Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) -**½
Yes, you read that right. The bold type on the line above really does read “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.” A coworker of mine, who shares some of my affection for the very worst that the silver screen has to offer, speculates that this movie and its companion piece, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, exist because either director William Beaudine, producer Carroll Case, or screenwriter Carl K. Hittleman had pictures of the head of Embassy studios in bed with an underage girl or a farm animal. Hey, why not? I certainly wouldn’t sign on to finance a movie called Billy the Kid vs. Dracula unless somebody blackmailed me into it! But would I watch such a thing if somebody else made it? Oh, you bet your fat, Twinkee-eating ass I would!
Shockingly enough, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula begins by making a bid for educational status. For instance, did you know that the Wild West was infested with Bohemian Gypsies? Neither did I. It must be true, though, because otherwise what are the odds that a Bat-On-a-Stringtm would select a random bunch of sleeping wagon-trainers to attack, and have them turn out to be Bohemian Gypsies? Exactly. Anyway, the Bat-On-a-Stringtm flits down from the day-for-night sky, lands behind the nearest convenient shrubbery (and we all know how much of that there was to hide behind in the Wild West), and transforms inexpensively off-camera into a rather feeble, geriatric John Carradine. Those of you who have seen House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula have surely figured out that this is our old buddy, Count Dracula. The count skulks over to the youngest of the three Gypsies, the teenaged Lisa Oster (Hannie Landman), and puts the bite on her. But before Dracula can drink his fill, the sleeping girl’s hand falls open, revealing a silver crucifix, sending the vampire scurrying back to his bush so that he can turn back into a bat without costing the filmmakers anything.
We next see Count Dracula sharing a stagecoach with three other travelers. The talkative, middle-aged woman is Mary Ann Bentley (Marjorie Bennett), owner of the Double-Bar B ranch. Her companion is her brother, James Underhill (William Forrest, who played similarly minor roles in Flight to Mars and The Monster that Challenged the World), a fat-cat banker from Boston. The fourth person in the coach is whiskey salesman Joe Flake (George Cisar, from The Giant Leeches and The Werewolf). Now it’s tempting to guess that Flake is going to be our detestable comic relief for the evening, but for once the gods have chosen to be merciful: Dracula’s first action once the stage puts in for the night at a roadside inn is to drink the blood of an Indian girl, provoking an attack on the coach the next morning, and the massacre of everyone aboard. Dracula himself comes around after the Indians are gone, and helps himself to Underhill’s identity papers.
Why would the vampire do such a thing, you ask? That’s an easy one. While Mary Ann Bentley was blathering endlessly on during the coach ride, she happened to mention that she and her brother were on their way to her ranch, where Underhill would be meeting his gorgeous 18-year-old niece, Betsy (the absolutely robotic Melinda Plowman, of Renegade Satellite), for the first time. Mary Ann also made the mistake of showing her fellow passengers a photograph of Miss Betsy, with the result that we have come to expect any time some fool shows Count Dracula a picture of a pretty girl. Transforming once again into the Bat-On-a-Stringtm, the vampire makes it into town well before word of the stagecoach massacre. Posing as Underhill, he gets a room at the neighborhood saloon/inn, and sets about plotting his schedule of villainy.
This brings us to Billy the Kid. The ostensibly reformed William H. Bonney (Chuck Courtney, from Teenage Monster and Food of the Gods) is now the foreman of the Double-Bar B ranch, and the fiance of Betsy Bentley. This has done very little to win him the friendship of another local cowboy by the name of Dan Thorpe (Bing Russell, of Satan’s School for Girls), who was Billy’s immediate predecessor in both of the aforementioned capacities. In fact, it would not be going too far to say that Thorpe hates the ex-gunslinger, and would do just about anything to get back at him.
So it is against this backdrop that Billy hears of Mrs. Bentley’s stagecoach running afoul of the Indians. Uncle Jim was supposed to be on the coach too, so it looks at first like a minor godsend that he has arrived intact at the inn, his fortuitous escape apparently the result of his impatience with the slow pace of travel by stagecoach; “Underhill” tells Billy that he got off and rode ahead by himself when the younger man meets up with him in his rented room. But it turns out there were witnesses to the attack on the coach, a certain immigrant couple named Franz and Eva Oster (Walter Janovitz and Virginia Christine, the latter of whom also appeared in The Mummy’s Curse and Invasion of the Body Snatchers). That’s right— it’s the Bohemian Gypsies from the first scene! The Osters immediately do what all Gypsies are supposed to do in shitty old vampire movies, and start telling wild tales about how the real culprit behind the stagecoach massacre was the same vampire that attacked their daughter earlier. In fact, Dracula’s cover is nearly blown when the ailing Lisa recognizes him, and starts to call him out; only the vampire’s hypnotic gaze (realized here by having Carradine open up his eyes as wide as his aged facial muscles will allow, while some underpaid tech shines a red light in his face from behind the camera) keeps the girl’s mouth decorously shut. Dracula introduces himself to the Osters as James Underhill, and offers to give them his room for the night while he follows Billy to the ranch to assume his new authority as ranch boss and legal guardian of the teenage Betsy— all the better to keep tabs on the only people in town who might pose a threat to him, you see.
From this point, we have a sort of dueling-cliches thing going on in Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. First we’ll have a vampire movie cliche (Dracula kills the Gypsy girl, maneuvers himself ever closer to Betsy, and starts looking for wedges to drive between her and her increasingly suspicious boyfriend), then the film will change gears and dredge up some hoary old Western commonplace (Thorpe tries to use the change of management at the ranch to regain his old authority, picks poorly choreographed fist-fights with Billy whenever the opportunity arises, and eventually succeeds in convincing Dracula to have him “run Billy out of town”). There’s also a Van Helsing figure in the form of Dr. Henrietta Hull (Trader Horn’s Olive Carey)— “that backwoods female pill-slinger” as Dracula so eloquently describes her— and a sheriff (insanely prolific bit-player Roy Bancroft, whose more substantial performances include parts in Radar Men from the Moon and The Purple Monster Strikes) with a convenient willingness to play a bit loose with the letter of the law when he can see that substantive justice will be best served by bending the rules. And as all the laws of B-movie scriptwriting demand, we get the expected gunfight between Billy and Thorpe, while the climax pits Billy, the sheriff, and Dr. Hull against the vampire in his abandoned mineshaft hideout while Betsy slowly succumbs to the curse of undeath. What you’ll never see coming (and never believe, even after you see it) is how Dracula gets it in the end.
Of course, the really incredible thing about Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is that it’s nowhere close to being the worst movie John Carradine ever made (although the actor himself did once single it out as a particularly noteworthy low point in his career). Don’t get me wrong, though— it’s still pretty damn hopeless. Carradine himself puts in an exceptionally out-of-control performance, even for him. Seriously, his leering dirty-old-man act is a piece of hamming few other actors living or dead could have matched. What’s more, Carradine completely dominates the film, standing out in stark relief against the background set by the zombie-like performances of the two young leads. The acting is only part of the story, though, and would not seem nearly so ludicrous without the clunky, improbable dialogue the hapless players are forced to work with. Carradine can pull off his “backwoods female pill-slinger” line, but the rest of the cast is utterly defeated by such inanities as “Oh God! The vampire test!” There is also a pervasive, general shoddiness about the proceedings that smacks of an eagerness to get the movie finished and in the can, no matter how hard it ended up sucking. There’s a very good reason for this, as it happens. The man in the director’s chair on both Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter was the notorious William “One-Shot” Beaudine. Beaudine was one of the most prolific directors in Hollywood history; the son of a bitch could crank out a piece-of-shit Western in just two days! As you might gather from his nickname, Beaudine achieved these seemingly impossible turnaround times by outright refusing to shoot retakes— so long as what the actors did bore even the slightest resemblance to what was in the script, Beaudine would print the first take every time. He had begun to take a bit more care by 1966, as there was no longer the sort of demand for mass-produced second features that there was back in the 30’s, when Beaudine got his start. Nevertheless, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula has more visible seams than Frankenstein’s monster. There are several occasions, for example, on which Dracula’s “transformation” is rendered even more ridiculous than it would have been anyway because Carradine doesn’t quite hit his mark when assuming his position in the shot between frames. The Bat-On-a-Stringtm vanishes, and then Dracula appears a couple of feet to one side or the other. At least Beaudine managed to avoid his favorite flub of allowing his actors to fall down before the “killing shot” is even fired. You’ve really got to love crap to appreciate Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, but if you do, the utter impossibility of this movie should make it well worth your while.