary shorts, ESPANA VIOLENTA and VIDA Y PAZ.  The 1970s would see Piquer working diligently to establish himself as a producer and distributor: In 1972, he founded his own studio, ESTUDIOS PIQUER, and his own film production company, ALMENA FILMS; two years later he formed the distribution company INTERNACIONAL FILM DISTRIBUCIÓN with Cinevision; and in 1976 the MALVARROSA FILM FACTORY came into being.  It was at this time that Piquer took on the challenge of directing his own feature length films, and thus began a career of offering up a broad sweep of fantastique: films based on literary works of authors like Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe (JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND, SEA DEVILS, THE GOLD BUG), science fiction (SUPERSONIC MAN, THE POD PEOPLE, ENDLESS DESCENT) and horror--SLUGS, one of the first "Spanish horror" films released in the DVD format in the United States, CTHULHU MANSION, and, of course, PIECES.

In the interview below, conducted through cyberspace at the tail end of 2002 and the beginning of this year, 2003, we've concentrated on this most infamous film, which is scheduled for a deluxe DVD release from Grindhouse (date unknown), as well as special theatrical "midnight" showings throughout the United States (dates unknown).  Some spoilers below, so you are forewarned.  And now we present--Mr. Juan Piquer Simon.

 


     

 


CC: It is rare for a Spanish director to get American producers to finance his film.  How did this happen with PIECES?

When I presented my first movie VIAJE AL CENTRA DE LA TIERRA (JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH/WHEN TIME BEGAN) in 1977 at Cannes, some American producers-distributors became interested in my work. Some of them, like Samuel Arkoff, suggested that I go to the United States. I refused because my English wasn’t very good and I already had some other projects, and also because I am terrified of flying. An Italian-American group offered financing for my next project in Spain, so we made SUPERSONIC MAN, which was very profitable all around the world. They took part in two other movies and then Steve Minisian joined the group and offered me "Jigsaw."  After that, I’ve got some other projects like LOS NUEVOS EXTRATERRESTRES, SLUGS and LA GRIETA (ENDLESS DESCENT). This one was made with Dino De Laurentis, who latter offered us two movies, ORCA 2 and BARBARELLA 2.  Unfortunately they never got made because the Laurentis production company collapsed.

CC: As I understand it, "Jigsaw" was initially a work-in-progress script headed for TV.  Who wrote the script?

I first received a 30 page treatment of "Jigsaw." I don’t even remember who the author was. I took the basic idea and wrote the screenplay, limiting myself only by the budget possibilities. During the shooting I improvised dialogues and entire scenes because the screenplay   was too short, and I also wanted to improve the story to take advantage of some locations.

CC: Were the actors enthusiastic about these improvisations?

The entire cast took active part with that style of shooting (apart from Christopher George) and especially Lynda George, who even gave me one free day of shooting. She was a very intelligent, nice and a beautiful woman. I will always be thankful for her kindness.

CC: How involved was Joe D'Amato in the screenplay, if he was at all?

 As far as I know, Joe D´Amato was never involved in the screenplay.

CC: Before beginning this film did you seek inspiration from any other film or films in the genre?  I understand that you are not a particular fan of the gialli of Dario Argento and that you did not want to imitate his work.

I never try, consciously, to imitate or get inspired by other films, especially those of Dario Argento. 

CC: Did you have any hesitancy in making the film so brutal or was that the whole point of the film, to give people what they wanted, in terms of gore and terror, and then even push it farther and give them more than they anticipated?

From the beginning I had the idea of making something like a “Grand Guignol,” trying to avoid  “cinematographic ellipsis, by which I mean when you don’t show an action and the time passes to the next scene and you just let the audience imagine what happened. A classical example is when in old movies a guy kisses a girl, the camera moves, fades in, and in the next scene they emerge from the bedroom in the morning. I wanted to avoid this in sex and violence scenes. The only restriction came from the American censors. I’ve never seen the American version, but I believe they cut some scenes that were in the European version.

CC: Did you purposefully inject a certain dark humor into the picture and at times a ridiculous moment or two?  Are there any scenes that stand out for you, as the scriptwriter and filmmaker, as particularly humorous or satirical?

The “Grand Guignol” is always an exaggeration of reality with a dark humor thrown in. For example, the scene with the oriental guy is a parody of Bruce Lee movies. Or Paul Smith’s character who represents something like the ogre from fairy tales. It is a game in which the audience has to accept the rules and play.

CC: I assume most of the film was shot in Madrid.  How many scenes were actually shot in Boston? Exteriors only?  Did the Boston shooting involve a second-unit crew?

The entire movie was shot in Madrid, nothing in Boston; there was no budget for second units. Some USA locations where taken from SUPERSONIC MAN stock footage.

CC: How long was the shooting schedule?

The shooting schedule was 4 weeks with the cast and one extra week for inserts and special effects. The leading actors were present for just seven days of shooting. The final negative cost was $300,000.

CC: Were you in on the casting decisions of hiring people like Christopher George and Lynda Day George? Were you satisfied with these leads?

They gave me the final casting, so I was forced to adapt the screenplay to them. They did their jobs very well; the real big problem was the lack of time.

CC: In the 1950s Edmund Purdom was being groomed as a very big Hollywood star, with films like JULIUS CAESAR, THE EGYPTIAN and THE STUDENT PRINCE.  By the time PIECES was made, Hollywood was not interested anymore, and he could only find work in Continental productions, many of which were in the horror and thriller genres, a fall from grace perhaps for such an actor.  How was he to work with?

I think Edmund Purdom is a better actor than he believes; the problem is that he can be a little bit annoying at times. The first day we got into difficulties because of his bad habit of continually talking and commenting about the work of other actors.  We had a strong confrontation, but latter on everything went smoothly between us, so good, in fact, that I called him and asked him to play a small role in ENDLESS DESCENT, and he accepted, very pleased.

CC: How was Jack Taylor to work with?

I already worked with Jack Taylor in VIAJE AL CENTRO LA TIERRA.  He is a very professional actor with an interesting appearance.

CC: Frank Brana is in many of your films.  I assume he is part of an acting "family" that you are comfortable with.

Frank Brana has worked in more than 200 movies. He is not a great actor but knows very well how to move in front of the camera. As an actor he is very restrained, sometimes too much.  As you have guessed, we became close friends.  He was also always very helpful in action sequences, due to his stunt experience.

 

 

CC: Were there any conflicts between the Spanish and American cast members on the set?

There were no problems between American and Spaniard cast as far as I know.

CC: I read that the look of the killer was inspired by THE SHADOW.  One of the Spanish posters for the film also represents the character in this mold, as a Mike Kaluta "Shadow" drawing. Were you a fan of THE SHADOW or was this just a look you were familiar with?

Yes the killer’s look was inspired by The Shadow. It was homage to those old black and white serials (Republic, Columbia….).

CC: Who actually was dressed in the “Shadow” costume?  And whose hands were in those black gloves?  I assume the actor who is revealed to be the killer did not participate in these shots.

It was a double who was dressed in the killer costume. The hands were mine.  I used to do insert shots like that because is easier than wasting time in explanations to another person.

CC: I believe I spotted you in a small cameo in the film as a police crime-photographer?

Yes, I was the photographer. It is cheaper and more practical than hiring an extra who will get bored and eventually entertain himself by talking with everybody on the set.

CC: You provide both male and female nudity in this film.  Was this also the case of giving the audience more than what they expected? 

I was born in Valencia, at the Mediterranean Sea. I’m part of the Greco-Latin culture that never had any problem with nudity, even after the arrival of the Christianity. I have never seen so much nudity as at the Sixteen Chapel in the Vatican, so if Michelangelo had no problem with nudity working for the popes, why should I be afraid of showing nudity?

It upsets me, this hypocrisy of the Lutheran-Calvinist culture. It is more ethical to show some tits than a penis?  It is more ethical to show that penis flaccid than erect? These are just social conventions to me, and they should be dealt with only through aesthetic and naturalistic means. To me, it is ridiculous when an actor who has being making love with a girl gets out of the bed and covers his penis from the girl he has making love to. It makes no sense to me. And it is the same with a woman covering her tits on the bed to her lover; again, ridiculous.  

Some scenes of the film were very explicit and we made a soft version for the American  censorship. For example: When Ian Serra is making love with a student and gets interrupted, he gets out of bed with his penis erect (which I think is logical). The killer, after murdering the girl on the waterbed, undresses her and hangs the naked body in the cold storage room. He also spies on the dancing girls at the shower, selecting his next victim according to the body part that he needs. The student couple making love at the park: she is giving a blow job to the guy, while the killer chops off the head of a solitary student in a parallel editing with the orgasm of the boy. Blood--semen, death--life. 

CC: Was Ian Serra hesitant at all in “showing his stuff”? By the way, what is Serra’s nationality?

Ian Serra didn’t have any problem with nudity; he has made a Playboy movie. He was born in Gibraltar, so he speaks English and Spanish perfectly.  

CC: There are a couple of scenes that many have wondered about.  Let's start with the first one: the girl riding on the skateboard who smashes into a large mirror being carried off a truck by workers.  Does her scene set up the psychological "breaking point" for the killer to begin his rampage?

You are right, the scene with the girl on the skateboard creates a conditional reflex which stimulates the killer to violent behavior. The mother of the child breaks the picture of the boy’s father (his hero), that leads him to his brutal revenge. Some time later, that guilty complex unbalances his mind and he tries to find a remedy, so in his madness he tries to raise her from the dead by building a new body for her. The breaking of the mirror is the beginning of this conditional reflex, which makes him return to the origin of the story. Maybe that point it wasn’t clear enough in the movie.

CC: The next mysterious scene has to do with the kung fu professor who turns up in the middle of the film.  Please explain that one!

The Chinese guy appeared by chance; he came with one of the producers who was shooting a martial arts movie in Madrid. I was always thinking on ways to extend the length of the movie, so I invited him to appear in one scene. He agreed, and that way I added a few more minutes, created an action scene, and also created suspicion on the Ian Serra character and also a more close relationship between the police agent (Lynda) and the informer (Ian) which leads to an erotic relationship. He accompanies her to her room, and when he tries to get in, she closes the door. I wanted to make a hot scene with Lynda and Ian, but she refused; I guess she was uncomfortable doing a sex scene with her husband around. I think that scene could have been very appropriate because after that, she would become Ian's defender over the suspicions of the police.  

CC: Did you have anything to do with the American title of the film, PIECES? Was MIL GRITOS TIENE NOCHE (a great title) your own title?  Was this title a homage to any other film or book?

The American title and the whole advertising for the United States was a decision of the American producers. The title in Spanish was inspired by the Cornell Woolrich novel, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES.

CC: Your special effects man, Basilio Cortijo, did a very good job on this film.  How difficult were the special effects?

Basilio Cortijo has collaborated with me in many films; he is a professional with great experience. He gave me technical and mechanical solutions to solve some problematic scenes, but I designed and sometimes executed the effects. The effect of cutting the girl in the bathroom was achieved by using a dead little pig. We also used internal organs of dead animals, with real blood taken from a slaughterhouse.

 

              

CC: Were you trying to make any "statement" with the film or was it a pure entertainment?

Making that kind of movie was a challenge to me. It was the first time I made a horror movie like that with sex and violence, and I tried to make something else than just tits and blood. In real life, a lie usually takes you to another lie, and a crime usually leads to another crime, so the cure is worse that the illness. I wanted to show that, because the mental aberration of criminals is not a teenager’s game as it happens nowadays in most of American movies. My intention was to be naturalistic, and I only made a little surrealistic touch at the end, something like Buñuel, but with more grotesque dark humor like Goya´s dark paintings.

CC: There are many strong moments in the film.  Were you comfortable with what you were filming? Did you ever think, “I’m going too far with this?”

Those strong moments when watching the movie are not strong at the shooting, which was very amusing. It is the magic of editing, FX and sound effects that  make those moments strong and frightening.

There was indeed a strong scene at the shooting, however.  The one with the girl at the bathroom with a real chainsaw just a few centimeters away from her. I was a little worried when the double (maybe possessed by the killer's spirit) went too close to the girl. She became so terrified that she urinated on herself. I was a little bit angry with the double for taking too much of a risk; the girl could have panicked, moved her arm and it would have been cut; but it was a great take, and we liked the girl's natural reaction so much that we reproduced again the act of urinating.  The killing of the reporter was also difficult because we used a real knife. Nobody got hurt, but I was a little bit worried. But again it was the editing and the postproduction which made the scene so brutal. I remember that the actress couldn’t take the scene at the premier of the movie, and she left the auditorium when she got killed at the screen.

The more complicated scene was at the end.  When the dead woman pulled out Ian's genitals. He was dressed with a protection, and the hand had some blades, which tore into Ian’s pants. He got a little cut in his groin.

CC: Perhaps a silly question, but how did you relax after filming some of the gore scenes?  Was it difficult to shoot some of the scenes and spend so much time on them at work, and then go back home in the evening  to a “normal life”?

I didn’t have any trauma with shooting anything, nor any problem coming back to my normal life because I never went out of normality. To me shooting is just an exercise in creativity, no matter what kind of scene I’m shooting, a killing, a love scene, or whatever….

CC: At various times there was an interest in doing a sequel.  What happened?  

PIECES was released in the United States a year after it was released in Spain. And it was a success here. The American producers where afraid about those strong scenes. It was a distributor who, after seeing a preview, decided to get the movie released. When they talked to me about doing PIECES 2, I was already involved in another project. I tried to get a sequel started years later, but couldn’t. With show business, they forget very soon, even if you have had a success.

CC:  There have been some controversies about the true aspect ratios of films when they become released as DVDs.  At times films are being presented in an incorrect aspect ratio to justify widescreen television sets, so that a European film shot in 1.66:1 gets turned into 1.85:1.  To set the record straight, what is the true aspect ratio of PIECES: 1.85:1 or 1.66:1?

It was shot in 1.66:1, but we framed it as if it were 1.85:1 because we knew that was the American format.

CC: In what aspect ratio was PIECES released in Spain?

The Spanish version was released at 1.66:1.

CC: Was the Spanish version censored at all?

The film was not censored in the Spanish version. The only restriction came during the shooting, from the American producers. The dead woman at the end was originally filmed completely naked, but the American co-producers wanted to change it with the woman half-naked. So we did it, and that was used in both the Spanish and American version.  

CC: Do you own any of the rights to the film?

I had some rights of the English version, but I think the have run out. I don’t know who actually has the rights right now. I’ve heard about a pirate DVD version…

 CC: I understand that you didn't see much money out of the success PIECES had in the United States?

You are right, I didn’t see a penny from the US market. They said to me that the distributor got the money and ran off to Brazil… Who knows???

CC: The American prints credit the CAM music library for the score.  Spanish film resources credit Librado Pastor.  Are there, in fact, two different scores for the film?

Before the shooting, the Italian-American producers made an arrangement with CAM to get free music. I thought the idea was stupid, so I paid from my own pocket for Librado Pastor to create a new musical score, which is the score for the Spanish version. The postproduction and dubbing for English version were made in Italy; I've never heard the American version.

CC: A small company called Grindhouse is going to be doing a special DVD edition of PIECES, as well as exhibiting this film in special showings throughout the States.  Have you been asked as yet to participate in any way with this DVD?  

I like the idea of a new release. I think they can make some money out if it. Of course I haven't heard a word from them, but I just hope they will be kind enough to send me the DVD.  

CC: Does it surprise you that, more than twenty years after it was made, your film has become a genuine cult item and will be re-shown in the United States? To what do you attribute the success of this film?

In spite of all its defects, I think the movie’s best point is that it gives the audience more than what it expects. Where others stop, we carry on. The fans of these movies like to be surprised. When they are watching a sex scene, they don’t expect to see frontal male nudity because something like this is taboo, so we put some of it in. When they are watching a killing, and a girl is going to be cut with a chainsaw at her waist, they don’t expect to see the chainsaw cutting flesh, so we give them some of that.  

Finally, what are your current projects or works-in-progress?

I’m currently working as artistic adviser on a TV series shooting in Valencia. I have some movie projects -- three screenplays, two of which are horror films, and one, a thriller. We have made some interesting connections in order to get financing, but there is nothing official yet, so I'd better not say anything. Of course, the moment that we get the green light on some project, I will notify you and also make the announcement on my web page.

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Castilian Crimson offers up a big thanks to Juan Piquer Simon for his generosity in taking the time to answer so many questions!

 


"If you like strong thrills, come to see us...  But do not come alone...  Just in case."
-- translation of Spanish ad campaign

"PIECES ... It's exactly what you think it is!"
-- American ad campaign
 


 

BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTOS
courtesy Juan Piquer Simon

 


Piquer with a good head


Piquer doing double-duty as the crime photographer


Piquer takes a picture of the crime scene


The Chainsaw Belly Sequence


 


JUAN PIQUER SIMON's Website
http://es.geocities.com/jpiquers/

Contents copyrighted 2003