Hmmm, how best to succinctly describe the central conflict in Billy the Kid vs. Dracula…?
Wait, I’ve got it! Billy the Kid squares off against Dracula! I guess that’s it for the plot synopsis. Load up, fellas! We’re moving on.
Okay, okay, I guess I can delve into a little more detail than that. The legend of Billy the Kid is long in the rear view mirror. These days, he’s just plain ol’ William H. Bonney (Chuck Courtney). You might know him as the foreman down at the Double Bar B Ranch. Just about the only person who knows about Billy’s gunslinger past is his fiancée Betty, and their engagement is a closely guarded secret as well, at least for the moment. Betty is, after all, his boss’ daughter.
They’re working up the nerve to break the big news. No need to sweat, though. I’m sure it’ll work out all right, just so long as Count Dracula (John Carradine) doesn’t happen to board the same stagecoach as Betty’s family, engineer their deaths at the hands of a generally amiable tribe of Native Americans, steal the identity of the now-dead uncle that Betty never really knew, take over the ranch, and scheme to seize Betty as his own vampiric bride. C’mon, though, what are the chances of that?
Perhaps the most wildly prolific actor in the history of cinema, John Carradine starred in more than his fair share of dreck. There was only a single movie that he regretted making, and I bet you’ll guess which one on your first try. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula shrugs off the whole trying thing, content instead to coast on its eye-catching title.
The movie was shot in just a few days by seventy-something-year-old William Beaudine. Sequences that were clearly intended to take place in the dead of night instead look like they were filmed just after lunch. Carradine’s bloodsucker is never actually referred to as Dracula. Sunlight doesn’t faze him, nor does he sprout fangs when he leans over his prey and… kinda just stands there.
As Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is a horror/Western, it has two genres’ worth of clichés to mine. Billy’s pitted against a vengeful ranch hand who used to have his job and used to have his girl. So, yeah, there’s an inevitable struggle for supremacy at the Double Bar B, complete with fistfights and shootouts. Thrill to a daring jail break! Your pulse will surely race at the sight of a whooping Indian raid, shamelessly spliced in from a completely different movie!
On the horror end of the equation, a couple of grieving gypsies do their damndest to prevent Betty from sharing the same grisly fate as their beloved daughter. This includes placing wolfsbane around her bedroom window. I guess I should put “wolfsbane” in finger-quotes, since Mrs. Oster uses what sure looks like habanero pepper plants instead. And, predictably, everyone laughs off their tales of a bloodthirsty vampire at first. Billy soon enlists the town doctor in researching vampiric lore, and there’s a whole deal with trying to see if that bloodsucker actually has a reflection. One thing no one asks is why Dracula would turn into a bat and fly into Betty’s window when they’re in the same house. Wouldn’t just turning a doorknob be a whole lot easier?
But wait! There are still all those pulse-pounding confrontations between the living dead and one of the most legendary guns in the West to look forward to, right? Well, Billy the Kid doesn’t really duke it out with Ostensibly-Dracula until the last couple minutes of the flick, and it proves to be an awfully uneventful battle. I did learn that although vampires aren’t affected in the slightest by bullets, they are vulnerable to a revolver being chucked at their heads, so there’s that.
Still, sometimes I want to see a rubber bat dangling from a fishing line. I can’t really say no to a bug-eyed John Carradine staring at the camera while a theremin whirs away. I wish I could say no to the skin-crawling lechery of his vampire repeatedly slobbering over a picture of an 18-year-old girl, but what are you gonna do? That’s our Dracula! At least he has some kind of presence on-screen, which is more than can be said for the other two leads.
As terrible as Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is, the movie has a certain slapdash charm that can be difficult to resist. I’ve willingly subjected myself to it twice, for whatever reason. If it turns out that you can barely stomach it, at least the movie’s mercifully short at just 73 minutes.
A borderline-unwatchable presentation is streaming for free on Tubi. Amazon Video, YouTube Movies, and the like hopefully fare better than that, though they’re limited to standard definition as well. Your best bet for experiencing Billy the Kid vs. Dracula in all its 1080p glory is, of course, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ shiny new Blu-ray release.