The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Bits and Pieces (dir by Leland Thomas)

You’re sitting down and you’re watching the 1985 slasher film Bits and Pieces on YouTube.

“The Bits and Pieces Murderer has struck again!” a television news reporter solemnly intones after a homeless woman finds a dismembered body in a trash bag.

Meanwhile, in a dark bedroom, a phone rings and wakes up Lt. Carter (Brian Burt), a balding man with a mustache.  He answers it and is told that the murderer has struck again.  “SHIT!” he yells….

A few blocks away, a sweaty man named Arthur (S.E. Zygmont) sits in a filthy basement, surrounded by plastic mannequin heads, half-eaten breakfasts, and flies.  He hears a voice telling him to kill and he says, “Yes, mommy…”

Down the street, in a club that appears to be populated largely by elderly woman, the world’s greasiest male strippers perform while a deathless song plays in the background.  Do you want/want my body/do you like it like that....

The next morning, college student Rosie Talbot (Suzanne Snyder) tells her mother about the strip club.  “I was surprised by the wide variety of the routines,” she says as her mom nods along.  Rosie says she never would have had the courage to go to the club if not for her best friend, Tanya (Sheila Lussier).  However, for some reason, Tanya is not answering her phone….

That night, Arthur has flashbacks to being abused by his mother so he kills again.  When the latest body is found, Lt. Carter receives that call.  “SHIT!” Lt. Carter yells….

The next morning, Rosie looks at the newspaper and sees a drawing of the girl who was found in the trash bag and she immediately screams because it looks just like Tanya!  She meets Lt. Carter who asks her if Tanya had any strange sexual proclivities.  “What type of sexist question is that!?” Rosie shouts….

Later, Rosie walks through a strip mall and runs into her friend Jennifer (Tally Chanel).  Rosie tells Jennifer about Tanya but then mentions that she did meet a really handsome policeman and that’s been the only good thing about her day.  “That sounds promising!” Jennifer says….

Meanwhile, Arthur lurks behind them, unnoticed despite his unwashed hair, his skinny black tie, and the look on his face that practically screams, “I am a psychopathic murderer and I’m stalking you.”  A random man bumps into Arthur and Arthur falls to the ground.  “Watch it, apple ass,” the man snaps….

A few hours later and Lt. Carter calls Rosie at home.  Carter tells her that this is a social call.  Would she like to spend the day at the beach with him?  That seems like a great way to forget about all the dead people who are piling up around the city.  “I’m really looking forward to it!” Rosie says….

Meanwhile, Arthur flashes back to his mother’s boyfriend forcing him to put on lipstick….

And so it goes.

There’s actually a pretty charming little story about this film.  It was told by a student who had just completed a film class.  On the last day of class, the professor announced that he was going to show the class an example of how “not to make a good movie.”  The movie that he showed was Bits and Pieces and the professor was the also the film’s director.  (For the record, the director also appears in the film, as the guy who calls Arthur an apple ass.)

Bits and Pieces may be a bad movie but it’s so amazingly inept that it becomes oddly fascinating.  The night scenes were clearly filmed at night, meaning that it’s often next to impossible to see what anyone’s actually doing for at least 10% of the movie.  In the role of Arthur, S.E. Zygmont gives a performance that’s so over-the-top that it bring to mind the “Egyptian feast” scene in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast.  (“You waaaaaaant to plaaaaaay….” Arthur hisses, at one point.)  As well, I don’t know if there’s many other movies out there that mix scenes of brutal murder with scenes of a middle-aged police detective and a young college student happily frolicking on the beach.  I guess brutal murder and intense emotional pain brings out the romantic side in some people.  The fact that the blood and gore looks real while everything else feels fake gives the film a strangely surreal feel.

Bits and Pieces is currently on YouTube, proving that even inept movies will live forever.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Death Journey (dir by Fred Williamson)

Imagine being caught up in the following situation.

You’re the district attorney of Manhattan.  You’ve got a chance to convict the city’s most powerful mob boss on some pretty serious charges.  In fact, you’ve got three eye witnesses who are willing to testify against him.  Sounds pretty good so far, right?

But wait a minute!  One of your eyewitnesses just died.  Oh well.  You’ve still got two left and surely, the police can protect two… oh wait.  Hold on.  Okay, you know that second witness that you had?  Well, he just got blown up or something.  Now, you’ve only got one witness left.  He’s a weaselly little mob accountant named Finley (Bernard Kirby).  He’s really not a bad guy, once you get past all of the Hawaiian shirts and his obsession with candy.  The only problem is that Finley is in California and you’re in New York.  How are you going to get Finley across the country without him getting blown up by the mob?

Well, let’s see.  You could ask the government for help but when was the last time government managed to do anything without screwing it up.  You could reach out to the FBI or something like that.  Maybe Finley could go into witness protection.  I mean, it’s worked for a countless number of other mob associates…

But no.  There’s no way Finley could survive in witness protection.  He’d probably give himself away as soon as someone offered him a candy bar.  Seriously, Finley is really obsessed with chocolate.

No, what you’re going to do is you’re going to call up Jesse Crowder (Fred Williamson).  Crowder used to be a cop but now he’s a private eye.  He’s a lot like Shaft, except he doesn’t ever get political.  There’s really nothing that Jesse Crowder can’t do.  He’s a marksman.  He’s a fighter.  He’s a lover.  When we first see him, he’s doing kung fu in slow motion.  If you really needed proof that Jesse Crowder is the ultimate badass, consider this: he smokes cigars.  You read that correctly.

Now, you may be asking yourself: why would the Manhattan district attorney know a Los Angeles private eye?  Because everyone knows Jesse Crowder, that’s why.

Anyway, Jesse agrees to take the case.  He’ll escort Finley to New York, on the condition that he get paid $25,000 upon arrival.  Of course, if he has to kill a lot of people, Jesse expects to be paid $50,000.

Needless to say, Jesse does end up having to kill a lot of people.  It’s not really his fault, of course.  They just keep popping up and getting in his way.  Jesse tries all sorts of ways to get Finley to New York.  He tries to drive him.  He tries to take the train.  No matter what he does, the mob shows up.  Is it possible that the mob had someone inside the district attorney’s office?

Fred Williamson not only starred in 1976’s Death Journey but he directed it as well.  Though it’s obvious that Williamson didn’t have much of a budget to work with, he still did a fairly good job with Death Journey.  Certainly, his direction here feels stronger than it did in Mean Johnny Barrows.  In its own undeniably dumb way, Death Journey‘s a fun action movie.  Williamson may not have been a great actor but he had a strong screen presence and it’s impossible not to be amused by the fact that, no matter what he does or where he goes, somewhat inevitably pops out of the shadows and tries to kill him.  With the exception of that opening kung fu sequence that goes on forever, Death Journey is a fast-paced action film.  The film only last 74 minutes so, right when you start to wonder if Williamson’s ever going to show any personality beyond being a cocky badass, the movie ends.

If you’re a fan of low-budget 70s action films, you’ll probably enjoy Death Journey.  If you don’t enjoy it, just make sure Jesse Crowder doesn’t find out.  After all, he knows karate.