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13 February, 2011

The Year Horror Began



Eighty years ago this month, the Horror Film, as we recognize it, was born.  On Valentine’s Day 1931, Universal Pictures premiered Tod Browning’s DRACULA, the first Horror Film produced in the United States that can be described as a “modern” horror—one where the antagonist truly was what it was purported to be.  Dracula wasn’t a lunatic mistaken for a monster, or a master criminal in disguise; he was exactly what he claimed to be—a vampire, an undead creature of the night.

The catalog of the American Horror Film wasn’t extensive by the beginning of the Sound era, and it largely owed it’s existence to the efforts of two men:  director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney.  Browning was the quintessential master of the macabre throughout the 1920’s and into the beginning of the 1930’s, and Chaney was his star, the “man of a thousand faces” who was the personification of Horror on the silent screen.

In a string of 10 movies produced between 1919 and 1929, the two defined Horror as a psychological experience, not a supernatural one.  In roles as diverse as Alonzo the Armless in 1927’s THE UNKNOWN, to ‘Dead Legs,’ the evil wheelchair-bound magician who sells his own daughter into white slavery in WEST OF ZANZIBAR, Chaney’s characters were no less monsters for the fact that they were human.  The hatred and darkness in them owed nothing to the paranormal, and everything to the pathological.

Browning wasn’t the only director working in Horror in Hollywood, of course.  Under contract to M-G-M, in 1923 Chaney was borrowed by Universal, for director Wallace Worsley’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.  In 1925, Chaney appeared in two Horror Films—one mostly forgotten, and one that is unforgettable.  The lesser of the two efforts was Roland West’s THE MONSTER.  Chaney portrayed a mad scientist who poses as a monster in order to force vehicles to crash, thereby providing him with subjects for experimentation.  Half horror, half comedy, it was an average programmer for the period, with little other than Chaney’s performance to recommend it.  However, that same year, Universal released what is arguably the greatest Silent Horror film to originate in the United States—Rupert Julian’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, the role of Erik (the Phantom) would be acknowledged as Chaney’s defining performance.

Just as Browning wasn’t the only Horror director, Chaney was not the only star who made Horror Films.  In 1920, John Barrymore starred in John S. Robertson’s version of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE.  This adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, though eclipsed a decade later by Reuben Mamoulian’s Oscar-winning version, was nonetheless groundbreaking for it’s time.  In 1927, Paul Leni, a German √©migr√© working for Carl Laemmle at Universal, adapted a popular Broadway play into THE CAT AND THE CANARY, the originator of the “Old Dark House” style of Horror Films, starring Laura La Plante, an attractive young contract player, as Annabelle West, heir to the vast fortune left by her ancestor, Cyrus West.  This movie saw an early version of the “scream queen” in American Horror, though her screams could not be heard.  A year later, Conrad Veidt, who was an established star in his native Germany, appeared in Leni’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS for Universal.

All of these silent American Horrors had one thing in common—the complete lack of the supernatural.  Though supernatural creatures had inhabited silent Horrors from the rest of the world, most notably Germany; in American films they were, for all intents, nonexistent.  In German film, phantoms, vampires, and monsters existed; they were depicted as what they were.  Max Schreck played Count Orlok as a vampire, not a criminal masquerading as a vampire.  American conventions were the opposite.  However unreal or grotesque the antagonist might seem, there was always a logical explanation at the bottom of it.  Like the Scooby-Doo cartoons fifty years later, at the end there would always be an unmasking, as the “monster” was revealed to be anything but.

But as the era of the silents was drawing to a close, that was due for a change.  Universal was planning to go into production on DRACULA, with Tod Browning at the helm[1].  Carl Laemmle had recently ceded control over the studio to his son Carl Jr. (a twenty-first birthday gift), and Junior (who was christened Julius but later changed his name) was fond of the gothic tales of horror such as Stoker’s Dracula and Shelley’s Frankenstein.  “Uncle” Carl Laemmle preferred Westerns and other, “less gruesome” fare, but Junior wanted Horror pictures.

Legend has it that the senior Laemmle demanded that Chaney portray Dracula, or the picture couldn’t be made.  In truth, there’s no record such a demand was made (though Junior was hoping to lure him back to Universal for the picture, one reason he hired Browning to direct), or that Chaney was ever attached to the project (it must be remembered he was still under contract at M-G-M, though Universal often sought reasons to request the loan of one of the Silent Screen’s biggest draws).  In any case, Chaney passed away of throat cancer on 26 August 1930, and conjecture about how “the man of a thousand faces” would portray the Lord of the Undead will forever remain just that:  Conjecture.

With the question of who wouldn’t be playing the role of Dracula at least partially answered, in Chaney’s part by his unfortunate death, there remained a veritable who’s who of actors who were being considered for the job.  Names such as Paul Muni, John Wray, and Conrad Veidt were discussed for the part.  Even Chester Morris, an actor who specialized in ‘tough-guy’ roles (and had been nominated for the second Best Actor Oscar for 1929’s ALIBI), was mentioned—more by virtue of already being contracted to Universal than due to any intrinsic qualities he possessed.

The one to whom Laemmle was adamantly opposed was a 48-year-old Hungarian actor who had successfully played the role on Broadway.  In fact, he sent the production team a telegram stating, “… no interest in [this actor] for Dracula.[2]”  “This actor” was Bela Lugosi, and though the studio professed no interest in him, he definitely had an interest in the part of the Transylvanian Count, campaigning actively for it.  Despite whatever misgivings the Laemmles had about Lugosi as Dracula, he finally won the role, clinching the deal with his willingness to take the job at roughly a quarter of the salary he could’ve gotten.  Even Lugosi, not known for his sense of humor, couldn’t resist a jab at “Uncle” Carl’s legendary nepotism, telling reporters that he was cast simply because the senior Laemmle didn’t have a relative who could play the part.

Supporting Lugosi would be a cast of Universal regulars.  Helen Chandler would be the female lead, in the role of Mina, the main focus of the Count’s lustful attentions.  David Manners would portray John Harker, her love interest.  Dwight Frye would play the lunatic Renfield, slave to Dracula’s control.  And Edward Van Sloan would portray Dracula’s nemesis, Van Helsing.

Principal photography began on 29 September 1930, and would continue until mid-November.  Production went smoothly, though Browning was at best disinterested in the project.  According to film historian Michael Mallory, “The fact that Browning seemed to lose interest in Dracula during the filming, at times turning the direction over to cinematographer Karl Freund, has been interpreted as possible depression over Chaney's untimely death.[3]”  Whatever the reason, there’s little doubt that Browning’s work on this films suffers in comparison to his earlier films, and indeed, in comparison to that of George Melford, who directed the Spanish-language version of DRACULA, filmed at night using the same sets, props, and in some cases, costumes.  Melford’s version is far more complete, a full 30 minutes longer than Browning’s, and is a far more cinematic work.  Browning’s version has been criticized, and rightfully so, as being far too literal a translation of the play upon which it was based.  Everything about the movie gives the impression that one is watching a stage play, from the dialogue, to the occasionally awkward transitions, to the static cinematography.

Melford’s version, on the other hand, just flows so much more smoothly.  George Robinson’s photography has a fluidity and grace that is completely lacking from Freund’s camera work.  In every way but one, Melford’s DRACULA is superior in execution to Browning’s.  That one factor, the factor that makes one a legendary film and the other an interesting side-note, is Bela Lugosi.  Lugosi transforms this film into something that hadn’t existed prior to it’s release—a modern American Horror Film.  This one performance so perfectly captured Dracula in the minds of moviegoers that his version of the bloodthirsty Count has become the archetype for the character.  For the past eighty years, every actor who has played Dracula has had to measure his performance against Lugosi’s yardstick—and has generally been found wanting.

In February of 1931, a new genre appeared on the screen—not a mystery, not a melodrama, not a thriller—but a Horror Film.  Nine months later, in November of 1931, another film in this new genre would debut, the greatest Horror Film of all.  These two films, DRACULA and, of course, James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, would launch Horror’s Golden Age, transform their stars into Icons who would spend the majority of their lives competing with one another for the crown that had belonged to Chaney, and make Universal Studios the original “House that Horror Built.”



This February, eighty years after these films first frightened and captivated audiences, moviegoers, fans, and classic film buffs will have the opportunity to view these movies on the big screen once again.  Thanks to the efforts of long-time friend of the Crypt Scott Essman, head of Visionary media and the man who has led the efforts to secure a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to honor Jack P. Pierce, on the afternoon of 20 February 2011, these movies will once more flicker to life.  On that day, at the Pomona Fox Theater, (301 S. Garey Ave.) in Pomona, California[4], the audience will be magically transported back to 1931—back to the year Horror began.


[1] The primary reference for this article is the superb book Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror, by Michael Mallory.  It is a spectacular volume, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
[2] The Documentary Universal Horrors, released in 1998.
[3] Mallory 49
[4] www.pomonafox.org

Bobbie's Essays: Tribute to Tura Satana, 1938-2011

Tura Satana, best known for her appearance in Russ Meyer's cult classic FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! has died at the age of 72.  Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi on July 10, 1938 in Japan, to a Japanese silent film actor father and an American Indian-Irish circus performer mother, the family immigrated to America after World War 2.  After a stint in the Manzanar interment camp, the family moved to the Westside of Chicago, IL.  Developing early, she claimed to have been gang raped at the age of nine.  According to Tura, her attackers were never caught but this attack prompted her to learn martial arts and karate where she obtained a gold belt.  This talent also served her well against her physically abusive father.

Sent to reform school as a teenager, she became the leader of a girl-gang.  At 13, she was briefly married to a 17-year-old boy in an arrangement made by her parents.  However, married life wasn't for Tura and, leaving her husband behind, she moved to Los Angeles and, fake ID in hand, tried her hand at blues singing, became a bathing suit model, and at age 16 posed nude for silent screen comic Harold Lloyd, who was unaware that she was under-age, in a photo titled Black Widow.  It was Harold Lloyd, impressed with her photogenic and exotic looks, who convinced Tura to try her hand at acting.  However, tiring of Los Angeles, she returned to Chicago to live with her parents and performed as an exotic dancer, touring with Tempest Storm and Rose La Rose.  At age 19, Tura became pregnant but continued dancing until in her eight month for a salary of $1500 a week.  Her career as an exotic dancer took off and soon she was traveling around the country with her act, meeting various other traveling acts such as a young Elvis (who she dated for some time, eventually turning down a marriage proposal, though she kept the ring) and Wayne Newton.  It was during this time that Tura married briefly for a second time.

Returning to Los Angeles in her early 20's, Tura appeared in two movies, IRMA LA DOUCE (1963) with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon and WHO’S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED with Dean Martin (1963).  She also had bit roles in several TV programs such as Burke's Law and The Man From UNCLE.  In 1965, Tura met the man who would change her life and her status from an uncredited bit actress to a cult icon...  Russ Meyer!

Meyer, a veteran war photographer, came home to a job of photographing early Playboy centerfolds.  Meyer had always had an interest in film and had directed EVE AND THE HANDYMAN and THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, two early nudie-cuties.  It's at this time that Tura and Meyer's path's crossed.  Meyer, taken with Tura's exotic good looks and athletic abilities, asked her to star in his up-coming movie FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Tura played Varla, the lead of a gang of three strippers, out for a day's racing in the California desert.  There, they meet a young dating couple and, after Varla dispatches the boyfriend with some kicks to the head, they take as hostage the young woman, Billie.  Having heard of an old man who reputedly has a lot of money, they decide to rob him.  Once at the old man's house, they seduce his sons and search for the cash, not knowing the old man, who refers to Varla as being, “more stallion than mare,” has sinister plans of his own.  In this movie, Tura's martial arts training becomes obvious as she kicks and stomps her way through both the movie and most of the cast!  Oddly, for a Russ Meyer movie, this has no nudity.  Director John Waters says this is beyond a doubt the best movie ever made.  Filmed on a budget of only $45,000, it's made millions.
After FASTER PUSSYCAT, Tura made five more movies, all for director Ted V. Mikels.  The first as Satanna in ASTRO-ZOMBIES, the second was DOLL SQUAD, which is believed to have inspired TV producer Aaron Spelling to create Charlie's Angels, a TV program that ran for five years and the first to feature an all-female lead cast.  The final two were MARK OF THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES and ASTRO-ZOMBIES: M3-CLONED both of which went straight to video.

But tumultuous times continued for Tura.  After DOLL SQUAD, Tura was shot in the stomach by a boyfriend and spent some time in the hospital, ending her career as an exotic dancer.  She worked in a hospital, managed a doctor's office and worked as a radio dispatcher for the LA police department.  A car accident in 1981 broke her back, left her unable to walk for some months, and required several operations.  Marrying for a third time, this time to a retired policeman (who passed away in 2000), she was in talks with Russ Meyer to do a sequel to FASTER PUSSYCAT but those plans ended with Russ Meyer’s death in 2004.  Still, had Tura not done any movies other than FASTER PUSSYCAT, she'd still be remembered today for her trashy, tough-talking, butt-kicking woman of sexual abandonment in the greatest sexploitation movie in history.

Tura Satana died Feb. 4, 2011.  She leaves behind two daughters, three grandchildren and thousands of mourning fans—and a legacy as one of the strongest, most assertive women in the world of Exploitation Film.



Senior Correspondent Bobbie Culbertson

The Unimonster's Crypt Screening Room: FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Title:  FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Date of Theatrical Release:  1965

MPAA Rating:  N/A






 
Russ Meyer was one of the most successful of the Exploiteers who churned out hundreds of low-budget pictures for the burgeoning “adult” market beginning in the late 1950’s.  He gets the credit for directing the first “Nudie-Cutie,” THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, in 1959, and directed seventeen films (both features and shorts) in the next nine years.  In the mid-‘60’s, he made four films that he termed his “Gothic” cycle.  These films were exemplified by their gritty, cheap texture; strong stories; black-and-white photography, weak male characters, and domineering female characters.  These four films were LORNA, MUDHONEY, MOTOR-PSYCHO, and FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!  Of these, FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! has become recognized as Meyer’s signature film, the one with the greatest popularity among his fans—all the more surprising due to the lack of Meyer’s customary nude sequences.

FASTER PUSSYCAT… is an atypical Meyer film in that regard; it is virtually the only Meyer film without nudity.  That doesn’t mean it lacks sexual tension, or that it is less exploitative.  In fact, it is pure Exploitation Film, with even the title intended to convey a sense of speed, sex, and violence.

The movie follows three exotic dancers—Varla (Tura Satana [see Bobbie’s Tribute to Tura Satana, above]), Rosie (Haji), and Billie (Lori Williams)—as they race their sports cars through a Southern California desert.  They encounter a young couple, Tommy (Ray Barlow) and Linda (Susan Bernard), and Varla, the group’s leader and a woman with significant anger issues, rapidly loses control.  She beats Tommy to death, and kidnaps Linda, drugging her and tying her up.

A short while later, they all stop at an isolated gas station on the highway.  As they talk, they notice an elderly man in a wheelchair being tended by a younger man, physically imposing but mentally impaired.  The attendant (Mickey Foxx) informs them that the pair (Stuart Lancaster and Dennis Busch) are father and son, and that they live on a broken-down old ranch nearby.  The old man has another son (Paul Trinka), and there’s rumored to be a fortune hidden on the property.

This is enough to pique Varla’s interest, and she hatches a plan—a plan to murder and rob the old man.  What follows is a whirlwind descent into violence, as greed, lust, and hatred boil over on the old man’s desolate ranch.  He and his sons are concealing secrets of their own, and Varla soon discovers that she might not be as much in control as she believes.

FASTER PUSSYCAT…, though atypical in regards to nudity for Meyer, is in other ways pure Russ Meyer ‘Sleaze.’  It focuses on many of the themes he loved to explore—the lower-class rural life of those who can be termed, “poor white trash;” isolated groups in conflict; weak, amoral men and dominating but equally amoral women; and lust, envy, avarice, all the baser emotions.  As is usual for a Meyer film, there’s really no one whom the audience can root for in this movie—every character is a flawed, twisted specimen of humanity.  The viewer sympathizes with Linda’s plight as Varla’s captive, but she appears, innocent and child-like, as a rabbit in a den of wolves, with scant hope of survival.

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! may not be my personal favorite of Meyer’s movies, but it’s undeniably one of his best.  The story is classic Exploitation Film gold, the performances are great, the bizarre cast of characters perfectly conceived, and the black-and-white photography is top-notch.  Musician and director Rob Zombie, in introducing the movie on Turner Classic Movies’ TCMUnderground, referred to it as Meyer’s, “… pure vision.”  That it is, and while Meyer’s “pure vision” might not be to everyone’s liking, one can’t pick a better film to act as an introduction to this director.

DVD Review: PIRANHA (2010)

Title:  PIRANHA

Year of Release—Film:  2010

Year of Release—DVD:  2011

DVD Label:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment



I will freely admit that there are times, more often than not, that the ol’ Unimonster’s not looking for a great movie (or even a good one, for that matter).  I just want to be entertained.  Sometimes that means giant bugs, sometimes it means ‘80’s Slasher Films.  And sometimes it means large-breasted young women; gratuitous nudity, violence and gore; and tasteless humor.  Sometimes it means a movie such as Alexandre Aja’s remake of the 1978 Roger Corman-produced classic PIRANHA.

 Less a remake of the original than a, to use the term currently in vogue, reinvention, Aja foregoes the “man tampering with nature” plot of Joe Dante’s original, in favor of a natural cause for the assault of millions of carnivorous fish on a lake full of partiers.

It’s a pleasant spring day on Lake Victoria, Arizona.  An elderly fisherman, Matthew Boyd (Richard Dreyfuss, in a nice little tribute to his role in JAWS thirty-five years previously), is in a rowboat, drifting along, line in the water.  A small earthquake shakes the area, opening up, deep below the water’s surface, a huge fissure.  A whirlpool forms near Boyd’s boat, drawing it in as thousands of strange fish swim upward from the fissure.  The angler is tossed into the raging water, only to be torn to shreds as the fish swarm around him.  The lake quickly returns to its normally placid state, the only indication of anything extraordinary having occurred being the now-empty rowboat—and Boyd’s arm, bloody, flesh stripped from the bones, upthrust from the water.

In another part of the lake, hordes of college kids are descending upon the small community.  It is Spring Break, and Lake Victoria is renowned as a party destination.  Everywhere one looks are drunken college boys and lovely college girls, all ready to have the time of their lives.  Through this mass of humanity a young man on a motorbike can be seen, carefully navigating his way around knots of dancing, stumbling partiers.  This is Jake (Steven R. McQueen), and as much as he would like to join in the festivities, he’s on a mission: to collect his little sister from her music lesson.

He finds her waiting for him in the company of Danni (Kelly Brook), a stunningly beautiful young woman.  As fate would have it, she is a Wild, Wild Girl—one of the stars of a series of videos that feature naked, nubile women behaving, well… wildly.  The brainchild of a weasely character named Derrick (Jerry O’Connell), one of the videos is being produced during the Spring Break activities.  Derrick hires Jake to act as location scout for the production, a guide who knows his way around the lake.

That night, Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), who happens to be Jake’s mother, is investigating Matt Boyd’s disappearance.  His boat has been found by Fallon (Ving Rhames), one of her deputies, but there was no sign of the missing man.  As Julie reaches from the dock to the boat, she falls in the water, coming up with the body of Matt Boyd.

The body appears to have been in the water for several days, rather than hours.  It’s obvious to both officers that whatever did this to the old man—it wasn’t something to which they were accustomed.  Julie’s first instinct is to close the lake, a lake that, in a few short hours, will play host to a hundred thousand Spring Break revelers.  A hundred thousand potential victims—of something unknown to the Sheriff.
The latest in a string of hits for “splat-pack” member Aja, following on the heels of 2008’s MIRRORS, PIRANHA’s strength lies in its total abandonment of any pretense of being a worthwhile or meaningful film.  It’s pure exploitation, 100-percent no-holds-barred ‘70’s-era Drive-In movie.  It fulfills every tenet of Joe Bob Briggs’ requirement for a good Drive-In Movie: Boobs, Blood, and Beasts.  The script, by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, is adequate—don’t expect Shakespeare and you won’t be disappointed.  Aja’s direction has improved with each outing, from HAUTE TENSION, to THE HILLS HAVE EYES, to MIRRORS, and now with PIRANHA.  He has a firm grasp of what modern Horror fans want to see, and the ability to bring that to the screen.

The DVD release is nice, thin on bonus features but that, unfortunately, is becoming the trend, as distributors save the bonuses for Blu-ray releases.  The one bonus is a good one, however—Don’t Scream, Just Swim: Behind-the-Scenes of PIRANHA 3D.  At a runtime of 91 minutes, it’s actually 3 minutes longer than the movie it examines.  It’s full of the ‘making-of’ details that I love, and is enjoyable in its own right.





PIRANHA isn’t going to please everyone; in fact, even a lot of Horror fans may find it over-the-top.  But sometimes you’re in the mood for over-the-top—sometimes you’re in the mood for Boobs, Blood, and Beasts.  And PIRANHA delivers, in spades.

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER

Title:  JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER

Year of Release—Film:  1966









Terrible events are unfolding in the abandoned Spanish Mission high on the hill above a poor southwestern village that has the village's remaining population hitting the road.  That is, all except the Lopez family who fearfully await word from their daughter, Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez), on the fate of their missing son, Francisco (Mark Norton).  Juanita returns and confirms their worst fears...Francisco has been kidnapped by the evil Dr. Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and her equally evil older brother, Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein (Steven Gerey) and has fallen victim to unholy experiments intended to revive the dead!

Meanwhile, Jesse James (John Lupton) and the James Gang hide in waiting to rob a stagecoach of $100,000.  Unknown to Jesse is that his younger and jealous brother, Lonny (Rayford Barnes) has told the local law, Marshal MacPhee (Jim Davis) about the hold-up so he can claim the $10,000 reward on Jesse's head.  A shoot-out with the local law ensues and the entire James Gang is killed with the exceptions of Jesse, his lunkhead sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder)...and the two-timing brother, Lonny.  Jesse and the wounded Hank head for the hills.  The same hills occupied by the Frankenstein family!  Along the way, they meet the fleeing Lopez family and Juanita tends to Hank's wounds while flirting with Jesse.  Juanita tells Jesse Hank will surely die without a doctor's care and convinces him to come with her to the Doctors Frankenstein, apparently forgetting that this deadly duo was responsible for her brother's recent death!  Sneaking away under the cover of darkness, they make their way back to the small, abandoned village.

Jesse delivers the wounded Hank to Dr. Maria who can scarcely believe her eyes at this beefcake lying on the exam table before her!  Summoning her brother, she makes ready for another experiment...this one to make a slave of the comatose Hank.  Suddenly, there's a knock on the Mission's door!  It's Marshal MacPhee searching for Jesse James.  Successfully convincing him that she and her brother are the only occupants, she returns to her unholy deeds.  Meanwhile, back at the village, Jesse and Juanita kiss.  Jesse wants Juanita to come with him but she tells him she must stay to tend to her brother's grave.  Broken-hearted, Jesse goes back up to the Mission where Dr. Maria, tired after a long day of treating Hank, is strolling in the garden.  Dr. Maria kisses Jesse but has her affections spurned by him.  Infuriated, she storms back inside and begins her experiment to turn Hank into her slave.  And she is successful!  However, when a horrified Dr. Rudolph tries to inject Hank with poison, he is killed by reanimated Hank at Dr. Maria's command.

The next day, Dr. Maria, still angry at Jesse for rejecting her, sends him into town to fill a prescription for the ailing Hank, who, unbeknownst to Jesse, has been turned into Igor, the doctor's mindless slave!  Equally unknown to Jesse, the sealed envelope contains a note informing the pharmacist that the bearer is none other than the wanted bank robber, Jesse James.  Terrified, the pharmacist (William Fawcett) sneaks out the back door and runs to the jail, which is being attended by the backstabbing Lonny during Marshal MacPhee's absence.  Seeing his chance to eliminate his brother, Lonny tries to sneak up on Jesse but is out-drawn and killed.  Jesse hurries back to Dr. Maria and confronts her about the double-cross.  Dr. Maria demands Hank/ Igor kill Jesse but Juanita, seeing their struggle, picks up Jesse's gun and wounds Hank/ Igor.  Dr. Maria commands Hank/ Igor to kill Juanita but Hank/ Igor, who has been secretly in love with Juanita, kills Dr. Maria, then dies with his beloved Juanita's name on his lips.  Realizing a life of crime is not for him, Jesse kisses Juanita good-bye and surrenders to the custody Marshal MacPhee.  The end.

I must confess that having sat though all agonizing 88 minutes of this before, last night I chose to numb the pain by watching it with the Joe Bob Briggs commentary track.  I find his wit and sense of humor makes even the dullest of movies possible to watch.  Especially when combined with a couple of cold ones!  Thanks for the help, Joe Bob!

JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER was the second to the last film William "One-shot" Beaudine directed near the end of a long career that spanned 50 years and produced 350 known films and shorts.  And this film turned out to be a career-killer for several of the actors!  This was the last of Narda Onyx's 27 pictures.  And  the last for veteran Nestor Pavia, although he appeared in one more TV show and two of his movies were released posthumously.  Estelita "The Mexican Spit-fire" chose for the first time to use her last name in the credits because she was attempting to switch from her song-and-dance act to a career as a dramatic actress.  This movie proved to be the end of her instead.  The hunky but oddly named Cal Bolder returned to acting in TV shows, mostly Westerns and left show business in two years.  Mark Norton, Juanita's silent brother, bid the movie business good-bye after this, his only movie.  BILLY THE KID vs. DRACULA (1966), made when Beaudine was 74, was his last film and both played together as double-features at drive-in theaters for years to come.  Why writer Carl K. Hittleman chose to film two western-horror movies during a time when westerns were fading away and classic horror icons had long been out of fashion is a mystery for the ages.  Maybe he thought that with the dearth of this type of movie on the screen, it was time to revive it.  He thought wrong!

William Beaudine, who began working in movies way back in 1909 as a prop boy, made his mark in filming silents films and early talkies.  He began work for Biograph when the film business was still headquartered in New York.  Moving to Hollywood, he worked with DW Griffith on BIRTH OF A NATION (1915).  He also worked for Goldwyn (before it became MGM), First National Pictures and Warner.  Beaudine had 30 pictures under his belt by the advent of sound pictures!  At the height of his career he was earning $2000-$2500 a week.  Then, suddenly, in 1935 he moved to Europe where he made films with Raoul Walsh, Allen Dwan and Will Hay.

Returning to the United States is 1937, Beaudine had trouble re-establishing himself as a director at the major studios.  He found work making low budget quickies for such companies as Monogram Pictures and Producers Releasing Company filming thrillers, comedies and melodramas with the East Side Kids, Bowery Boys and the Charlie Chan movies and Jiggs And Maggie films.  By the 1940's his once flourishing career was at it's lowest point and he was lucky to make $500 a picture.  It's at this time he made the acquaintance of Kroger Babb and directed the infamous sexploitation movie, MOM AND DAD (1945).  It is also at this time Beaudine got his nickname of "One-Shot" for never filming a second take regardless of flubbed lines or special effect mistakes.  By the end of the 1940's he was reduced to directing a drugged-up has-been Dracula in BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1952).  However, the 1950's saw a revival of his career in TV.  Beaudine's efficiency caught the eye of Walt Disney who hired him to direct several TV projects including The Naked City, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie series.  However, his career in movie-making wasn't as lucky.

Beaudine's earlier work directing silents is evident with JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER.  He still hung on to the framing and reaction shots so popular during the silent years.  His efficiency was obvious in the medium shots he favored so he wouldn't have to use two cameras.  And he kept the lone camera trained on the actors’ faces even during long speeches, making the scenes stiff and dull.  If a scene called for a man to walk down a long hallway and leave the building, Beaudine shot every footfall.  His day-for-night shots are so dark, the actors seem to disappear completely.  Add to that, Hittleman's nonsensical script and you have little to recommend this.  So, with that, I'll let Joe Bob Briggs end this review.  During the commentary track, Joe Bob claims that at one time an assistant told Beaudine that he was over the shooting schedule for a picture and Beaudine exclaimed "Do you mean there is someone out there who is actually waiting to see this shit!?!"

William Washington Beaudine died at the age of 78 on March 18, 1970.  He is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA. Rest in peace, One-Shot.

Enjoy!  Or Not!

MSTjunkie