Saturday, July 14, 2007

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

Director: William Beaudine

Don't dare delve deep into this dull and dreary, Dracula-dueling, dramatically drained disaster. With an eye-popping stare, Dracula mesmerizes his victims in one of the worst vampire films ever made (and yes, I’m counting “The Little Vampire” starring Jonathan Lipnicki). Dracula assumes the identity of the uncle of a beautiful blonde named Betty. It turns out that Betty just happens to be engaged to none other than Billy the Kid. Dracula plots to turn Betty into his vampire mistress, and convert her wealthy family's abandoned silver mine into his new, charming townhouse. Billy the Kid is there only to meet the requirement that the title boasts. Directed by the shamelessly prolific William Beaudine, master of the “let’s just film it and go” technique, this film wastes an absurd amount of time sadistically stretching out its plot as though it were chained to one of those medieval racks, when it should be utilizing its characters and creating dramatic and imaginative confrontations. The story is a simple one anyway, and in no way can carry this movie even over the threshold of the opening credits (which look like the opening credits to the 60's Batman television series). Dracula tries to take control of Billy the Kid's fiancé. Bada-bing bada-boom, I’m done.

The aging John Carradine plays Dracula, in a role that’s been drained of its life-force, and could probably best be classified as elderly abuse. Chuck Courtney plays the bland and forgettable character of... uh, what's his name? Umm... Billy the something-or-other, who tries to expose Dracula for who he really is from start to finish. The special effects are neither special nor effects by even the loosest definitions. A plastic bat on strings floats behind a stagecoach and Dracula comes around the other side -- Fantastic!! One second Dracula is standing there, and the next he’s gone thanks to an effect that looks almost like an editing room mishap -- Amazing!! Dracula's face glows red when he mesmerizes his victims, or whenever the stagehands manage to get the red spotlight aimed in the right direction -- Questionable!! I’ve created better special effects in videos I made for high school projects. But at the time, special effects could never rival that which we see today, so they had to be clever to make up for it. Needless to say, they weren’t clever and did the bare minimum to get on to the next scene. The effects and actors garbed in their community theater costumes are paraded across the screen in a way that makes you embarrassed FOR them (If they’re not going to be embarrassed by this, then by God, someone should be). So, let’s see. What else happens? Dracula keeps on hypnotizing Billy's fiancé, Betty (Melinda Plowman), and Billy the Kid keeps on trying to expose Dracula's real identity and motives for about 9/10ths of the movie. Dracula sets up a nifty one-bedroom apartment in the abandoned silver mine, and Billy is arrested for killing a man in self-defense. Dracula screams/growls at an old woman and it sounds more like a colicky baby or the Penguin from "Batman" -- “Waaaaaahhh!!!” Betty is ultimately carried off (from here on out, Betty will now be playing the part of "luggage") to Dracula's new lair in the abandoned cave and Billy breaks out of jail to rush to her rescue. It gets less and less interesting every time they cut to the same shot of Billy riding to save her amidst cheesy, heroic musical cues. There’s a light tussle to the death in the caverns (actually, it's more like cavern, singular) of the silver mine, and Dracula meets his demise with a large knife to the heart when bullets don’t do the job (a frustrated and childish Billy actually throws his gun at Dracula and hits him in the face at one point). With Dracula dead, Betty is freed from her trance (which wasn’t all that different from her normal state). Oh yeah, one more thing: Dracula carries Betty around in the middle of the day, clearly exposed to sunlight. They really didn’t care at all, did they? And on top of it all, the incessant day-for-night shots make the visual aspects of the film look horribly murky. It's almost like you're watching the whole thing while wearing sunglasses. Maybe a vampire movie isn't the best idea for a director who doesn't like to shoot at night.

Possibly the least menacing, and certainly most laugh-inducing Dracula to grace the silver screen has nothing to do in this film but does it quite frequently. Too much exposition on a plot that could be written entirely on a post-it note makes this film a bore. No exciting conclusion and no interesting plot twists make the terrible dialogue all too apparent. It seems the dialogue went skinny dipping, leaving its plot and characters carelessly crumpled in a heap along the lakeside. The father of one of Dracula’s victims attempts to shoot Dracula with his gun. “You’re bullets can’t hurt me,” Dracula says. “Oh, no?” the man confidently replies, and then proceeds to fire at him to no effect. “See," Dracula simply states. What a face off, huh? Never before has climactic banter been so precisely articulated. My favorite scene is at the beginning, where Dracula asks to see a photo of a woman's daughter. He blatantly leers and makes googly eyes at it, hands it back, and then asks to see it again, and ogles it once more. Now, he's either a complete perv, or a haunting villain -- or possibly both. Either way, he shouldn't be so extremely obvious about it. The last line is Billy’s, where he says to Betty as he carries her out of the cave, “Come on, honey. We’re going home.” It’s not exactly, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” but it will have to do. This movie is plain and unimaginative throughout every aspect. Just remember to pray hard each and every night. Not because Dracula may come around (since, apparently he can appear in the daylight as well, according to this film), but because this film may suddenly emerge in your bedroom in the form of a late-night broadcast. And much like Betty, you may find your will succumbing to the horrors of “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and forget to change the channel before it’s too late. Look away!!!

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