Cover Girl Killer (1959)
The idea of exploitation films having bizarre double standards, and seeming to rail against themselves, may well have started with this little gem, the influences of which can be seen in other "porn is bad / here's another naked lady" extravaganzas such as Night After Night After Night.
Try to imagine that esteemed taste monitor of middle England, Mary Whitehouse, running her own "rhythm" magazine. That's the impression that these strange little films seem to revel in - the idea that everyone else's porn is responsible for all the ills of society, but what they're doing is art
Of course, Cover Girl Killer being a 1950s film, there's actually very little flesh on show, but there's at least as much as there is in "Wow!", the pin-up paper that's at the root of the trouble. And surprisingly, the film also subverts a couple of clichés and comes out with some great dialogue along the way. All this in just 58 minutes!
Wow! Is introduced to us as the kind of magazine that's "not for people who can read" by the leering doorman at the strip club at the centre of the story, who adds that he's not much of a lady's man these days: "At my age?! I like Brazil nuts, but I got false teeth," he explains.
He's talking to Johnny, who's become a literal "stage door Johnny" recently, as he's a journalist writing "A day in the life of a showgirl" for that very magazine. He's got quite close to one of the stars at the Casbah Club, the extremely attractive June, but she flounces off when she finds out he's not actually getting paid by the publication (she thinks he's making it up just to get close to her and her stripping mates).
At the same time, a Mr Spendoza has turned up to take one of the other girls out for a meal. He's spun her a line about being in television, but the next time we see her (in a shocking jump cut) she's very dead.
Johnny's an immediate suspect (being one of the last people to see the unfortunate girl alive), but we all know it was "Spendoza" - for one thing, he's played by the only real star name in the film, Harry H Corbett. For another, when we first see him, he's wearing a flasher's mac, a badly fitting wig and a pair of the most ridiculous pebble glasses you've ever seen. His whole look just screams "sex pest". Yet bizarrely, this is all a front. "Spendoza" (we never learn the killer's real name) is actually quite a dapper young man, and the kiddie-fiddler outfit is just a disguise (told you this film had a few cliché-busting moments).
Johnny soon stops being a suspect (he's just too nice, obviously), and he explains that he doesn't actually work for Wow!, because he owns it. He's a former archaeologist who inherited the magazine, and describes his half-arsed attempts at journalism as: "a case of amateur fools stepping in where professional angels fear to tread."
He's also sussed that the girl was found in the same outfit (a leopard skin bikini) and pose as she appeared on the cover of Wow! recently. Luckily, so have the police (they're slightly less stupid in this film than usual, which makes a refreshing change) - a girl was found dead in the bath a couple of months ago (once again in the same pose as her cover debut), and yet another went missing six weeks ago, leaving her husband for a man matching "Spendoza's" description.
The police and Johnny come to the same conclusion - that they need to find the next cover girl - who recently won Miss Torquay. But by the time they get to Devon they're too late - the killer's got to her first and spirited her away to a photographic studio. Doing his best Cary Grant impersonation, Harry H Corbett tells the slightly worried young model: "I can assure you, your nudity means nothing to me.
"You hesitate to take your clothes off in front of me, yet you're quite happy to exhibit your nakedness to the whole world, on the front of this filthy magazine!"
The police decide that the only way they're going to get their man is by setting a honey trap - using June as bait. But the killer remains one step ahead of them, sending in a man dressed up in his "pervert" disguise to the club and avoiding the police himself.
The film ends in typical "killer at bay" style (Steptoe and gun?), with June in an extremely fetching bit of underwear (of course) and Johnny proving that not all heroes are handy with their fists.
Cover Girl Killer is a great little movie, which actually seems a bit ahead of its time (despite its almost sweet approach to the subject matter), pointing the way to the sex and horror thrillers of the late 60s and 70s. After all, as the killer says: "Surely sex and horror are the new gods in this world of so-called entertainment."
The highlight has to be seeing Harry H Corbett playing the villain - because he does it so well. The bit where he goes to show off to the police and ends up bristling when the inspector calls him "insane" is fantastic.
Last updated: February 18, 2010
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