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The Playgirl Killer

1966, Starring Mary Lou Collier, William Kerwin, Neil Sedaka, Jean Christopher, Andree Champagne. Directed by Erick Santamaria.

Until the Canadian Film Development Corporation started financially assisting Canadian film productions in 1968, there was very little film activity in Canada. After the boom of films in the late 1950s spearheaded by distributor Nat Taylor, things fell silent for six or seven years. The Playgirl Killer, an Anglophone movie made in Quebec, was one of the few films made during this period of inactivity. Tailor-made for the drive-in market, The Playgirl Killer was written by and stars William Kerwin, an American exploitation film star. And even though it fails to deliver the gore and nudity promised by it's title, it is set in Quebec, and even uses the city as a backdrop for it's lurid tale of a haunted artist whose models won't stop squirming.

The Playgirl Killer starts with a bang. Or maybe a squish. Out for a weekend nature walk, an amateur artist named Bill tries to sketch a picture of a girl reclining on a rock at a picturesque lake. When she won't hold still, he begins to berate her. When that doesn't work, he angrily grabs a nearby spear gun and shoots her in the chest! While Bill runs away into the nearby woods, we are treated to a credits sequence featuring an inspiring little French-Canadian accordion ditty.

With a killer suddenly on the loose, we are transported to a more suburban location a pool party. College sweethearts Betty and Bob (played by Canadian crooner Neil Sedaka) are spending a weekend at Betty's house. Unfortunately, Betty's oversexed sister Arlene has designs on Bob. That night, there's a rock concert by JB & The Playboys, a Canadian Beatles-styled group who play "Leave My Woman Alone." This is followed by "Waterbug," a silly dance-craze song that Sedaka himself sings with JB & The Playboys as his backing band. After the concert, Arlene sneaks into Bob's room, slips out of her gown and seduces him.

The next day, Bob and Betty go back to college, and Arlene's father leaves on a hunting trip. Within minutes, Bill appears hitchhiking outside Arlene's house in a fashionable socks and sandals combo. Luckily for Bill, bad style doesn't faze Arlene in sizing up her next conquest. She quickly offers Bill a job helping around the house, but when she tries to come on to him later, he will have none of it. Only after an afternoon horseback ride does Bill begin to relax, and he whips out his pad of paper to sketch Arlene. Arlene doesn't know how to hold still either, which sends Bill quickly grasping for her throat. She is just able to fight him off, and when he calms down he explains how he started drawing and painting. Long ago, he witnessed three girls drowning and was unable to save them. Ever since then he has had nightmares about three women drowning and a fourth woman shooting a shadowy figure with a bow and arrow. To cope with the dreams, he tried to paint the scene for his psychologist, but it never came out properly.

After a skinny dip later that night, Arlene is once again attacked by Bill. This time he drags her lifeless body to the meat freezer in the basement, and leisurely begins to sketch her without worrying that she may move. Even though he now has the ideal model, Bill doesn't stop there. He places a phony ad in the paper to hire a caregiver for his " invalid sister." When Pat, a girl who just recently arrived in town applies, Bill drugs and kills her as well, and then uses her car to drive the streets of Montreal.

This is perhaps the most interesting sequence in the film for Canadians, as Bill cruises through the city down Ste-Catherine, finally stopping at a hotel lounge where Nikki, a young French-Canadian singer offers up the theme song again. Being the suave artist that he is, Bill invites her back to see his "studio," where she soon ends up as dead as the others. At this point, the audience is let in on the motivation they have most likely already guessed Bill is killing and freezing his models so that he can finish the painting of his dream. Arlene is frozen solid holding a drawn bow and arrow, and the other two women are frozen in drowning poses.

When one of Arlene's friends comes by the house, Bill realizes that she could be the final model he needs to complete his picture. He has her all tied up in the basement when the doorbell rings it's a construction worker who apologizes for the fact that the power has been off. Panicked that his girls may have already thawed out, Bill rushes downstairs to see if there's anything left to salvage. Curious, the worker follows him. As the film climaxes, we get to see Bill's unfinished painting, his madness, and eventually the identity of the shadowy figure in his dream.

The Playgirl Killer is often compared to David Freidman/HG Lewis film Color Me Blood Red, but this film is actually quite different. The third film in their "Blood" trilogy, Color Me Blood Red is about an artist who kills girls and uses their actual blood in his paintings. It is easy for those who have not seen the film to draw lines between these films, since William Kerwin was in the remainder of the Blood trilogy, both Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs. And there are other similarities to those films as well, including saturated colour, a minimalist jazz score, bare sets and even a fake radio broadcast that proclaims "killer on the loose!" The Playgirl Killer departs from Friedman's successful drive-in formula in one way, however-- there is very little gore and no nudity in the film In fact, frequent shots of girls in scanty swimsuits and lingerie make Playgirl Killer much more similar in tone and direction to some of the other sex and violence exploitation films that Freidman later made, such as Scum of the Earth.

Even though the "completing the painting" motivation seemed a little forced to me at the beginning, it ended up playing an essential role in the climax, and doesn't come off as far fetched as it does earlier on. Still, I thought that the "my models keep moving" angle could have been a substantial trigger for Bill's murderous rage.

The Playgirl Killer wasn't released to the US until 1970 under a new title, Decoy For Terror. It's not surprising that it did poorly, since it must have looked pretty silly and fluffy alongside the much more daring pictures that were beginning to emerge. Looking back at it today though, The Playgirl Killer is a still a great little drive-in flick. It isn't the kind of film you will remember forever, but it is quite enjoyable to watch.

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