Weird Westerns: William “One Shot” Beaudine’s “Billy The Kid versus Dracula” & “Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter”

By on June 1, 2016

In 1966, Embassy Pictures signed with a company called Circle Productions to distribute a drive-in double B-movie bill comprised of two campy horror westerns — Billy the Kid versus Dracula and Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, both streaming now on our Night Flight Plus channel — which were promoted as “Shockorama!”

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Movie audiences were promised they’d be seeing “the NeWest in Terrror-tainment!” and “the Greatest names in Terror History… In One Big Show!” We’ll just leave it up to you to guess whether or not any audience members went to the box office and asked for a refund.

Both films — written by Carl K. Hittleman — were the final features directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine, who earned his nickname because he rarely filmed more than one or two takes before moving on to the next scene, enabling him to direct more than 350 movies during his long career. As you might expect, he had a reputation for keeping under budget and never going over his shooting schedule.

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William W. Beaudine

Beaudine had started off as an actor with the Biograph Company, working on silent movies, before moving into directing while still in his twenties.

He was 73 years old when productions began on both of these films, which were shot simultaneously during eight days in mid-1965, at Paramount Studios and at Corriganville Movie Ranch, which was owned and operated at the time by western movie star, stunt double and physical trainer Ray “Crash” Corrigan.

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The ranch — situated on 1500 acres in Red Rock Canyon, an area northwest of Los Angeles in what is now called Simi Valley — was a popular tourist attraction for awhile, open to the public on weekends and holidays from 1949 to 1965.

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For a $1 admission fee, visitors could  watch stuntman shows, get their picture taken with movie and TV actors and poke around on the various western movie sets, including a western town (called “Silvertown”), a frontier Army fort (where John Ford’s Fort Apache was shot here in 1948), and Corsican Village, a set representing a 19th century village on the island of Corsica, located in the Mediterranean Sea, which was built in 1947 in a small cove near the Fort Apache set (often doubling as a Mexican village).

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Bob Hope acquired the property from Corrigan in 1965, shortly after Beaudine had shot his last movies there, and he ran it as Hopeville for a year or so before it closed. The Simi Valley 118 Freeway (now called the Ronald Reagan Freeway) now runs through the property.

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In the mid-60s, westerns were among the most popular network TV shows, and even shows that weren’t strictly westerns — like “The Wild Wild West” — were straying from the traditional stories to include horror, science fiction and espionage/spy elements which were also popular genres at the time. Even Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone would occasionally blend the supernatural with the natural in episodes set in the Old West.

Meanwhile, movie companies like Universal were enjoying renewed interest in some of their classic early movie characters — like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man — and so it was just a matter of time before some clever screenwriters would come up with the idea of putting them all together in weird western B-movies, a mash-up of good ideas which would probably have been even better if Beaudine’s movie budgets weren’t so non-existent.

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For Billy the Kid versus Dracula, the role of Dracula is played by the legendary John Carradine, the patriarch of the great Carradine family, who would make an appearance in more than 500 movies over his 58 year career.

A member of Cecil B. DeMille’s stock company and later John Ford’s company, the “bard of the Boulevard” was best known for his roles in Shakespearean theater, and in westerns and horror films.

In his earliest days in Hollywood, he was known to dress in a red-lined satin cape and wide-brimmed hat and walk the streets, reciting Shakespeare.

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Carradine had played Count Dracula before, in House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945), and so it seems natural that he’d take on the role again for Beaudine’s film, although, oddly, the name “Dracula” is never mentioned. nor is Carradine credited as playing him in the credits.

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The film also features Chuck Courtney as William “Billy the Kid” Bonney and lovely Melinda Plowman — in her first leading lady role — as his fiancée Betty.

Courtney had been raised on a California cattle ranch and had spent most of his career in Hollywood as a stuntman, earning upwards of $1000 a minute for falling off horses, riding bucking broncos and being the “fastest gun in the West.”

Plowman had started out as a child actress, and had spent much of her career up to that point working in television, but she was out of Hollywood by the late 60s.

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The biggest name in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter was Jim Davis, best known for his role as Jock Ewing on the CBS prime-time soaper “Dallas.”

Here he plays Marshal MacPhee, who is searching for the legendary outlaw Jesse James (played by John Lupton), who has ridden into town with his dimwit sidekick/henchman Hank Tracy (former pro football player Cal Bolder).

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They end up hiding in a castle occupied by Dr Frankenstein’s evil granddaughter Maria (Narda Onyx), and her brother Rudolph (Steven Geray). Yep, granddaughter, not daughter.

Maria — who is following in her grandpa’s footsteps by attempting to create a monster of her own — experiments on the immigrant children she snatches from a nearby town, replacing their brains with artificial ones.

She ultimately is able to transform Jesse’s pal Hank into “Igor,” a lumbering, homicidal monster who begins terrorizing townsfolk until the inevitable showdown between living and undead gunslingers.

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William Beaudine — a “big, cheery man with a pointed mustache” — would spend the rest of his career directing television shows, and it was estimated that he turned out 200-250 of those before he died, on March 18, 1970, at the age of 78.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.