I don’t know if much media was considered meta in 1965, but this film definitely fits the bill. Somehow it combines everything American-International Pictures did best — Edgar Allan Poe movies, beach films and movies that appealed to the teenage zeitgeist — and mashes and mixes them up into one overall satisfying piece of ridiculousness.
It all started with AIP president James H. Nicholson looking for a way to show off contract player Susan Hart, who would become his wife. It went through plenty of drafts before Norman Taurog (who had made movies with Martin and Lewis, Elvis Presley and was the youngest director to win an Oscar when hs film Skippy was honored in 1931; Damien Chazelle has since beaten him out when La La Land won in 2017) came on board. While most AIP films had slender budgets, this one had over a million dollars to spend. That said, it also recycled plenty of their famous props and sets, but to great effect.
Originally, the film was to be a musical, but the script got rewritten to the displeasure of Price. Susan Hart would say, “One of the best scenes I’ve seen on film was Vincent Prince singing about the bikini machine – it was excellent. And I was told it was taken out because Sam Arkoff thought that Vincent Price looked too fey. But his character was fey! By taking that particular scene out, I believe they took the explanation and the meat out of that picture.”
Honestly, there isn’t much story. Price plays Dr. Goldfoot, who has an army of female robots who seduce, marry and murder men — after taking their money, of course. The femme fatales include Deanna Lund (Land of the Giants, Elves and nearly the wife of Larry King), China Lee (Mort Sahl’s wife who had been a Playboy Playmate for the month of August 1964 ; she also shows up in What’s Up Tiger Lily?), Sue Hamilton (Playboy Playmate of the Month for April 1965; also the first Playmate to have breast implants, as well as be under five foot tall), Marianna Gaba (Playboy Playmate of the Month September 1959), Nicholson’s daughter’s Luree and Laura and Alberta Nelson (who often played a motorcycle girl named Puss in the AIP beach movies).
Speaking of that motorcycle gang, their leader Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) shows up. And so does Annette Funicello for the briefest of moments. And Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman just switch their names from Ski Party and play the same parts. Other beach party cameos include one-time Gidget Deborah Walley and Aron Kincaid.
The movie also boasts a Claymation title sequence by Gumby creator Art Clokey, a title song by The Supremes and a reappearance of the set from The Pit and the Pendulum.
There’s also a scene where Goldfoot shows off his ancestor’s portraits, which include Price AIP roles like Verden Fell from The Tomb of Ligeia and Roderick Usher from House of Usher. And the missles that supposedly wipe out the evil doctor at the end were lifted from Mothra vs. Godzilla, which AIP had released as Godzilla vs. The Thing. Due to a lawsuit by Eon Productions, this movie was titled Dr G. and the Bikini Machine in England. It did modest business everywhere but Italy, where it was a major success. That would lead to a sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, which would be directed by Mario Bava.
There was also a TV special that aired in the place of Shindig! on November 18, 1965 on ABC. The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot featured Vincent Price, Tommy Kirk and Susan Hart, along with the songs that were cut from this film’s release. Through the magic of the internet, you can watch it right now.