Saturday, September 7, 2019
Old West Meets the Monsters
This is my entry in the Costume Drama Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini
If Abbott and Costello can be said to have been responsible for ringing the death knell on the Universal monsters (with their comic turns in such movies as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), then William Beaudine can be said to have dug up the bodies and poked them with a big stick.
William Beaudine was a prolific director, although most of you may have never heard of him before. He directed a number of the Bowery Boys films, a slew of low-budget westerns and even Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (famous for having been sued by Jerry Lewis for its characters who were deemed a knockoff of the Martin and Lewis pairings).
Beaudine's last two films featured Old West settings with characters in a battle of wits with the classic monsters of Frankenstein and Dracula. Both films were released in 1966 as a double bill and toured the drive-in circuit. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula may not be the top shelf fare that the originals were. For one thing, Beaudine was not nicknamed "One Shot" for nothing. (He apparently went to the can with the first shot no matter what happened during the shoot).
But Beaudine is not always as bad as say, Ed Wood or Ray Dennis Steckler. Some of his output is pretty good. Not Academy Award material, to be sure, but easily worth the investment of the hour and a half or so to check them out. Neither of these is super great, and most of the acting is sub-par. I'd save them for an afternoon when the lawn needs mowed but you just aren't ambitious enough to do it. (You may decide mowing the lawn is not so bad an idea, afterwards, but be that as it may.)
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966):
The first in our double feature is a mash-up of horror and western. In some border town there is a mysterious new neighbor, Maria von Frankenstein (Nardia Onyx), the granddaughter of the famous doctor Frankenstein . (so why is the title "Daughter" and not "Granddaughter"? Your guess is as good as mine. I lean towards budget concerns. It would have cost more money to add those 5 extra letters...)
Maria and her brother Rudolph (Steven Geray) have moved into a mansion on the hill near the town. (and when you see the mansion from a distance you may be excused if you think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail... "It's only a model". Actually I think its just a matte painting.) Rudolph is Maria's brother, but looks like he might be her father. (The actors were 27 years apart in terms of age).
The two are conducting evil experiments in which Maria is kidnapping local immigrants and replacing their brains with artificial ones in an effort to create slaves. Which causes the immigrants to become a bit distressed. Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) and her parents decide to leave town.
Meanwhile the notorious outlaw Jesse James (John Lupton) and his henchman Hank (Cal Bolder) run into a bit of trouble in town. They hook up with the remainder of the Curry gang, which includes Butch (Roger Creed) and Lonny (Rayford Barnes). Jealous of Jesse's intervention in the gang, Lonny arranges with the sheriff (Jim Davis, yes the same actor who played Jock Ewing on "Dallas") to capture and kill Jesse for the reward on his head.
Injured, but not dead, Hank and Jesse end up meeting up with Juanita and her family. Juanita takes Jesse and Hank to the doctor, although Juanita does have some reservations since she does not entirely trust Maria.
Which is a good thing, since Maria makes plans to use the injured Hank as her next experiment, and arranges to get Jesse out of the way by having him inadvertently turn himself in to the authorities.
You can't keep a good man down, and apparently you can't keep a bad man down either. Jesse does his best to save the day and his friend and deal with the evil doctors, but he may not be entirely successful.
The second feature of our double feature involves another outlaw trying to hide from the authorities. In this case William "Billy the Kid" Bonney (Chuck Courtney) has gone straight and is trying to live a normal life as a ranch hand. (Apparently no one knows William Bonney was really "Billy the Kid" as that is the name he uses.)
The only one who is aware of Billy's true identity is his fiancee' Betty (Melinda Plowman). Betty is the daughter of the ranch owner. Betty's uncle is on his way to take over the ranch until Betty becomes of age, but the stagecoach is attacked by Indians before it ever arrives.
As to why the stagecoach is attacked? A vampire (he is never actually identified as "Dracula" within the movie) killed one of the Indian maidens and they exact revenge on the riders of the stagecoach. But the vampire was not among those killed. Posing as Betty's uncle, the vampire becomes Mr. Underhill (John Carradine).
Underhill has ulterior motives. He doesn't really want the ranch. What he wants is to ultimately make Betty his undead bride.
He is hampered in this endeavor by a pair of German immigrants Eva and Franz Oster (Virginia Christie, Walter Janovitz), both of which are suspicious of Underhill and quite sure he is a vampire. Eva tries several times to expose him, as well as provide Betty with the accoutrements for warding off vampires (wolf's bane, crucifixes, mirrors) .
But she runs into a block by the fact that Betty doesn't believe in the foreign superstition. And Billy is also skeptical. Will they realize their error before it's too late?
With the monsters safely returned to heir graves (until next time) it's time to head home. Drive safely, folks.