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Saturday 31 October 2009

The Centerfold Girls (1974)

Director: John Peyser
Stars: Andrew Prine, Jaime Lyn Bauer, Jennifer Ashley and Tiffany Bolling
Here's an interesting little number, courtesy of the wonderful Midnite Movie Mamacita, though it's more interesting because of how it's set up than for anything else. It plays out almost like an exploitation anthology, as while each third of the film is part of a single coherent story, each is done in a completely different style. The first third is an exploitation flick, the second a slasher movie and the third a suspense film, with none of them sitting easily with each other. The only connections are the killer and the fact that everyone seems to be happy getting topless at every possible opportunity. Then again they are all playing centrefold girls, who had posed for the Bachelor magazine calendar, which is what has upset our serial killer no end.

He's Clement Dunne and he's played by Andrew Prine, a serious actor known for his work in many different genres, but who became a centrefold himself for Viva magazine around the time of this film, donating the money to Save the Children. How's that for advertising? He was 38 years old when he made this film but he doesn't look it, instead appearing to be the sort of actor who tends to get cast as a college student even though he's way too old to do it believably, then when it stretches credulity too much switch to roles as CIA agents, a little sleazy and somewhat detached from the world, but nonetheless capable. Here, with his black suit and tie, white shirt and white shoes, he could be a Mormon missionary come straight from bowling, one with a Peter Fonda thing going.

We begin the film with him dumping Miss January, who's already bloody and dead, and of course mostly naked so that when he opens his car door she slumps out to show us her impressive breasts. This was 1974 by the way, so these are real breasts, not a single implant in sight, and they belong to people who were obviously hired because of them and not for much else, certainly not for acting talent. They're here because they're willing to get out of bed and immediately stretch to emphasise those breasts to the camera. That's what upsets Dunne, who rings them up at work to point out that they're sinful and shameful. 'You dirty the minds of others,' he tells them, but, 'I want to help you.' Yes, you can imagine what form that help comes in, except he takes their shoes too.

Miss March is a nurse called Jackie who we watch having one of the worst days I've ever seen anyone have. On her way up to the mountains where she's looking for a job at Camp Wanachee which is only a mile from her aunt's place, she picks up a girl called Linda Williams at a gas station. She seems really nice and she's apparently stuck waiting for her boyfriend who's three hours late already, but it's all just a front. After Jackie goes to bed, Linda lets in her boyfriend and a couple of freaky chicks, who were hiding back at the gas station and hoping that friendly looking Linda would find them some place to invade. Yes, this is where Jackie gets taken over by the Manson Family, especially as the sole guy has a beard and a robe that he apparently wears nothing under. Initially they're just noisy but that's just an excuse for her to keep stripping off to get back in bed and then get back up again.

The real fun starts when she wakes up to one of the girls tweaking her nipples. This bunch of hoodlums get her drunk, paint her face and try to rape her and they didn't even know she's a centrefold. Apparently such things just happen to such people. She still has some wits about her though so she manages to escape and make it to the camp, where the owners call the cops and put her up for the night in the cabin right next to our centrefold murderer. Even the camp owner wants in on the action, taking her back to her trashed place and attempting to rape her too, but he gives up because she has no fight left in her and if it's that easy it's not worth it. Finally as she's lying there on the floor utterly spent, in comes the killer with his protestations that he just wants to help her. By the time Dunne slits her throat that may be just what he does, giving her what must have seemed like a blessed release, providing a slightly dubious moral tone to the film.

And so to Miss May, who takes a whole five seconds before getting topless. If you've noticed the gaps, by the way, I should explain that Dunne skips a month each time because after a successful kill he cuts the face of the victim out of his calendar. Because the pictures are back to back he effectively takes out the even months automatically, so if you're planning on posing nude for some magazine pick February to festoon. Charly is Miss May so she's doomed, even before she heads off to an quiet and secluded island for a photoshoot.

We get a little character development here, like Perry who has no reason to be there except he's the one who makes things happen so naturally gets lots of action, and Melissa who is running the shoot and won't interrupt it even when Sandi falls off the cliff to her death. Really though it's about the murders, but they get overshadowed by the hysterics. These girls may not know how to act, but they're great at screaming and sheer hysterical behaviour. They're some of the best victims I've seen on film, and of course we get to see plenty of them, this being a sexy photoshoot after all. It makes me wonder about Dunne too. He apparently hates the fact that these women keep showing their bodies, but he doesn't exactly cover them up when he kills them. These corpses tend to be left in very exposed conditions.

The only actress I've heard of plays Miss July, who's a stewardess called Vera Porter. Charly was Jennifer Ashley, who made a few movies, and Jackie was Jaime Lyn Bauer, who worked mostly on TV, ending up in Days of Our Lives. Miss January was Charlie, the single name denoting not that she's a classic French actress but that this was the only thing she ever did on film. Miss July, however, is Tiffany Bolling, certainly the most talented of the bunch, who I last saw in Wicked, Wicked and who I'll see again shortly in Kingdom of the Spiders. She's also the first girl who might just have a chance at outwitting our killer, not least by bringing in the cops though they bizarrely do precisely nothing. No phone taps, no stakeouts, no anything really. And while they're not doing anything, Vera doesn't just have to deal with our serial killer but a couple of sailors willing to feed her date rape drugs so they can get it on.

There's much that's strange here beyond cops who don't bother. On the good side there's quite a bit of early social engineering, which is how Dunne discovers that Vera has gone to the Surfer Inn in Naples, for instance. It's these examples of stupidity that ring truest to us because so many of us would have done the same thing in the same circumstances, as stupid as it may be. There's the fact that some of the girls look great in clothes but not as great without them, even though they were hired for their willingness to show their breasts. Charly is one, Jaime Lyn Bauer looking awesome in her Spanish getup and her huge floppy hat, but not so much when she strips off. Vera's the exception here again, as initially she looks better the more she takes off, though much of this is because she started out with some stunningly bad outfits.

Most strange of all, and this goes beyond strange to truly stunning, is that none of these women seem capable of learning. They're depicted as decent everyday women, even though they choose to pose for a topless calendar, and they have their trust betrayed in the worst possible ways: rape, attempted rape, sexual and physical abuse, home invasion, forced ingestion of alcohol and date rape drugs, you name it. Yet they all immediately trust the next guy that comes along implicitly. These women don't need to be taken to task for being centrefolds, they need to be taken to task for being trusting to the point of insanity. Somehow this comes across as being the point of the film. I wonder if it was really intended to be.

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