Home Video Hovel: The Centerfold Girls, by Craig Schroeder
I’m as big a fan of sleazy exploitation films as the next fellow. But in 2015, I think it’s time for us to become more discerning as to which “so bad it’s good” exploitation films we choose to champion or advocate for. Though most are viewed through an ironic lens, there’s many an exploitation film—blaxploitation, giallo, and slasher films, to name a few—that advance the cinematic dialogue and continue to shape the larger film landscape. And then there are those exploitation films that just need to stay dead. The Centerfold Girls is one of those films. Made in 1974, it’s an ugly, mean film that needs not be revisited and certainly doesn’t merit its recent blu-ray release.
The Centerfold Girls, directed by John Peyser mostly exists as an excuse to get as many topless women as possible in one film, a product of the time and the genre to be sure. But the film’s plot is so tone-deaf, upsetting and hateful that it makes what could be an ironic enjoyment of cheesy genre tropes really difficult to watch. A lunatic named Clement Dunne (played by Andrew Pine, who looks and dresses like a bespectacled Mick Jagger on the Stones’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan) decides that the women who have posed topless in a pretty tame gentleman’s publication (which he obviously subscribes to, so there’s that) are slutty strumpets and deserve to have their throats slit at his hands.
The whole thing is a sordid affair that would make any discerning viewer feel gross and unwitting participants in the film’s perverted sense of moral absolutism. It’s also incredibly misogynistic, and not in the way where every film from this era and genre is misogynistic. The women in this movie are given absolutely zero sexual agency. Women are killed for being “slutty,” they’re chastised for not being slutty enough; women’s careers and livelihood are dependent on their submissiveness. One character is drugged and gang-raped, when she wakes the next morning the film adopts a playful tone that suggests “that sure was one crazy night.” It’s all quite gross.
Just on a storytelling level, this thing is a swing and a miss. With possibly the simplest of exploitation premises—psycho chases ladies—The Centerfold Girls can’t figure it out. Less one cohesive story, the film is comprised of several vignettes, all with the same beginning, middle and end. In the first, Clement Dunne stalks one of his victims for thirty minutes and kills her. Rather than build off of anything preceding it, at thirty-four minutes in, the film hits reset and Dunne begins stalking another victim, with similar results. When that’s one’s done, here comes number three, another total reset that has little to do with anything that’s come before it. The result is a film that seems more like an especially avant garde Kids in the Hall sketch than it does an actual movie.
I worry this review has painted me as a prude. And maybe I am. But my (actual or perceived) prudishness isn’t influencing my opinion on this truly abysmal film. After all, the box art boasts that The Centerfold Girls is “one of the best sleaze pictures of the 1970s”; I knew what I was getting myself into. Some sleazy films from the era can be fun (see my review of the giallo film Slaughter Hotel). But this is a bad sleaze film that, with this blu-ray re-release, seeks to take advantage of an audiences ironic fondness towards more fun and interesting trashy exploits. There’s nothing fun about The Centerfold Girls. It’s poorly made. It’s hateful. And ultimately it just made me feel bad about myself and my home planet.