More exploitation flick than slasher and too overt to be approaching giallo territory, John Peyser’s The Centerfold Girls grabs the viewer’s attention from the opening sequence and holds it for the duration. Right off the bat the audience is treated to a pretty blonde with a slashed throat getting dragged out of the back of a car to a shallow grave by a straight-laced, innocuous assailant; his calm demeanor belying his obviously twisted mindset as he dutifully covers the corpse with wet sand. This could very well be one of the most satisfying and intriguing film openings this side of New York Ripper. It’s regrettable that Peyser never continued delving into this type of subject matter, having spent most of his career directing television episodes, as this is some pretty nasty (read: good) stuff.
The killer Clement Dunne is played expertly by the often quirky Andrew Prine (The Barn of the Naked Dead, Grizzly) whose undemonstrative eradication of the women in question proves that there couldn’t have been a more apt choice for the role. As one would expect, The Centerfold Girls is also packed to the gills with naked cheesecake including Jaime Lyn Bauer (TV’s The Young and the Restless), Janet Wood (Up!, House of the Living Dead), Francine York (The Doll Squad, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars) and Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers, Kingdom of the Spiders) to name a few.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Centerfold Girls is its terribly misanthropic perspective – especially toward the male of the species that often borders on misandry. Almost every character in this film is either a letch or a psychopath – or both. Virtually every person the victims encounter is looking to exploit or harm them, from a group of filthy hippies to the helpful old guy next door; to live in their world is to live in a constant state of fear and paranoia. In that respect one can’t help but admire the film for its stark honesty about humankind. Indeed, by the time these poor girls are getting carved up by Dunne they’ve been through so much torment that it’s hard not to view it as a welcome reprieve from their miserable existence.
The only stumbling block is the film’s lack of exploration into the killer’s motives. Despite the assumption that the guy’s some kind of religious nut based on his demeanor and the fact that he keeps decrying the victims’ proclivity for exposing themselves in filthy magazines, it’s never really touched on at all. This leaves the story feeling a bit flimsy in parts, especially when Dunne is displaying signs of ritualistic behavior – taking the right shoe of his victims as a bizarre keepsake, for example. Dunne’s character is compelling enough to have left me wanting to know more about his motivations. What drove him to select the victims he did? What trauma befell him in life that created such a need to cleanse the earth of those individuals he felt were immoral or dirty? Keeping details light or ambiguous in this type of film is often a good thing, but in this case it feels like there could have been so much more to offer.
The murders in The Centerfold Girls aren’t overtly grisly, but they remain unsettling regardless, based on the subject matter and the whole creepy stalker aspect of Dunne’s MO. One can’t help but grin from ear to ear as Dunne makes anonymous phone calls to his victims prior to hacking them open with his straight razor. These lend an intrinsic nastiness to the events as well as giving us a tiny glimpse at the unabashed abhorrence he holds for these women. “[the roses are] beautiful, aren’t they? Yellow. I hope they bury you in yellow…”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The Centerfold Girls is likely to appeal to fans of both exploitation as well as slasher purists, and the two genres complement each other nicely here. Prine’s performance is exemplary, and there’s no dearth of naked women or delicious murder. Essential viewing.
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