The Ghouls Go West

I never had any interest in seeing BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA because it was obviously a stupid idea. But then I suddenly realised it’s a BRILLIANT idea. Well, maybe not brilliant. Maybe stupid. But the fact that star John Carradine was in STAGECOACH and wore a cape, and also HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN/DRACULA, makes him the perfect actor to bridge the seemingly insuperable gap between the Gothic horror of Bram Stoker and the western programmer. One could go further: Stoker’s novel was written and takes place around the time of the wild west, and features a cowboy character. John Findley’s comic strip Tex Arcana is a delightful fanged oater. It CAN be done.

BTKVD (which also stands for Bind Torture Kill Venereal Disease, a superior title) is quite watchably terrible. Carradine, breaking his own rule of “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing,” is caught dead doing this, with a red spotlight on his face when he acts scary, and theremin underscoring, vanishing via jump cut (a dissolve would have been acceptable), and emerging from behind scenery just after a beautifully unconvincing plastic bat has flapped on its wires out of view.

Billy the Kid is a dull fellow called Chuck Courtenay who worked mainly as a stuntman. It’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t go with history and make Billy a psychopath, it’s a shame they didn’t think to include some Indian lore, the scenario is a collection of such shames and pities and alases.

Melinda Casey, as Betty the female lead, looks hilariously sullen and pissed-off when under JC’s hypnotic whammy, as well she might.

The supporting players are pretty OK — Olive Carey and her boy Harry are down the bill. Virginia Christine from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is in there too.

There’s a surprisingly good mirror moment, followed by Carradine snarling like a cougar and hurrying from the room.

The same year of our Lord 1966, co-writer Carl K. Hittleman penned JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER, which only has Steven Geray as “Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein” to commend it. Naturally, I rushed to see it after being bored through BTKVD. It’s on YouTube. Connoisseurs of line flubs will find a certain amount to enjoy in both films, the concept of the retake having been seemingly unknown to the filmmakers.

This time Jesse is a proper bank robber though still not much of a bad guy. He’s escaped his legendary death at the hands of Bob and Charlie Ford and hooks up with the sad remnants of the Wild Bunch (mildly surprising that the title didn’t try to incorporate those guest stars too). Hittleman had previously penned THE RETURN OF JESSE JAMES, in which JJ WAS dead but was being impersonated by an impostor, so even the title in that case was a cheat.

Actually… since the wondrously-named Narda Onyx is playing the daughter of A Frankenstein, not THE Frankenstein, this one’s title is somewhat deceitful also.

Best bit is the “creation” scene — in fact, merely the outfitting of Jesse’s hulking buddy with a new, “artificial” brain (which is very small). Both “Igor” (Cal Bolder, another great name) and Onyx wear science hats made from old army helmets gaily painted, and equipped with neon tubing. Probably pretty dangerous to wear, actually.

Jesse has basically nothing to do once the film effects its midway DUSK TILL DAWN genre switch, spending most of the climax doped on a gurney. A better idea might have been to have the assassinated James revivified by Frankensteinian mad science. In this kind of story, there’s little room for anyone who’s not the scientist or the monster. If you can merge THOSE characters, as in THE FLY, you’re doing above-average, economically speaking.

The flat TV lighting in both cases is by Lothrop B. Worth (the names in the credits are the closest to poetry these films attain). Both movies are directed, poorly, by William Beaudine, who was well into his seventies, had been making movies since 1922 — none of them seemingly any good. THE APE MAN was back in 1943, and that was pisspoor. He managed to kill off Philo Vance in PHILO VANCE RETURNS: nobody’s gone near the character since 1947. If anyone wants to nominate a GOOD Beaudine movie, I will raise an eyebrow in skeptical gratitude.

16 Responses to “The Ghouls Go West”

  1. Dr. Pretorius Says:

    The Old Fashioned Way (1934) is a terrific film- but probably the prolific Mr. Beaudine only had to put his camera on W.C. Fields and had no other significant contribution to it being great.

    Speaking of greatness, unlurking finally, I have to thank you and your erudite panel of commenters for bringing daily joy and bliss for so many years already, to this hard-working Belgian GP. It’s an absolute pleasure and privilege reading you every day, a little pause in between seeing patients, and a sorry reminder that I’ll never find the time to see all the weird and wonderful fims you write about with so much insight and eloquence.

    So going back into lurking mode, I thank you, Sir, from the bottom of my heart.

  2. Thanks so much! It warms my heart.

    You are quite correct, Beaudine proved an adequate channel for the genius of Fields. My eyebrows remain level at the suggestion. How Beaudine got the job is hard to imagine, maybe somebody admired Make Me a Star (not me, though that one’s fascinatingly odd in its affect).

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Beaudine directed a number of the late period “Bowery Boys” movies. I have an issue of “Midi-Minuit Fantastique” with stills from both these Dracula and Frankenstein hybrids. The hunkiness of of the creature Frankenstein’s daughter creates suggests it may well have been an influence on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

  4. Could well be! The Frankensteins keep killing their subjects, so they deduce they need a hunk who can withstand the strain. It plays a little like the discussion of how the monster needs to be gigantic in Young Frankenstein.

  5. Sparrows (1926) is essential Mary Pickford and, even more importantly, essential Gustav von Seyffertitz. There’s some nice swampy atmosphere, albeit with deficits that include too much Bible-hugging and very poor use of miniatures in the climax. Even though there are better Pickfords (Stella Maris!), Sparrows is far from an embarrassing Beaudine. It also has the William K. Everson seal of approval, via his ghost-written Classics of the Silent Screen.

  6. Oh, sidenote, but who ghostwrote it?

    Sparrows rings a bell but I apparently haven’t written about it so I need to either see or re-see it. Little Annie Rooney, another Beaudine Pickford joint, is pretty good fun, come to think of it.

  7. Yes, I am one who kinda sorta likes Make Me A Star, though it isn’t that good.

  8. Media personality Joe Franklin gets author credit for Classics of the Silent Screen. William K. Everson was his Research Assistant and, from beginning to end, the prose reads like classic Everson. A friend who knew Everson told me… it’s Everson.

  9. Jeff Gee Says:

    “Silents” was ghosted BY Everson, for Joe Franklin.

    One of the East Side Kids movies Beaudine cranked out includes Bela Lugosi pretending to be an oil painting. Someone dusts the painting and Lugosi sneezes an extremely articulated “Aww SHIT!” (I guess it’s as close as Beaudine gets to Ubu Roi). I forget which crapfest it is, but Ava Gardner has a very early supporting role.

  10. bensondonald Says:

    Mr. Gee refers to “Ghosts on the Loose” (1943), Lugosi’s second teaming with the East Side Kids. Lugosi led a gang of Nazis operating out of a supposedly haunted house. It ends with the good guys quarantined by German measles, manifested by little swastikas on their faces.

  11. I’d put SPARROWS way up on the Beaudine chart of forgivable films he directed.

  12. Jeff Gee Says:

    “Ghosts on the Loose” This is the Beaudine. Incredibly, “Spooks Run Wild” (directed by Phil Rosen) makes “Ghosts on the Loose” look like… well, at least marginally competent. “Ghosts” benefits from a much better print, but it also benefits from Beaudine. I can’t believe I just typed that, but see for yourself. They both run a tick over an hour. The ineptitude of “Spooks” is mouth dropping. My mouth never dropped open during “Ghosts” (although my eye lids quivered from time to time). One Take Willy got the job done. Brisk hackwork has it’s pleasures.

  13. Beaudine also made the ultimate experience in gruelling horror, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla…

  14. Mark Fuller Says:

    Beaudine is an underrated director, best when working with kids (Sparrows, and Penrod and Sam (did you not see it at last year’s online Pordenone ??) and made my favourite QQ, Mr Cohen/Father Takes A Walk…..which uses the British landscape much the way Powell would later. He may not have been an artist very often, but as a craftsman he put bread on the family table, and not many auteur can boast a CV incorporating Mary Pickford, Will Hay and Bruce Lee…..

  15. I *did* see Penrod & Sam and it was very fine. I’d forgotten that was him, though I saw he did a remake in 1931. Mr Cohen Takes a Walk sounds excellent, I wish it were available right now…

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