Friday, July 17, 2015

Rest in Pieces (Descanse en piezas) (1987)

Rest in Pieces (Descanse en piezas) (1987) is a Spanish-American co-production, helmed by unique director, José Ramón Larraz.  This horror film concerns a young couple, Bob and Helen Hewitt (portrayed by Scott Thompson Baker and Lorin Jean Vail, respectively), who inherit the fortune of Helen’s estranged (and recently deceased) aunt Catherine (Academy Award winner, Dorothy Malone).  Upon arrival at Catherine’s estate, the couple realize that Aunt Catherine housed many people on her property, two of whom are a blind expert of music, David Hume (Jack Taylor) and a particularly cranky Gertrude Stein (Patty Shepard).  Bob and Helen think that this group is a bunch of creepy peeps and want to evict them.  The motley crew of guests on Catherine’s estate have other plans, which include slicing and dicing their new neighbors.
Rest in Pieces is weird.  It begins with a photo montage with the credit sequence of Baker and Vail at the Los Angeles airport (presumably Larraz cast these two there).  The title-sequence song feels like something out of a late-80s American comedy along the lines of Revenge of the Nerds II:  Nerds in Paradise (released the same year as Rest in Pieces.  Incidentally, I am a fan of this one.).  When Bob and Helen arrive at Catherine’s estate, it appears a normal row of houses surrounding a cul-de-sac, well familiar in American suburbs.  However, these houses are the curtilage of Catherine’s estate, and there is one in particular, that does not stand out particularly, that has always been abandoned.  The whereabouts of its key are unknown.  During their first evening in their new home, the young couple become hungry, but there is no food in the house.  Later that evening, after Bob has had a nice rogering with Helen, he searches the home and descends far into the basement.  He discovers a hidden room where a rotting stockpile of food is being consumed by rats.  Spooky, right?  Apparently, Hume, Stein, Dr. Anderson (a key character, portrayed by Jeffrey Segal), and the rest of the group do not eat.  However, they do smoke and drink. 
The script of Rest in Pieces is unique: there is a fantastic, supernatural element to its story combined with a heavy emphasis on slasher elements and accompanying gore.  Its execution, however, is rather lackluster.  “…Larraz received backing from a fruit exporter, or ‘Philistine moneymen’ as he refers to his backers,” write Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill in Mondo Macabro. (1) “They wanted a sure return on their investment, so Larraz’s next two horror films, shot under the pseudonym Joseph Braunstein, were gory, direct-to-video Spanish-American co-productions.” (2) The first was Rest in Pieces.  (3) Larraz certainly fulfilled his contractual obligations with this film.  There is a standout scene where the odd group host a concert in the abandoned house.  After completion, the musicians desire to be paid for their performance, but unexpectedly, they get hacked to bits by their audience.  Jack Taylor’s David Hume reveals his cane is for more than walking: it doubles as a spear with a retractable blade!  Lorin Jean Vail displays quite a bit of nudity in the film.  (She is quite beautiful; and I do not want to hurt her feelings but her performance is not very good.)  In an initial scene, Helen takes a bubble bath.  All of the sudden, the fixtures begin moving, and the shower curtain attacks her!  Larraz includes a slo-mo love scene between Bob and Helen, and the final act sees Vail dressed only in her bathrobe and panties.  All the sensational elements are present in Rest in Pieces, but the completed film lacks an artistic spirit driving the images.
José Ramón Larraz creates such a unique atmosphere with his cinema that referring to his cinema as “atmospheric” belies his abilities.  His compositions and his juxtapositions of compositions are without equal.  He can make a three-car garage look ominous.  He can make two female vampires running across a cemetery at dawn poetic.  Larraz can also, finally, for example, imbue scenes with eroticism with ease where most filmmakers would struggle.  Here is an example from Rest in Pieces:  Bob thinks that it is unusual and suspicious that the abandoned house in the area has no key.  So after breakfast, he decides to walk over to the house.  Bob encounters the pretty maid of the estate on a bicycle in the middle of the road.  She gives a weak warning to Bob to not enter the abandoned house and then offers him an open invitation to shag.  After Bob enters the house, he finds an antique bar and picks up a bottle.  He hears a hymn being sung in the parlor room.  Bob enters and finds all of the estate guests in the middle of a meeting.  Bob presents to the group a toupee that he found under a piece of furniture.  This does not belong to any of you, Bob quips, and he demands to know from the group what is going on.  None of the shit in this sequence makes any sense but strung together in Larraz’s series of images, this sequence creates its own unreal logic.  There is a sense of Bob’s impending doom along this short journey, despite the fact that a pretty maid offers to fuck him; the non-descript abandoned house looks ordinary; and the only objects that interest Bob in the house are a bottle of liquor and a toupee.  Little of Larraz’s unique talent is present in Rest of Pieces to the complete detriment of the film.
The VHS cover of Rest in Pieces is well familiar, but a lot of Larraz’s late-80s output never made it onto DVD.  It just sits there in obscurity, like a time capsule of its period.

1.       Tombs, Pete and Cathal Tohill.  Mondo Macabro European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984.  St. Martin’s Griffin Press. New York.  1995: p. 206.

2.       Ibid.

3.       Ibid.


Tom Clark said...

Its a bizarre film for sure but I've always felt it works because of its matter of fact zaniness. Take the slaughter of the orchestra for instance. It comes out of nowhere and is so random it becomes sort of hilarious. The whole film has a quirky sense of humor too it which surprisingly doesn't butt heads with the horror. When you think of it, its really a fairly unique film. Aside from some faint similarities with Carnival of Souls and Virgin Among the Living Dead, I really can't think of anything else to compare it too. It might not be Symptoms or Vampyres but its a fun film that I think Larraz fanatics should seek out.

Hans A. said...

I totally agree with you, Tom, and thank you again for another sensitive and thoughtful comment.

Tom Clark said...

A note about the VHS art you mentioned near the end of your piece... I'm willing to bet this is actually one Larraz film that quite a few folks have seen without actually knowing it was a Larraz film just by renting it back in the day solely because of that eye-catching cover art. Probably the same could be said of Edge of the Axe and Deadly Manor when it was released as Savage Lust.