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December 8, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #101 - The Centerfold Girls

I'm pretty sure I didn't get enough of Tiffany Bolling last week.  So, consider this a case of her being "held over" in the MMOTW spotlight for a second week.  I can't promise there won't be a third...
Unlike last week's Bolling feature - Bonnie's Kids - which borrowed heavily from pulp novels and film noir, The Centerfold Girls (obviously) borrows inspiration from the pages of "gentleman's" magazines.  It's a segmented film - I'm not ready to call it an anthology, but it's pretty clearly divided into three unique tales - that is tied together by one cold and calculated killer, a seemingly proper gentleman in a suit and sneakers named Clement Dunne, played by veteran character actor Andrew Prine.
Clement seems to be a man of strong moral fiber, if you think wanting to systematically kill off young women who pose as nude centerfolds represents "strong moral fiber".  His quest places the film in the vicinity of the blooming slasher genre of film, but the 1974 production has more in common with exploitation fare of the early '70s like The Last House on the Left - and probably a bit in common with the pornography of the era too.
The film's first segment sets the tone for us all, with the kind of sleaze you'd expect from the decade's top sexploitation titles and brutality on par with the controversial Wes Craven film listed above.  After the film introduces Clement - while he dumps a naked model's body on a beach - we follow him as he tracks a model-turned-nurse named Jackie (played by Jamie Lyn Bauer, a former swimsuit pageant winner), who has about the worst luck I've ever seen on film. 
 After breaking down due to harassing phone calls from Clement, Jackie picks up a seemingly innocent hitchhiker and heads away to a secluded cabin for the weekend.  Trouble follows her there, but it's not Clement she has to worry about - yet.  Jackie's story takes some wacky turns - most notably the one involving her helpful neighbors, a husband and wife played by veteran character actor Aldo Ray and Paula Shaw (who would go on to play Pamela Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason) - and by the time Clement gets to it's almost a relief to the viewer.  Jackie certainly gets abused worse than anyone else in the film, and she's a contender on the all-time abuse list too.
Clement's second pursuit is the least interesting segment of the film, but does provide some intrigue by putting his victim - this time it's a pin-up played by Jennifer Ashley who happens to be away on a shoot with more potential victims/models - on an island setting with the kind of old home we'd expect to see in a Mario Bava film. This story has some great visuals, but the characters don't have much to offer us - aside from their exposed breasts.  (Just so we're clear, I'm relatively sure at least a dozen different girls show off their "talents" in the film. The title isn't just a metaphor.)
The final sequence brings Clement face to face with Ms. Bolling, who plays a centerfold turned stewardess (it was the '70s, I don't have to say flight attendant!) that is tracked across the coastline by our determined killer.  She spends the most time with Clement of the multiple centerfolds, and her interactions with him pick the film back up after the brief lull in the middle sequence.  It's not a strong role like she was given in Bonnie's Kids (whose writer/director Arthur Marks also produced and help write this film) for most of her time on screen, but the final conflict between her and Clement is an exciting conclusion to the film.
Despite how much I enjoy Ms. Bolling's charms and the several interesting side characters who are spread throughout the film, make no mistake about the fact that Andrew Prine's performance as Clement is the reason to see The Centerfold Girls.  With the voice of a TV host from the 1950s and his bible salesman appearance, Prine creates one of the most unique killers in the annals of exploitation cinema.  We know he's the killer from frame one, but every time we see him step into a phone booth, dial up one of the girls, and tell them that he's "only trying to help them" it adds a bit more intrigue to the film.  Prine has stated that he wanted to make his character a man who only sees things in black-and-white, and the performance that he gives clearly meets that goal.
Random horror connection - Yes, that is a copy of The Exorcist on Tiffany Bolling's bedside table.  Rowr.
Like other great killers in cinema, Clement Dunne represents a force of nature.  His actions are based on beliefs instead of emotions, and he moves through the film with a confidence that never wavers. The film plays his unwavering confidence against the victims' own problems perfectly - is it a coincidence that the two sequences that really work feature a former beauty queen and a former Playboy playmate? I think not. - and creates discomfort that would make any exploitation filmmaker proud along the way.
The Centerfold Girls is certainly not a fun movie and I'm not even sure it's a good movie - the lull in the middle is really kind of sad - but it's got some really fantastic moments.  There are moments of incredible unease and a performance by Prine that lifts his killer above the material.  It sounds like a sensationalized film that wants to capitalize on the male love of naked bodies - and it is to an extent - but The Centerfold Girls has a pretty shrewd dose of exploitation psychology in store for a viewer, and it's that edge to the film that has me heartily recommending it to any fan of bloody '70s sleaze.
Best killer shoes ever? Maybe.

4 comments:

Marvin the Macabre said...

Something about 70s exploitation movies makes me feel all icky inside. Your write-up does kind of make me want to see it though.

Chuck said...

I own a slick pair of wingtips, similar to those from the film. Rock! (I love 70s exploitation flicks)

Hollywood Movies Collections said...

This was a great horror movies collection... i love horror movies. Thanks for the recommendtaion.

generic viagra news said...

A true master piece! this movie make me laugh till die!