By Chuck Francisco
July 14, 2012 Source: Mania.com
Let me come right out and tell you that Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is not the name of a 60's progressive rock band from Alberta. Nor is it a hippy commune or the name of a cocktail (but it should be). Would you believe me if I told you that it's a beach party movie mixed with a spy spoof, spiced up with a dash of Edgar Allen Poe films? It totally is and it's absolutely wonderful. Allow me to explain.
AIP (American International Pictures) enjoyed a wonderful run of success in the early 60's on the back of a film genre they accidentally invented with 1963's Beach Party, featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. These flicks were crafted specifically to appeal to teenagers with disposable income, and who usually spent their nights at the Drive-in. The Beach Party genre exploded and, being a red hot iron, was struck repeated by both AIP and other studios over the next five or so years- when they quickly waned in popularity. Films of this type, like most of the low budget AIP films of the time, were incredibly formulaic; swapping roles between actors, rearranging love interests or shifting the location was all that it took to script the next film (essentially). These where easy to tell stories between teenagers who enjoyed surfing, scrapping, loving and breaking out into song; and they were the perfect sort of fare for teens of the time.
In 1965, after the fun loving tales of Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach and Pajama Party had been told, Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson (brilliant head honchos at AIP), took stock of what they currently had: a successful run of Roger Corman directed Edgar Allen Poe adaptions staring Vincent Price, and Beach Party films. They smushed these things together like so much Play-Doh and set about squeezing it through the fun factory that was the then booming spy film crazy. Arguably the best James Bond film of all time, Goldfinger, had just hit it big at the box office in 1964. What low budget, double bill crafting operation could resist cashing in? Certainly not AIP.
This may not sound like the makings of a successful film (and commercially, it was only modestly a success) but for cult film fans, it's akin to mining diamonds wrapped in gold. The amazing title sequence boasts the wonderfully whimsical talent of claymation master Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby. They pair this with a title song by The Supremes, which is revisited throughout the film. By the time you read this, it's likely I'll have had it stuck in my head for a week and, since it would be incredibly rude of my not to share, please check it out below. It's hauntingly awesome.
Vincent Price, in his hammiest role outside of this film's sequel (and perhaps 1973's Theater of Blood), stars as the titular Dr. Goldfoot. His evil machinations center around using his buxom, bikini clad robots (the 'bikini machines', also of the title) to seduce rich men into marriage, then con them out of their fortunes. Attired in golden jester shoes and a smoking jacket, Dr. Goldfoot is the wicked wit of Price given license to wink at the camera and cackle to his heart's delight. Unfortunately he wasn't quite happy with the finished product, claiming that originally it was to be filed with musical numbers ala Little Shop of Horrors, which were cut at Arkoff's insistence. Some of these cut music numbers made it into a TV special; featured in an episode of the show Shindig! entitled The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot (I've found it on YouTube and linked it at the bottom for your pleasure).
He's pitted against the combined might of Frankie Avalon as Craig Gamble, an inept agent of SIC (Special Intelligence Command), and Dwayne Hickman as Todd Armstrong, a millionaire playboy. Interestingly, Avalon and Hickman stared together earlier that same year in Ski Party (a beach party film set in at a ski resort), where they appeared as the opposite characters (Hickman as Craig Gamble and Avalon as Todd Armstrong). Both movies were written by the same man, Robert Kaufman, who would go on to write the sequel to this flick: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. Maybe he really dug the names?
As our heroes close in and infiltrate Dr. Goldfoot's layer, located below a funeral home front, Price turns the camp factor to eleven. He's downright gleeful in describing the coming tortures to Avalon and Hickman. It's exactly the macabre fun that fans have come to expect from the genre luminary; here it's put on glorious display, front and center.. The torture scene of Todd Armstrong borrows long shots from Roger Corman's Pit and the Pendulum (which was shot in '61 for AIP). The culminating chase scene through the streets of San Francisco plays out like a live action cartoon, replete with disconnecting motorcycle side car action and vehicle crashes that featuring autos which fall apart wholesale. The only thing missing seem to be stars circling the heads of our characters. It's fun but runs twice as long as it could. If I had to guess, I'd speculate that this scene was lengthened to make up for the cut musical numbers which Price alluded to.
This is a slice of pure 60's camp which added color to a decade with which I'm only somewhat familiar. As mentioned, it didn't do very well commercially (considered a moderate success) and it was AIP's most expensive picture to that point, costing a little over $1 million dollars. However, it was hugely popular in Italy. When a sequel was green lit, the directorial reigns were given to Mario Bava (Black Sunday; Kill Baby, Kill), the setting was moved to Italy and two popular Italian comedic actors, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia, were added to the cast for more local appeal.
Both films are fun, when approached with the right mindset. If you're looking for a mix of bikini dancing, Scooby-Doo, morbid Vincent Price comedy and wacky hijnx; this is your ticket to a good time. I will caution you that this works better if you watch it with other people. I was incredibly lucky to catch a 35mm screening of this, with a beautifully preserved print, at a local rep house, but both titles are available for instant streaming on Netflix. Grab some friends, pop some corn, turn down the lights and dig it.
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!). This week's suggestions are all Vincent Price flavored madness. Enjoy!
Netflix - Theater of Blood - Slasher/Dark Comedy(1973)
YouTube - The Bat- Horror (1959)
Hulu - Dr. Phibes Rises Again - Horror/comedy (1972)
Archive.org - House on Haunted Hill - Horror (1959)
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.
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