The Centeerfold Girls is a seedy 1974 slasher/ sexploitation flick that after viewing you may feel the need to wash. It’s one of many mean spirited grindhouse films from this era, where a nasty kind of brutality prevailed, and filmmakers seemed to be attempting to push the boundaries of good taste in an attempt to be heard above the pack – all of whom were using similar techniques.
A sadistic killer is stalking and taunting nude models from a mens magazine, methodically working through each month with his straight edged razor. In some sense it’s high concept exploitation, you get the nudity thanks to the model angle and the bloodletting thanks to the crazed sex killer angle. Boobs and blood: that’s why people go to the drive- in right?
Of course there’s the typical exploitation madness, such as lines like, “now he’s killed four girls, lets hope you don’t make the mistake of letting yourself be victim number five,” which comes from the detective investigating the murders, apparently in an attempt to reassure a potential victim, whilst also making it clear that it would be her fault if she was slaughtered by the crazed psycho – after all she is beautiful and posed in a nudie magazine.
You also know you’re watching classy fare when you hear hyper hysterical lines like “you’ll never work in this business again, you’re through, finished!” Perhaps there’s an added note of poignancy as you’d imagine the filmmakers had those exact words directed at them earlier in their career.
What’s fascinating about The Centerfold Girls is that despite its elements of poorly written contrived cheese, it does things it doesn’t need to, such as one of our Centrefolds waking up by having her nipple squeezed by an aggressive hippy lesbian. There is no reason for this, it doesn’t further the plot at all, its there purely for gratuitous purposes – and it demonstrates our filmmakers desire to be the cream at the top of the bottom of the barrel. Then our misogynist sex killer collects shoes from his victims, and lives in a solely white apartment – contrasting with his black wardrobe. Some of these elements are baffling, others actually do what the filmmakers intend, and elevate Centerfold Killers above the pack of distasteful cut price slasher flicks.
Structurally it’s actually three short films in one, with our killer the only consistent presence throughout. It’s shot quite well with imaginative locations and some genuine moments of suspense. It’s written by Arthur Marks, who would go on to direct a bunch of blacksploitation films like Detroit 9000 and produce the Perry Mason TV series, and directed by John Peyser who would subsequently return to television, directing episodes of Charlie’s Angels, The Untouchables, and Chips. Andrew Prine’s (Amityville II: The Possession) creepy performance as the psycho slasher is quite remarkable – particularly for exploitation films, his character feels particularly fleshed out, and Tiffany Bolling (Bonnie’s Kids), as the Centrefold who strikes back is also memorable.
Perhaps the most disturbing element of the film is the way it paints men. Even after Miss January has been saved from a gang of deranged hippies, her saviour, a motel owner tries to rape her, then when she finally submits exhausted and distraught, he stops and spits “when it comes that easy baby its not worth it.” Seriously? This is possibly the most distasteful scene from a film where rape or exploitation from a man is only just around the corner. Every man in this film has only one thing on his mind, whether she wants it or not. Except our killer, who wants to ‘save’ the Centrefolds with his knife. See how confused this film is?
In its own way it seems to be trying to say something about gender and men’s expectations of beauty, or man’s concept of the purpose of the female gender in general, yet any messages become garbled and nonsensical thanks to the film’s clear delight in committing and exploiting those very same atrocities.
It’s not too often you find grindhouse fare on blu ray, and there’s a lot of care taken here, with a beautiful transfer from the original 16mm, and packed with extra features, including a feature commentary and more interestingly current day interviews, where the actors make it clear that at the time they were all killing each other, being brutal and sadistic, in various similar exploitation films, when the scenes ended they’d have a laugh and all go to lunch with each other. Talking about The Centerfold Girls now there’s a certain nostalgia, contrary to the subject manner, it was all just good fun.