Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Billy the Kid versus Dracula


Directed by: William Beaudine

Release Date: 1966

Contains spoilers

Okay, when you sit down to watch a film with the title Billy the Kid versus Dracula and the DVD production company is called “Cheezy Flicks”, you just know that you shouldn’t take the film seriously and it’s going to be of low grade quality. It’s just that sometimes low grade quality can be entertaining.

The film begins with a really crap bat and perhaps, if nothing else, they should have done without the bats (we’ll hear more of them, and their role in the finale, later). German immigrants, the Oster family - Mother Eva (Virginia Christine), father Franz (Walter Janovitz) and daughter Lisa (Hannie Landman) - have made camp for the night. Eva awakens to the chirp (yes I said chirp) of the bat and she exclaims that it is here. Franz tries to convince her it is a nightmare but she is worried for her daughter and places her cross in Lisa’s hand. They go back to sleep. The bat becomes Dracula (John Carradine) and he bites Lisa, but she opens her hand revealing the cross, which wards him away. Interestingly the vampire bite in this leaves four punctures.

John Carradine as DraculaDracula is on a stagecoach, travelling with Mary Ann Bentley (Marjorie Bennett), her brother James Underhill (William Forest) and whiskey salesman Joe Flake (George Cisar). Mary’s husband has died and she is taking her brother back to help with her ranch. She shows Dracula a portrait of her daughter, Betty (Melina Plowman), and he seems quite taken by it. They stop to rest and Dracula does some eye mojo on a squaw (Charlita) who is with a group of Indians. The next day, when they are to leave, Dracula has vanished.

Dead squawNow you might think it is because it is day, but no – in this Dracula can go around in the daylight, although his eye mojo appears less effective. He has more nefarious plans afoot. As the stagecoach pulls away we see the Indians gathered around the body of the squaw. A war party goes after the stagecoach. After an atypical Western chase scene we see the bat, which turns into Dracula by the stagecoach. All the travellers are dead and Dracula takes James’ identification and the picture of Betty.

Billy the Kid with DraculaBetty is in love with Billy and is also aware that Billy is the outlaw Billy the Kid. However Billy has gone straight and is the foreman of the ranch. They plan to marry. He heads into town to meet his employer and is told that James Underhill arrived ahead of the coach. He goes to meet him when news of the attack arrives. At the same time the Osters arrive with tales of a vampire. Dracula insinuates himself into the ranch by posing as Betty’s uncle and Billy only has the wild stories of Eva Oster to help him work out what is happening.

Melina Plowman as BettyThis almost feels like a cross between a vampire tale and an episode of Bonanza. There are, however, some interesting elements in the vampire lore. I’ve already mentioned the four bite marks and the ability to walk in sunlight. In this the bite of a vampire does not automatically turn a victim. The vampire turns the one he wishes to be his mate – in this case Betty is the object of his desire.

casting no reflectionWolfsbane is used to ward off the undead – though why Eva puts it at Betty’s window and yet failed to do the same when they arrived in town and Dracula killed Lisa is beyond me. The vampire casts no reflection and the sequence in which we see this, when Dr Henrietta Hull (Olive Carey) holds a mirror up to Dracula carrying Betty off, is actually impressively done.

Billy fights DraculaTo kill a vampire a sharp object (not necessarily a wooden stake) must be plunged into the heart. At this point I want to look at the ending, and I’m betting you realised there would be a Billy the Kid and Dracula showdown and will have guessed that Billy wins. Billy goes to the fight with a gun, not heeding the information that he needs to pierce the heart with a sharp object. He shoots Dracula, who doesn’t even flinch as the bullets hit and yet, when he throws his gun at the vampire, he knocks Dracula on his ass – it made no sense.

Death of DraculaOnce on the floor Billy stakes Dracula and we see a crap bat fly away and then fall to the floor outside (I told you the bats would be mentioned again). As Dracula is rapidly becoming a skeleton I didn’t understand this, perhaps it was meant to be artistic or metaphorical – it came across as confusing.

The acting is just about passable, in a pulp Western way, but Carradine hams it up with gusto – though perhaps at sixty he was a little long in the tooth (pardon the pun) for the role. Nothing about the performances is exceptional, far from it, but I have seen much worse. Franz and Eva seemed a little to ineffectual to put in the middle of things, but I guess they needed some characters who knew what was going on.

I don’t really think that Dracula was suited, as a character, for the Wild West, but they do their best to pull it off.

Lisa Oster, vampire victimThis is not a good movie, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the audacious cheese of it. The DVD itself offers a little glimpse into bygone days, having a very poor print of an “Orange Crush” refreshment ad and an advert by Julie Andrews explaining motion picture certifications.

The film is getting 3 out of 10 as I enjoyed it, despite logic flaws, poor print, average acting and rubbish effects. This is one to enjoy in all its B crapness and probably deserved to get the MST3K treatment. Incidentally, Carradine is alleged to have said that this was the worst film he ever made, a little harsh methinks - he obviously forgot about Gallery of Horrors.

The imdb page is here.


crabstix said...

The 'crap' bat flying away as Dracula dies and his body decomposes is obviously a reference to the dualist nature of good and evil. One could look at the human incarnation as being evil or greater Dracula, whilst the small furry flying version is the good or petite dracula. (As we know, bats are entirely blameless in the good vs evil conundrum.)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Crabstix, I might even have bought that as a concept - except I tend to believe that there was no real conscious symbolism - just a messy ending lol

Neal Snow said...

Heh...when first watching this movie, I found the scene where Dracula was taking the gunshots without flinching, then getting clocked by the gun itself very reminiscent of George Reeves portrayal of Superman...the bad guys would shoot at Supes with no effect, then Supes would move to the side when the bad guys would throw their now empty gun at him...I guess if Superman would have stood his ground, he would have been knocked on his ass like ol' Dracula here!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Neal, I don't know if I'd have thought of a connection between Superman and Dracula... but there is now lol :)

Christine said...

Sounds like moderately entertaining movie. Innocent B-movie insanity instead of insulting crap! BTW, Stoker´s Dracula could walk in sunlight, so perhaps he could fly in the western sun, too...

Christine said...

I forgot to mention - after literal stinkers like Vampire hookers, how the hell Carradine called THIS at his worst film? My, my, your artsy Shakespearean taste... And I LOOVE those cute B-movie bats in old vampire flicks!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine, spotting Crap Bat Syndrome in vamp movies is a favourite pastime - and some are so bad they're cool - I'll have a doozy of one coming up in the next week or so... keep an eye out

Christine said...

I will!

The T said...

Nothing beats the climax of this movie... When i saw Dracula being knocked out by a gun...but by being HIT with it, I just said to myself "thank you Earth for having given us the chance to see so much greatness in one single livetime". Glorious. The movie itself is just bad. But that ending makes it "so bad it's good"

Giovanni Maximiliano Tavares Lanza said...

Although this movie is not very good, I found this John Carradine Dracula to be superior in acting and look to his version in the (otherwise superior) "Jouse Of" movies. He was more meneacing in this one.