When I was a kid I often spent my weekends watching double features that played on television as part of the “Monster Matinee” and I thought I’d write about one I can vividly remember seeing for the Double Bill-a-thon currently running at Broken Projector.
I watched a lot of great double features on the Monster Matinee show during the late seventies and lots of forgettable movies as well. One double bill that really stands out in my memory was when William Beaudine’s Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966) and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966) were aired back-to-back. I had seen a brief commercial for the movies before they played and I was more than excited about seeing them together since they promised lots of “terror,” “thrills” and “action.” I had grown up loving westerns and horror movies, but until that point I had never seen any movie that combined cowboys with monsters. I just knew that Billy the Kid versus Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter had to be great. The mere idea of a horror/western film sent my 10 year-old mind reeling!
I invited some neighborhood kids over and asked my mom to make us some Jiffy Pop Popcorn and Tang to enjoy with the movies. We all gathered around the TV as the films began and anticipation was high, but nobody was looking forward to seeing these movies more than me. The first film shown was Billy the Kid versus Dracula, which starred the great John Carradine. I had previously seen John Carradine in the terrific 1945 film House of Dracula where he was very good. He scared me silly in that movie, so naturally I assumed he’s be great as Dracula again. Boy, was I wrong! As this incredibly dull film trotted along I immediately knew something wasn’t right. Billy the Kid versus Dracula totally lacked suspense and I couldn’t understand why. The other kids got restless and started playing board games. I ended up making excuses for the movie the entire time it was playing even though I found myself giggling at all the wrong moments. When Billy the Kid versus Dracula ended all the kids got up to leave, but I tried explaining to them that this was a ”double feature” and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter was on next. I was sure it would be better than the first movie we watched. The kids all ignored my desperate pleas and left. The popcorn and Tang were all gone so there really wasn’t any reason for them to stick around anymore.
I ended up watching the second half of this double feature all alone and that probably was for the best. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter was actually a little better than Billy the Kid versus Dracula, but it was nowhere near as good as I had hoped it would be. I was totally dumbfounded by how bad the movies I had just seen were. My little brain was doing cartwheels trying to understand why the acting seemed so terrible and why the scripts made no sense. They were also shot so poorly that I could hardly make out was going on most of the time. I wondered out loud to myself how in the world anyone could make a boring movie with a fantastic title like Billy the Kid versus Dracula? I literally gave myself a headache trying to make sense of William Beaudine’s movies that afternoon.
My mom ended up asking me what I had thought of the films, but I was rather speechless. I explained to her that I didn’t understand them and I couldn’t figure out why they had been so bad. It was the first time in my life that I can remember being genuinely disappointed with a movie, so I told my mom I thought they were “real stinkers” and they were.
The director of these two stinkers was known as William “One Shot” Beaudine and he earned that nickname late in his career due to the fact that he would often shoot just one take, regardless of the problems that happened while he was shooting. It didn’t matter to Beaudine if actors forgot their lines or the special effects failed. He would go on filming and if any changes were made to the final product he churned out, they were done in the editing room. Before becoming a b-movie maker and working on popular television shows, Beaudine had been an assistant director to D.W. Griffith and even worked with him on films like The Birth of a Nation (1915). Beaudine also helped make Mary Pickford a star with movies like Little Annie Rooney (1925) and Sparrows (1926). Billy the Kid versus Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein Daughter were the 74 year old director’s last feature films after making over 350 movies, and they’re the work of a tired man just trying to make a buck who doesn’t seem to care what he’s shooting anymore. Both movies were often shown as a double feature at the drive-in during the sixties, so it’s not too surprising that the movies were also often shown together on television.
Beaudine’s Billy the Kid versus Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein Daughter are both currently available on DVD. If you’re curious to see one of Beaudine’s stinkers I recommend Jesse James Meets Frankenstein Daughter since it’s slightly better than Billy the Kid versus Dracula. The lovely Narda Onyx stars as Dr. Maria Frankenstein and she’s worth watching even if all the others actors involved with the film seem like their sedated and reading their lines off of cue cards.