I don’t know why I’m suddenly fascinated by the schlocky career of William Beaudine. The only two films I’ve previously seen from the professionaly subpar director, The Ape Man & Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, both tested my usual unending patience for poverty row garbage starring Bela Lugosi, who I love dearly. Yet, there’s an undeniable draw to Beaudine’s schlocky frivolity, no matter how often the promise of his films’ premises fail to pay off. Take, for instance, his final two productions before retirement/death. Filming both titles in just eight days on the same Californian ranch, Beaudine capped off his career with the “Weird West” double bill of Billy the Kid Versus Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. There’s no way either film could live up to the full schlock potential of their titles, thanks to Beaudine’s passionless workman sense of craft. Just the mere fact that films exist on the market with such preposterous titles is enough to draw me in as an audience, though, no matter how many times I’ve been burned before. In that way William Beaudine may just have been a movie/money-making genius.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Billy the Kid Versus Dracula is that it was filmed in 1960s color instead of 1950s black & white. Otherwise, it’s the exact unimpressive mashup of supernatural action & lackluster romance you might expect from the title. Billy the Kid is a real life historical figure, placing the prestige & plausibility of this work somewhere around the heights of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In the film, he’s posited as a retired gunfighter, an outlaw made good. His determination to live a quiet life is jeapordized when his young fiancee is hypnotized and quarantined by a vampire (never once referred to as Dracula in the script) who arrives in their small Old West town posing as her uncle. Everyone else seems to ignore the improbability that this oddly incestuous European man would be this teenage woman’s uncle and accepts him as her new guardian after he drains her parents of their blood. Only Billy the Kid senses that something is afoul and must murder the vampire invader in a way that both doesn’t arouse suspicion from the law and trades in his pistol-shooting tactics for a traditional heart-staking. It’s all very silly.
Unfortunately, the silliness at the core of Billy the Kid Versus Dracula has all the urgency of a Halloween-themed episode of Bonanza or Gunsmoke. When the vampire hypnotizes women he glows red and closely resembles an illustration of Satan. His bat form is also adorably shoddy, like a Party City decoration, and is used as silhouetted screen wipes during the opening credits. The rest of the movie is on the most boring end of cheap Western media, however, and it’s not at all surprising that this “Weird West” double bill was financed by television producers. I’m much more in tune with the campy pleasures of cheap horror than whatever people see in cheap Westerns, so maybe the Cowboys & Indians gunplay of Billy the Kid Versus Dracula would play better for audiences who never tire of grizzled men with six shooters who uniformly refer to Native Americans as “savages.” I guess since my interest in watching the film was only piqued during its few stray vampire attacks, I might have been better off watching a different Dracula film altogether, but I will admit the absurdity of the setting has an endearing novelty to it that a 70min feature can easily sustain while remaining moderately charming.
As tickled as I am by the Billy the Kid Versus Dracula‘s titular premise, the movie has no excuse to be as dull or as uninventive as it is, especially considering its mid-60s release date. I like to imagine an alternate universe where William Beaudine were more passionate about his absurdist schlock. A version of this film made in the 1950s by a fired up Ed Wood could easily have been an all-time cult classic, maybe even with Bela Lugosi in the villainous lead. Beaudine manages to reduce something so wonderfully outlandish to a by the numbers, television-esque work of supernatural tedium. I was only moderately entertained by it for a few isolated stretches, but I still can’t resist the urge to watch its sister film, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein‘s Daughter anyway. Who could pass up a title like that, no matter who’s behind the camera? I am my own worst enemy.
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