Veteran actor Andrew Prine had appeared in numerous films and television series by the early 1970s, but it took 1971’s SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES to finally give him a much-deserved starring role. Soon Prine found himself in a phase of his career where he was headlining drive-in/exploitation films such as NIGHTMARE CIRCUS (aka BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD) and HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (aka CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD). The sleaziest film he did during this period was no doubt THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, and despite a title that would lead you to believe it was a cheery T&A comedy, it’s actually about a weirdo serial killer with Prine in the starring role, and it was helmed by John Peyser, an old-time director who harkens back to television’s golden age, but did have a few western features under his belt.
As THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS opens up, we are introduced to Clement Dunne (Andrew Prine) a tall man in black rimmed glasses, black suit, white socks and very ugly shoes. He’s seen burying a half-naked dead woman on the beach, and we soon learn he has a beef with young pretty women who expose themselves in a men’s magazine. Calling these nude pinup girls and tormenting them over the phone, he removes their heads within the pages of the magazine with a razor blade, an indication that he intends on stalking and killing them for their so-called sins.
The first model persuaded by Clement is Jackie (Jaime Lyn Bauer), who is staying at the home of a relative while waiting for a nursing job interview. Not only is Jackie being tracked by the murderous Clement, but she has to contend with a group of wild, obnoxious hippies who make their entrance as unwanted houseguests. They make lots of noise, paint her face, and both a female and male attempt to rape her. A hasty escape brings her to the motel run by the dubious Ed Walker (none other than Aldo Ray) and his wife (Paula Shaw), but Clement is also staying there so her troubles are far from over. His next target is Charly (Jennifer Ashley, INSEMINOID), who is staying at a roomy seaside abode for a photo shoot with a bickering crew (including Ray Danton and Francine York) and several other sexy nude models. Clement effortlessly traces Charly there, but with a houseful of grating guests, they all become potential fodder for his straight razor.
Lastly, model Vera (Tiffany Bolling, THE CANDY SNATCHERS) is an airline hostess staying at a swinging poolside apartment complex. She gets a surprise delivery of yellow roses, but the follow-up phone call is from the threatening, psychotic Clement, who later kills her blonde friend in a case of mistaken identity. Knowing that she’s being targeted for murder, she jumps in her car and takes off, but the devious Clement figures out her whereabouts and trails her. When Vera’s car breaks down, she makes the foolish mistake of trusting a pair of obnoxious sailors who give her a lift but end up drugging her and taking advantage of her in a cheap hotel room. This leads to an encounter with Clement, and she has no idea he's the dodgy stalker she’s been running from.
Very cheap looking, even at times resembling a "Me" decade porno, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS is essential 1970s Californian exploitation which is anything put predictable and features a dream grindhouse cast. Essentially, it is structured like an anthology with three separate stories, the link being Clement and in a lesser capacity, an ineffective policeman played by another drive-in film favorite, Jeremy Slate (HELL’S ANGELS ’69, HELL’S BELLES). This story-telling technique works in the film’s favor, allowing a number of unsavory characters to enter the picture and a number of twists to spin to keep things lively. It’s almost as if the film creates this gloomy universe where no one can be trusted and anyone’s life could be in risk, especially if they are gullible, as it jumps from one sordid scenario to the next. Andrew Prine is quite fascinating as Clement Dunne, playing him as a nerdy oddball, but expertly portraying a dangerous character with deranged and fanatical sensibilities. To add to his demented personality, Clement is seen living in an nondescript white room, listening to old 78 records and amassing the footwear of his victims as cherished mementos. If anyone has ever doubted that Prine wasn’t an asset to 1970s exploitation films needs to check this one out pronto.
THE CENTERFOLD GIRL also contains oodles of bare breasts, with so many of the film’s featured actresses seen in various states of undress, and it’s this kind of welcomed gratuity that further enhances its raunchy watchability. Along with the aforementioned thesps, the film also includes appearances by Dennis Olivieri (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE), Teda Bracci (THE BIG BIRD CAGE), Tallie Cochrane (I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE), John Hart (BLACKENSTEIN), Janet Wood (ANGELS AS HARD AS THEY COME), Janus Blythe (THE HILLS HAVE EYES), Connie Strickland (BUMMER) and Hollywood tough guy Mike Mazurki as a cantankerous boatman.
Dark Sky Films has transferred THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS from the “original 16mm camera negatives”, which means the film was shot on 16mm to save on costs, and later blown up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition. Although the film still benefits from its low rent exterior, it holds up well in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a few blemishes and grain which seem to be inherent of the source material. Colors look bright and detail is also satisfactory, and I can’t imagine the film looking any better than it does here. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English track has some surface noise (again, inherent of the original source), but is overall more than acceptable. Optional English subtitles are included.
Extras include a cool new 15-minute featurette entitled “Making the Cut: A Look Back at the Centerfold Girls.” It includes interviews with Andrew Prine, Francine York, Jennifer Ashley and (very briefly) Arthur Marks, who co-wrote the film and was executive producer. Prine talks about the attributes he gave the character and how fun it was to make the film, York tells anecdotes about her bloody shower scene and Ray Danton hitting on her, and Ashley seemed reluctant to do the nudity at the time and she mentions how she gets a lot of fan mail from prison inmates. Other extras include red band and green band theatrical trailers, two TV spots, a radio spot and an assortment of select music cues, which is great because the retro score is an energetic cross between early porn and a vintage Aaron Spelling TV action show. (George R. Reis)
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