Directors: Arthur Marks, John Peyser
MPI/Gorgon Video

MPI revisits two favorites from Arthur Marks’ General Film Corporation, both starring drive-in movie queen Tiffany Bolling, for a grindhouse Blu-ray double feature under its long-standing “Gorgon Video” banner.

Written and directed by exploitation cinema maverick Arthur Marks (DETROIT 9000, BUCKTOWN), 1973’s BONNIE’S KIDS was a perfect vehicle for actress/singer Tiffany Bolling, who shortly before the film’s release, graced the pages of Playboy and was quickly on her way to becoming one of the premiere exploitation cinema bombshells. With an unforgettable tagline (“Thank God She Only Had Two"), a talented assortment of character actors and an unpredictable, satisfyingly concocted script by Marks, BONNIE’S KIDS is quintessential 1970s cinema.

With their mother passed away for several years now, 24-year-old Ellie (Tiffany Bolling, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS), a coffee shop waitress, and 15-year-old sis Myra (Robin Mattson, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) live with their hard-drinking, abusive stepdaddy Charley (Leo Gordon, THE HAUNTED PALACE). One night after losing out to his card-playing drinking buddies, Charley catches Myra talking provocatively on the phone to a boyfriend, causing him to slap her around, attempting to force his sexual advances on her. Ellie returns home from a hard day’s work to catch this vile display, but instead of accepting Charley’s invitation to join in on the action, she blows him away with a shotgun. The two sisters hide the corpse and take off to the big city (San Jose).

With nowhere else to go, Ellie and Myra show up at the lavish office of Ben Eastman (Scott Brady, SATAN’S SADISTS), their uncle and only living relative, who happens to be the publisher of a magazine that specializes in girlie photos. Ben takes them in, giving Ellie the opportunity to model (topless) and putting Myra in the care of his much younger estranged wife, Diana (Lenore Stevens, BEYOND ATLANTIS) who develops a fascination with the angst teen (aka lesbianism). Ellie is asked to drive out to a desert hotel to accept an anonymous package that is to be given to her by Larry (Steve Sandor, THE NO MERCY MAN), a hunky womanizing private detective hired as an oblivious patsy by two of Ben’s cronies, Eddy (Alex Rocco, BLOOD MANIA) and Digger (Timothy Brown, SWEET SUGAR). When Larry and Ellie hook up, the attraction is heated, and when they land that it’s nearly half a million dollars they’re transporting, they contemplate running off with the life-changing loot. With two cold-blooded hitmen hot on their tails, their misadventures turn out to be much more than what they bargained for.

With a super but rather long pre-credit sequence which features the underaged Mattson bearing her breasts (this was the 1970s folks) as a couple of inebriated middle-aged perverts ogle her outside the window, followed by the sisters’ execution of their unethical stepfather, BONNIE’S KIDS is set up nicely, but could have proceeded in a number of directions. With a title that’s rather futile (Bonnie is a deceased afterthought) description-wise, and the way the film opens up, you might think it would turn into a routine story where the two sisters hold-up a few filling stations, find boyfriends and encounter further predictability. But BONNIE’S KIDS turns out to be cleverly implemented, showing that Marks had respect for his audience while knowing how to fill out a proper exploitation film scorecard, and the outcome is a noir-like crime thriller with that beloved early 1970s West Coast ambiance. There’s just the right amount of sleaze, slaughter and sexy, and more than a fair share of unscrupulous characters (practically everyone).

Bolling and Mattson are perfectly cast as the siblings propelled into a world of greed, crime and callous individuals, and they naturally have the sex appeal (something the two characters practice often to get what they need and want) and talent to pull it off. Here, Mattson is sort of similar to the Linsday Lohan of just a few years ago, and would appear in a few more drive-in flicks (New World’s THE CANDY STRIPE NURSES and AIP’s RETURN TO MACON COUNTY) before her fame as a familiar daytime Soap bad girl. Anyone who views BONNIE’S KIDS can’t help but notice how much the “salt and pepper” hitman team of Alex Rocco and Timothy Brown (a former pro-footballer who also acted for Al Adamson) resemble John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in PULP FICTION, as the duo (and the film as a whole) was an obvious influence on Quentin Tarantino and his brand of retro cinema. Any seasoned B movie watcher who sees veteran heavies like Leo Gordon and Scott Brady in this would bet that they’re up to no good (and they’d be right), and you also have recognizable TV actor Max Showalter as a traveling businessman looking for a good time, FROGS star Nicholas Cortland as a horny stable boy and a pre-“Cagney and Lacey” Sharon Gless (in her first film) as a pretty coffee shop waitress who gets stiffed by Rocco and Brown.

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 because of their so-called sins.

The first model persuaded by Clement is Jackie (Jaime Lyn Bauer, YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE), 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, ANGEL UNCHAINED) and his wife (Paula Shaw, THE ROOMMATES), 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) 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 but 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 storytelling technique works in the film’s favor, allowing a number of unsavory characters to enter the picture and a several 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 a 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 GIRLS 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 gratuitousness 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 veteran Hollywood tough guy Mike Mazurki as a cantankerous boatman.

Previously released separately on DVD (through MPI’s Dark Sky Films banner), BONNIE’S KIDS and THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS now arrive together on Blu-ray in stunning new 2K High Definition transfers from the original, uncut camera negatives. Presented in 1080p and 1.85:1 anamorphic, BONNIE’S KIDS looks terrific, never showing its age with dirt, debris or any other off-putting blemishes. Those 1970s colors (you just don’t see colors like these in today’s movies) are intense and really stand out, while the detail is nicely defined, and any grain on display is well maintained. The LPCM 2.0 English audio is solid and optional English subtitles are included. THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS 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 on the 1080p HD 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a few blemishes and grain which are inherent of the original source elements. Colors look bright and detail is also sharp, and it’s hard to imagine the film looking any better than it does here. The LPCM 2.0 English track is overall more than acceptable. Optional English subtitles are included for this film as well.

Extras for BONNIE’S KIDS include an interview with producer/director/writer Arthur Marks (a pick-up from the previous 2010 DVD release) entitled, “Arthur’s Kids: A Conversation With Arthur Marks” (16:37). Marks talks about his early days working on the “Perry Mason” series, the formation of his General Film Corporation and producing films for the drive-in market. Aside from BONNIE’S KIDS (in which he reveals that Sharon Gless was his secretary and was eager to get into acting with her small role), he also briefly touches upon his directorial work for AIP (BUCKTOWN, FRIDAY FOSTER, J.D.’S REVENGE, THE MONKEY HUSTLE). “A Touch of Tiffany” (14:42) is a brand new featurette which contains an interview with Bolling as the actress talks about her early days as a singer and being cast by Aaron Spelling in the failed “The New People” series. She talks about being cast by Marks (who was an old family friend) for BONNIE’S KIDS, and that she thought it was a great script and that she and co-star Sandor got along like “peanut butter and jelly”. Leo Gordon is described as “a beautiful human being” and she goes in depth about her character’s motivation and that she mostly wore her own wardrobe in the film. Bolling also talks about working with Prine on THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS, describing the shoot as tough and hard work. Other extras include the theatrical trailer (we can’t get enough of that “Thank God She Only Had Two!” line, especially when articulated by the excitable announcer), three TV spots (60, 30 and 10 seconds), and over 12 minutes of music cues (eight in total) from the wonderfully funky/jazzy score by Carson Whitsett.

Extras for THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS include a cool 15-minute featurette entitled “Making the Cut: A Look Back at the Centerfold Girls” which has been picked up from the previous DVD release. 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 both 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 adult cinema and a vintage Aaron Spelling TV action show. (George R. Reis)