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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Centerfold Girls (1974) review


Andrew Prine (Clement Dunne), Jaime Lyn Bauer (Jackie), Aldo Ray (Ed Walker), Jennifer Ashley (Charly), Tiffany Bolling (Vera), Janet Wood (Linda), Teda Bracci (Rita), Talie Cochrane (Donna), Paula Shaw (Mrs. Walker), Francine York (Melissa), Ray Danton (Perry), Janis Lynn (Room mate), Mike Mazurki (The Caretaker), Charlie (Miss January)

Directed by John Peyser

***WARNING! This review contains numerous images of nudity***

The Short Version: Superior sleaze spectacular from the savage 70's, the decade of primo exploitation excellence. Despite its low budget, the filmmakers deliver a grand and grim good time for lovers of screen sadism. Andrew Prine is one scary bastard stalking and slashing a bevy of beautiful women in an almost constant state of undress.

A demented psychopath stalks and ultimately carves up beautiful young women who have posed nude in a popular men's magazine.

With such a basic and simple plot, you'd expect this movie to be like any other run of the mill pseudo stalk and slash picture. But there's a lot more to this movie aesthetically than what is found in typical sleaze pictures. While this movie has enough grim and nasty attributes for several other movies combined, Peyser directs this film in a unique style. Framed in a similar fashion as the anthologies of Amicus, the three separate vignettes are connected by Andrew Prine's stalking serial killer, Clement Dunne.

There are no titles to these tales, the end credits list them as 'The First Story', 'Second Story', 'Third Story'. The three story arc is an ingenious way of telling this cinematic tale and allows for a large number of disingenuous and unbelievably repulsive characters to enter and exit the picture with regularity. Nearly everyone in the cast plays an individual whose either a sadist, or lacking in social skills, or bereft of any fragment of decency. One thing I did notice is that it seems Tarantino may have been highly influenced by this movie for his boring as all hell second half of that awful stinker, GRINDHOUSE (2007).

Clement delights himself in choosing his next victim by first circling their faces with a red marker, then cutting their heads off in their nudie magazine spread once he's done them in. Stalking his prey first by taunting them with harassing phone calls, when he finally gets his hands on them, he states he doesn't want to hurt them, he only wants to "help" them. This leads to an unpleasant death by straight razor. However, during the last segment, Clement meets his match with the fiesty Vera played by exploitation favorite, Tiffany Bolling.

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS is quite simply one of the best sleaze pictures of the 1970's. It has an incredible amount of nudity on display. There are naked women everywhere. The camera follows them from the shower, to the bedroom, to changing clothes and also their photo shoots in the men's magazine that so interests the mad murderer in the film. The fact that so many of the "normal" people spread throughout the movie are cruel, lascivious, guileful, or plain out arrogant lends this production an all encompassing mean spiritedness lacking in other movies of this type.

The first segment, arguably the best, is the most tragic. Jackie is a model hoping to land herself a nursing job. While staying at a relatives home in the country, she meets a seemingly naive young girl and takes her back home with her. Only a short time later does Jackie realize this purportedly innocent young lady keeps company with a group of loud and vicious hippies (One of whom is Teda Bracci of BIG BIRD CAGE fame). This group (a possible nod to Krug and Company from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) proceed to brutalize, humiliate and rape Jackie. She manages to escape and is saved by Ed (sleaze veteran, Aldo Ray) and his wife, who run Camp Wanachee and its neighboring motel. Well Ed turns out to be a sleazy bastard, himself. Then Clement (who has been stalking Jackie the whole time), also staying at the seedy motel, shows up to "help" the mortified nurse-to-be with his straight razor.

Regardless of what viewers think of Craven's sadistic trash classic, it was inarguably an influential and essential piece of filth filmmaking. It's resonance can be felt in numerous other movies such as THE CANDY SNATCHERS (1973;particularly it's poster), another prime piece of putrescent pie. The use of the unwanted house guests as violence prone interlopers makes the character of Jackie all the more tragic. Virtually everyone she comes into contact with is either a liar, lecher, or murderer. This opening 33 minute portion of the film is suitably downbeat and easily the best of the three. That's not saying the others don't have there own qualities, just this opener is the most cruel.

The second segment deals with another model named Charley who has found herself staying at a somewhat lavish home overlooking the ocean, having been hired by two sordid smut producers. There are other models staying at the big house and Clement is nearby carefully watching and stalking his prey before selecting those he wishes to "help" first. This story has more than its fair share of shallow, callous individuals. Francine York plays the bitch of the bunch, the producer of the show and actor, director, Ray Danton (DEATHMASTER, PSYCHIC KILLER) is her seedy partner in crime.

The last segment is the one that stars Tiffany Bolling of BONNIE'S KIDS (1973), WICKED, WICKED (1973), THE CANDY SNATCHERS (1973) and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977). She plays Vera, an airline stewardess who lives in a posh apartment building. She's a bit more resourceful than what Clement is used to and proves to be more of a challenge for our serial stalker slasher. When Clement kills a blonde woman believing it to be Vera, the intended target takes off for a small town outside Santa Barbara. Clement traces her there and the hunt is on. Again the director shows us that in this sordid cinematic world, virtually everyone are wretched and immoral. Clement uses this to his advantage to get close to Vera in one of the best sequences in the entire movie.

Andrew Prine is calculatingly evil as Clement Dunne, the repulsive killer who enjoys not only carving up pretty women, but collecting a single shoe from his victims. He lives in a psychologically stimulative world of black and white surrounded by the moralistic and metaphoric ramifications that are associated with his choice of color adorning his dress and even his living quarters. While Clement is clearly a maniac, he firmly believes what he is doing is virtuous by cleansing the dirt from the world, hence his affirmation of "helping" these women.

Prine was one of the most recognizable faces in exploitation movies during the 1970's and 1980's. He had been in numerous westerns and TV programs prior to, and during his terror tenure. He had a supporting role in the John Wayne flick, CHISUM (1970) which featured not only Forrest Tucker (THE CRAWLING EYE), but also a villainous Christopher George and Richard Jaekal, who reunited with Prine in William Girdler's GRIZZLY in 1976. Prine was the lead in SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES (1971) and also the demented ringleader in TERROR CIRCUS (1974;aka BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD). He was one of the doomed captives of the Devil in THE EVIL (1978) and also one of the carnivorous visitors in the original V series.

The films writer and production overseer, Arthur Marks, will be of interest to exploitation fans having directed some of the finest drive in fare ever made. The Tiffany Bolling action classic, BONNIE'S KIDS (1973) and a slew of blaxploitation fare including BUCKTOWN, FRIDAY FOSTER (both 1975), the blax horror fave, J.D.'s REVENGE and the star studded MONKEY HUSTLE (both 1976). Marks also helmed the racially charged cult favorite, DETROIT 9000 (1973).

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974) is a highly recommended venture for those who love nasty exploitation features with that 70's vibe and style that was a signature of the decade. Despite the rampant nudity and sordid atmosphere, the way the film is shot and directed adds an undeniable air of professionalism to the whole enterprise. If the film were a "dirty" magazine, it's one well worth checking out for the articles and the bevy of beauties on display.

This review is representative of the Dark Sky DVD



Fazeo said...

Fantastic film! Not only is it sleazy but it really conveys a sense of doom quite well. I like how every male character in the film is basically a scumbag, it really helps give the film its nightmarish quality.

Also what a climax, what a cool idea for a film location.

venoms5 said...

Yes, I agree, Fazeo. This is an incredibly sleazy movie. Very well made and quite nasty in places even without getting too gory.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I only know this film by the title, but it is all sorts of added on to my Amazon wishlist now!

venoms5 said...

This is a really good movie, Carl. One of the best of its kind from the 70's I'd say.

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