Billy the Kid Versus Dracula directed by William Beaudine
New York City-born director William Beaudine didn’t acquire the nickname “One Shot” for nothing. Working at a furious and efficient pace, Beaudine managed to helm no fewer than 178 films, starting in the 1920s and extending all the way to 1966. In his final year as a filmmaker, Beaudine brought all his vast experience to bear and managed to come up with two entertainments that have been flabbergasting audiences for over half a century now. The two films — Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula — served as a perfectly well-matched double feature, both in name as well as subject matter.
I had previously been surprised at how decent a film the first had been, exceeding my minimal expectations in terms of both filmmaking skill and entertainment value. And now that I have finally caught up with the latter, I am surprised to find that it is NOT the campy lowbrow experience that I had been led to believe was the case. A fairly unique hybrid of both horror and Western — a combined genre that the Mexican cinema of the late ’50s and early ’60s seemed a lot more willing to explore than the American movies of that same era — the film, though hardly anyone’s idea of a quality picture, yet remains a moderately fun outing that should just manage to please fans of both categories. No, it is not High Noon and it is surely not a film guaranteed to shock and frighten the viewer, but still, it DOES manage to amuse.
In the film (which Beaudine shot in just five days!), John Carradine plays everyone’s favorite neck nosher (he had first played the Count in the classic Universal films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula more than 20 years earlier), here traveling through the Wild West of the 19th century. As one of four passengers in a stagecoach (apparently, after he has become too tired to turn into a bat and just take wing to wherever he’s going), he meets the mother and uncle of a young blonde woman whose picture he is allowed to see in a locket, and realizes at once that this young woman is destined to be his eternal, undead bride.
The stagecoach passengers are later massacred by an Indian raiding party (the Native Americans being goaded into violence after Dracula attacks one of their own), and the vampire soon arrives at the Bar-B Ranch, where pretty Barbie doll Betty Bentley (Melinda Plowman, an actress more known for her extensive TV work, here in one of her few feature films) lives. He pretends to be the uncle, one James Underhill, whom she has never met, while preparing for her a wedding suite in the abandoned silver mine nearby. But Dracula also makes the mistake of slaying the daughter of an immigrant German couple in the area, the Frau of which (Virginia Christine as Eva Oster) is immediately suspicious of him. And after the reformed gunslinger Billy the Kid (former stuntman Chuck Courtney), now just plain ol’ Billy Bonney, who is working as foreman on the Bar-B ranch and is soon to be engaged to Betty (turning her into Betty Bentley Bonney?!?!), is also made suspicious, both by the strange uncle’s actions and by the good Frau, a showdown in that creepy underground cavern looms…
Today, Billy the Kid Versus Dracula labors under a fairly miserable and, it seems to me, undeserved reputation. The Maltin Movie Guide calls it “campy nonsense,” and even my beloved Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, which usually has a high tolerance for such fare, deems it a “hopeless horror Western.” Personally, I think the editors at both these esteemed volumes are being a bit too harsh. Sure, the film is patently outlandish, and its special effects are practically nonexistent (we never do see Dracula transform into a bat or vice versa, and his physical decomposition in the film’s final scene is brought about in the crudest of expedients), but putting those matters aside, it IS otherwise well put together, displays some assured talent both behind and in front of the camera, and — bottom line — is a lot of fun to watch. I didn’t laugh AT the film once; it is hardly a camp fest, despite the inherent and admitted loopiness of the plot.
The film, to the viewer’s surprise, boasts some unique touches, for both a Western and a horror film. For one thing, our hero Billy gets the living crap beaten out of him by his (human) adversary in one scene; he is hardly the ablest fighter with his mitts. Too, he displays self-doubts as to how to proceed in his battle with the Count. To be sure, the film’s title is something of a misnomer, suggesting as it does an almost equal contest; as it turns out, both Frau Oster, with her greater vampire knowledge, as well as the town doctor, would have been more worthy adversaries. And most interestingly, that town doctor in the film, who renders invaluable aid to Billy in terms of both book learning and practical weapons, is a woman … and an elderly woman, to boot (played by silent film star Olive Carey)! As for Carradine himself, though a bit long in the tooth (I would ordinarily say “long in the fang” here, except for the fact that we never do see his canines on display), he does manage to be occasionally intimidating, going so far as to SNARL like a rabid dog when he attacks his victims! The picture also features some nice outdoor scenery, shot in pleasing color, and that Indian attack scene is actually very well done. And as for Billy and Betty, their relationship seems so very wholesome that the viewer almost expects Betty to call Billy “Archie” at some points.
Still, as I say, the film IS fun to watch, and its 74-minute running time just flies by. Bottom line: William “One Shot” Beaudine may have taken a while to refine his craft, but at least he went out with a pair of entertaining pleasers.
I remember seeing this on “Creature Features” when I was a kid. I remember laughing but being caught up in the dramatic scenes. And who doesn’t love a deserted silver mine?
That’s the spirit, Marion!