An excellent slice of the sick, sick 70s. Similar to the Amicus films of the decade, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS provides a loose anthology. This time based around a series of murders connected to women who have posed topless for a soft-core nudie magazine.
|Andrew Pine plays the geeky - but deadly - killer in proto-slasher THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS
The recurring threat throughout the film, and what connects the three segments, is the bespectacled psycho with the straight razor, Clement Dunne (Andrew Prine), who works his way through the calendar starting with Miss January (who we see him bury on the beach under the opening credits in a scene which anticipates the later MANIAC (1980)).
In the first segment proper he stalks Miss March, Jackie (Jamie Lyn Bauer), who is a nurse by day. She heads to a summer camp for a job interview, only to find that the doctor has been called away. On route she picks up a seemingly friendly hitchhiker, Linda (Janet Wood), and invites her to come and stay at her aunt's house in a remote mountain location. In a double threat, not only has Dunne followed her but Linda is not the sweet young thing she professes to be - and her delinquent friends turn up and terrorise Jackie during a home invasion freak out. Will she escape from one only to run into the arms of the other?
The second story is the most slasherific of the three. Shirley, (Kitty Carl) is hired for a photo shoot with other nude models at a gothic mansion on a remote island. Cue much disrobing and pouting, not to mention bickering and liquor swigging. The island can only be reached by boat, but that doesn't stop Dunne from gate-crashing and killing the girls and the crew one-by-one with his cut throat razor.
|Never trust a hippy!
Lastly, Vera (Tiffany Bolling, who made another proto-slasher, WICKED, WICKED, the previous year) is an air stewardess who finds herself being pursued by Dunne during a stop off in Malibu. By this point the police link the murders, and when Dunne mistakenly kills her friend thinking it's her they warn Vera she is his next target. She skips town and heads upcoast, but once again Dunne tracks down his prey and terrorises the model. However, he pushes her to her limits and she eventually turns the tables on him.
THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS is a well made piece of hokum, but certainly doesn't skimp on the sleaze nor the cynicism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, for a film that centres around a topless magazine, most of the female cast expose their breasts at least once in the film. In fact, you'd be hard pushed to randomly pause it without a stray nipple popping out of the screen. Shot on 16mm it has a hazy dream like feel - or maybe that should be nightmarish feel.
By 1974, when the film was released, the Love and Peace generation of the 1960s was a distant memory. Misanthropy was order of the day. The scuzzy hippy delinquents in the first story call themselves 'the family' and the remote cabin they invade 'the ranch' - a clear nod to The Manson clan (whose notorious murders and sensational trial still reverberated across the West Coast at the time). The police in the film play little part and are mostly absent - and so are effectively useless. Even seemingly Good Samaritans turn out to be anything but. Aldo Ray (who turned up in slashers such as HAUNTS (1977), STRAIGHT JACKET (1982) and TERROR NIGHT (1987)) plays a motelowner who is hero one minute and would be rapist the next. His wife is no more charitable and blames one of the girls for all the ills that befall her; telling him to get the 'slut' out of their motel. This cynical world view is a running theme throughout the movie. In another segment, an initially chivalrous pair rescue one of the girls only to drug and rape her soon after. Circling all this is Dunne, who tells the girls he simply wants to help them - but his type of help comes in the shape of a puritanical blade. He provides a deadly full stop for the misery the hapless characters find themselves mired in. Like a spider, taking his time watching all the twitching flies in a web.
|Vera (Tiffany Bolling) has had enough and turns the tables on the psychopathic, puratanical killer in THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS
Thankfully, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS does not drown under the weight of meanness. Perhaps surprisingly, given the seeming message of the film, it is the models themselves that are the few genuinely good people and it is their niceness that bucks the misanthropy elsewhere. This counterbalance is no more evident than with Bolling's character, who simply wants to be left alone and is so resigned to being a target that she even more-or-less shrugs off being raped (only in the 1970s!). However, the moment she fights back is a real showstopper - especially because this fight to the death strikingly takes place in the skeletal remains of a forest after a real-life, devastating wildfire. Bolling (who, like most of the women in this, gets topless at least once) said in an interview that the primal scream she lets out was a reaction to her frustration at being trapped in what she saw as 'B movies' and she evidently hated appearing in this.
Yet, it is this turning of the tables, and her engaging performance, that brings to mind that of Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie in John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN four years later. Prine also gives a great performance as the omnipresent psycho; he essays an especially effective bogeyman, whose impassive - yet clearly ingrained - hatred and fervour is more Michael Myers than raving psycho of yore (he went straight from this to another villainous role, this time in TV's WONDER WOMAN). As previously mentioned, the middle segment will appeal most to slasher fans, but the whole movie has an irresistible proto-slasher vibe - that will be even more attractive to those who enjoy the grungier side of 70s exploitation. However, the film certainly isn't a gore fest, with most of the deaths obscured and illustrated with blood splatters.
Of course, mixing models and mayhem has been a cornerstone of horror, slasher and thriller cinema almost from the word go. Notable slasher - or thrillers with slasher elements - that did so include Britain's COVER GIRL KILLER (1959), Mario Bava's seminal giallo BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), THE PLAYBIRD MURDERS (1978), SHE'S DRESSED TO KILL (1979), CALENDAR GIRL MURDERS (1984), CLICK:THE CALENDAR GIRL KILLER (1990) and many more.
THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS was cast in September 1973, before shooting for 21 days in December of that year at West Coast locations on a budget of $181,000. It got released to US screens in the spring of 1974 and was especially popular on the drive-in circuit.
BODYCOUNT 9 female:7 / male:2
1) Female seen dead with slit throat
2) Female has throat cut with razor
3) Female has throat cut with razor
4) Male stabbed in stomach
5) Female found stabbed to death
6) Male has throat cut with razor
7) Female shot dead
8) Female has throat cut with razor
9) Female has throat cut with razor