Friday, August 15, 2008

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula

The BLOG! Movie of the Week is BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA, from 1966, directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine, starring Chuck Courtney as Billy the Kid and John Carradine as Dracula. This movie originally played as half of a high concept double bill with JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, another Western horror also directed by Beaudine. The script for this mess plays fast and loose with vampire mythology while also ignoring the history of the old west. For example, everybody knows that sunlight will kill a vampire, right? Well, in this picture, ol' Drac walks around during the day with no ill effects. Not that it's easy to tell whether it's day or night in this movie, as they both kinda look the same. As for the history part, it is well-known that William Bonney a/k/a Billy the Kid was gunned down at the age of 19 by his old friend Pat Garrett in 1881, but in this movie, he's alive and well, having gone straight and is now working as a ranch hand at the Double Bar B.

The character of Dracula had been portrayed in films by several noted thespians, including Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Christopher Lee, each of whom brought their own brand of menace to the role. In BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA, veteran character actor and notorious ham John Carradine plays the vampire as a dirty old man, a lascivious lech with a taste for young flesh. Check out the scene in the stagecoach, where he leeringly lusts after the photo of our heroine, Betty Bentley, played by the lovely Melinda Plowman. "18 and beautiful, eh?" What a filthy old creep!

Also look for Virginia Christine as Mrs. Oster, or as she was known in many a Folger's coffee commercial in the '60s and '70s, Mrs. Olsen, and a very special performance by a rubber bat on a string. Look for the prop man visibly manipulating the rubber bat on a string. He's right in the frame, and not just for a second, either. He's there as plain as day, baby. Well, that's why they called Bill Beaudine "One Shot," because he almost always printed the first take. Prop man in the shot? Print it! String clearly visible on the rubber bat? Print it!

As I mentioned, the character of Count Dracula is played by the great John Carradine, a man with over 300 motion picture and television credits, from his film debut in 1930's BRIGHT LIGHTS to his final screen appearance in 1995's BIKINI DRIVE-IN, which was released seven years after his death. His name lives on through his actor sons David Carradine, star of KILL BILL and the KUNG FU TV series; Keith Carradine, who played memorable roles in films like NASHVILLE and TROUBLE IN MIND, as well as portraying Wild Bill Hickock in the HBO series DEADWOOD; and of course, Robert Carradine, best known as Skolnick in the REVENGE OF THE NERDS movies and more recently, as Lizzie McGuire's dad. A protege of John Barrymore, John Carradine was known as "The Voice" thanks to his deep-throated baritone, and starred on the stage as well as the silver screen. He was a member in good standing of director John Ford's stock company of actors, appearing in the Ford classics STAGECOACH, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, among others. He also appeared in Grade-Z schlock like THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, and SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE. As Carradine himself once said, "I've been in some of the greatest films ever made - and a lot of crap, too."

While Chuck Courtney's Billy the Kid is pretty nondescript, Carradine's Dracula is a hoot, a crusty old vampire pursuing an age-inappropriate relationship with a tender young thing, played by the fetching Melinda Plowman. Starting out as a child actress, Plowman specialized in sweet and innocent types, usually on televison. She first worked with director William Beaudine, on the Disney serial THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SPIN AND MARTY, and also had a recurring role as Terry the babysitter on PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES. BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA was her last movie appearance, but she continued to work on the small screen in such series as GOMER PYLE, FELONY SQUAD, and THE WILD WILD WEST until 1968, when she disappeared from the face of the earth, or married a rich producer, take your pick.

BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA works equally well as a western and a horror movie, which is to say, not very well at all. However, as a comedy, it scores bigtime.

Available on DVD from, appropriately enough, Cheezy Flicks.

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