Archive for Billy the Kid Vs Dracula

The Ghouls Go West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2021 by dcairns

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.