Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Micro Review [film]: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula

The Meat

At some point in 1965 or '66, some actual human being must have had this thought: "Let's get John Carradine to play a vampire again, but this time we'll stick him in the Old West, name the movie after two characters not actually appearing in the movie, and shoot the thing for a nickel in, say, my back yard in Encino!" The result, to our lasting chagrin or pleasure, depending on your predilection for cult movies, is Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.

John Carradine probably doesn't get the love he deserves -- this was a guy who played Preacher Casy in The Grapes of Wrath and made something like 9 other films with John Ford, played Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War drama Of Human Hearts, and inherited the role of Count Dracula from Bela Lugosi in the original Universal horror series. But then, over the course of his 50+ year career he also appeared in some of the worst movies ever made, and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula has to be one of the worst/most amazing of the bunch.

Please know that I fully appreciate the cognitive dissonance in what I am about to tell you: this awesome, awesome movie is one of the worst things I have ever seen. John Carradine, known for his trademark deep voice and facility with Shakespeare, pretty much just says "Grrr!" throughout the film. His character isn't actually "Dracula," since the producers would've had to license the name from Universal (how they got it in the title, I don't know), and the character referred to as "Billy the Kid," I have to assume, is not actually the outlaw of ill-repute, but just some random dude with the same nickname. No mention is ever made of him having murdered a bunch of people, being a hunted fugitive, or having supposedly been killed by that guy from CSI. He's pretty much just a ranch hand that wants to settle down with this girl Betty and live a quiet life. Too bad for him not-Dracula has rolled into town and would like to make Betty his own undead bride.

I know this sounds like gripping stuff, but make no mistake, this movie is terrible. The ranch house where most of the film is set is clearly just a modern house on what's probably a suburban corner-lot, the action is slow, tedious, and the special effects truly earn the pejorative "special defects." But if you don't laugh out loud while watching this train plummet off the tracks and into a ravine far, far below...well, you probably just aren't a fan of so-bad-they're-good movies in the first place.

The Math

Objective Quality: 2/10

Bonuses: +1 for simply existing; +1 for the way Billy finally defeats not-Dracula, which is better left unspoiled here; + 1 for the direction by William "One-Shot" Beaudine, who doesn't bother to call cut when characters refer to each other by the wrong names and even from beyond the grave scoffs at the idea of a "safety take"; +1 for John Carradine's entrance, lit from below with a bright red light in case we didn't get that he's eeeevil.

Penalties: None. Each "Bonus" is at best a left-handed compliment, so taking points away here would just be piling on.

Cult Value Coefficient: 6/10

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]