A car pulls up at the beach at twilight and a man (Andrew Prine) gets out and opens the rear door, revealing the half-naked corpse of a young woman. He drags her out and across the sand, then into a shallow grave where he buries her: this was Miss January, part of a series of glamour model photographs in a men's magazine, one for every month of the year. Ever since he has clapped eyes on these pictures, the killer has been moved to "save" the models' souls which he does by slashing their throats, and now January is out of the way he progresses to Miss March (Jaime Lyn Bauer), who is a nurse. He starts with his nuisance telephone calls, and steps up his campaign of harassment...
The Centerfold Girls was a grindhouse item almost forgotten before a small renaissance decades after it was released thanks to the viewers who could not quite believe what they were watching, that a supposed sexploitation effort could go quite this bleak and unforgiving. Essentially a series of three stories linked by the murderer, it could have slotted into the horror anthology genre that had become popular in the nineteen-sixties and was beginning to wind down around the time this was put out. We were "treated" to the tales of three models, starting with Miss March whose real name is Jackie - the way her doomed life plays out is seemingly as one of the unluckiest women ever.
As a nurse, she is marked out as a compassionate character, but everyone she meets takes advantage of her, and as she is probably the nicest person in the movie it appears to be some kind of statement that she ends up so victimised. When she goes to a remote location for a job interview (more nursing) she is told the man who wanted to see her has pissed off for a couple of days, luckily she has a family holiday home nearby to rest in, but alas her generosity has seen her pick up a hitchhiker of sorts (Janet Wood), who is actually taking advantage of Jackie. Soon the girl's pot-smoking, disruptive friends have shown up and she cannot get rid of them; violence follows.
Not even violence featuring Prine's mannered, prissy killer, nope she is almost raped by one of the hippies, then when she flees the house for Aldo Ray's house, his wife attends to her then throws her out in a fit of jealousy, and Ray tries to rape her too. Then the serial murderer appears... You get the idea, it was as if the film wasn't about to let you have fun and thrills, this was supposed to be as depressing as possible, and not even the nudity (of which there was plenty) could brighten up the unremittingly awful depiction of mankind at its worst. If Prine's villain was the nadir of that, a moral hypocrite who believes his holier than thou stance allows him to behave as dreadfully as he pleased since he was justified in his own twisted mind as he was somehow better than those he attacked and threatened, then he had company there.
Next up was the tale of Miss May (Jennifer Ashley), who heads off on a photo shoot on an island for a Ten Little Indians copy as Prine follows and begins to off every one of the team who are more or less stranded with him as the boat that brought them there won't be back for a while. Even here there is sniping (manager Ray Danton is labelled a pimp) and bad tempers, and that's before the murders start. Third and final was Tiffany Bolling who is an air stewardess; although she's not exactly sympathetic either, we warm to her when she meets her own collection of nasty types, including two sailors who pick her up when her car gets a flat tyre, then proceed to rape her in a motel room after drugging her beer. Part of what made this an uneasy watch is that almost all the evildoers get away scot free, which made Bolling's showdown with Prine in a burned-out forest satisfying in a way yet didn't erase the utter worst of humanity we had witnessed. Compellingly joyless. Music by Mark Wolin.