Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Seen It: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

No red flags here: filmed in "Shockorama" and released on a twin bill with Jesse James Meets Frankentsein (1966).

The most recent issue of Oni Press' superb horror-western comic book  The Sixth Gun included an interview of co-creator/writer Cullen Bunn and editor Charlie Shu conducted by writer Joe R. Lansdale. During the interview a number of older films are brought up by Bunn and Shu as having been influential in the development of the book's unique Western-horror aesthetic. Among the film title-dropped was, though familiar to me, one I had never taken the opportunity to hunt down for viewing: director William Beaudine's "camp" (a genre designation I really dislike)  classic Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). That is, until now...

With a run time of just over 70 minutes, the movie jumps right into the straightforward action-horror-western story, the events of which take place over just a few days. Count Dracula (John Carradine), complete with Lugosi-esque glare and widow's peak, is traveling cross country by stage coach. How do we know he's Count Dracula? If the top hat, twirling mustache and foppish necktie don't give it away, his deep-rooted evilness is made clear by the theremin music and bouncing plastic bat that bookend nearly every scene in which he makes an appearance.

While on the stagecoach, the Count chats up some other travellers, one who proudly shares a small locket picture of her beautiful niece, and local ranch owner, Betty Bentley (Melinda Plowman). Of course, being a 100+ year old vampire (and with the venerable Carradine looking every bit of 60+ years in age), the Count immediately concocts a plan to kill the passengers, take the woman's husband's place and take Betty as his eternal bride.

Killing the passengers, the Count takes on the guise of Bettie's visiting uncle, James Underhill. Unbeknownst to the Count, however, young Bettie is betrothed to one William H. Bonney (Chuck Courtney), more well known by his gunslinger moniker, Billy the Kid. (Oddly, everyone, including his fiancee, seem completely aware of his checkered past, yet still  trust him to walk around town with a firearm with little regard for his murderous past.)

In addition to stock footage and the one-shot nature of the camera work, there is more to recommend Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) as an entertaining diversion. Despite being called a camp classic, the performances are actually pretty solid, especially Carradine's performance as Count Dracula. While the movie poster attempted to paint his Dracula as a Lugosi clone, it is something of a unique take on the character. A few anachronistic moments also provide chuckles, too, such as the blatant anti-immigrant stance Dracula takes with two European survivors of the original stage who have an inkling regarding his true intentions. Even funnier (or creepier) is the Dracula's ghoulish dialogue wherein he (while pretending to be Bettie's uncle) flirts with the grieving woman. The Count's first words to his "niece" set the tone for what is to follow, "(you) are much more beautiful than your picture... MU-U-UCH more beautiful." No, not creepy at all.

Fear not though, there is no way Billy the Kid would allow Bettie's lecherous, undead "uncle" to leave his mark on his fiancee. Armed with the pair of previously dismissed European immigrants (one packing what appears to be a straight razor) and a very hard gun, Billy bravely goes toe-to-toe with "The World's Most Diabolical Killer!"

Billy the Kid vs Dracula is available on DVD from Netflix and for free (albeit with Spanish subtitles) on Youtube.

"You may laugh, but I'm making bank with this look!"

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