In this blighted age we live in, there are sooooo many films that are basically nothing but gimmicks. The Hobbit. The Star Wars prequel trilogy, as well as the upcoming Disney-fied sequels/spin-offs of said franchise. Tron : Legacy. Texas Chainsaw 3-D. The list is virtually endless.
The thing is, these flicks all try very hard to convince you, the viewer, that they’re not just quick, gimmick-y cash-ins — hell, they spend millions, even hundreds of millions, trying to dupe you into thinking that they’re something more than that. Something necessary.
Back in 1966, when legendary director William “One Shot” Beaudine made the movie under discussion here today, there were plenty of gimmick-based flicks as well, to be sure, but damn — at least they were upfront about it. It’s right there in the title, after all : Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. And if that ain’t enough for ya, it was paired on drive-in double bills with another Beaudine naked cash-grab, Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula. Both titles positively scream “we’re here to separate suckers from their money.”
Maybe it’s just me, but hey — I find that kind of honesty pretty refreshing. It’s almost enough to make a fella nostalgic — and no, I wasn’t around back in ’66, but it’s okay for me to miss those days all the same , isn’t it?
It almost feels like a plot recap for a flick such as this is an exercise in redundancy — after all, the title tells you all you need to know. And of course it’s gonna suck. But so what? Honestly, if this movie was good in any way, shape, or form, I’d feel cheated. Fortunately for us all, it’s every bit as rancid as you can imagine, maybe even moreso.
Here’s the deal — legendary outlaw Jesse James (John Lupton) and his pal Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder), the last of the infamous James Gang, are on the run from an American posse — in Mexico. Hank gets wounded in a shootout, and they seek help from the only doctor in the village, who lives in a haunted castle high atop an ominous mountain (of course). The doctor in question is one Maria Frankenstein, granddaughter of — well, you-know-who. She shoos Jesse off by sending him into town to get medicine , and while he’s away, she performs a brain transplant on poor ol’ Hank that turns him into a hulking, imbecilic monster that she names — wait for it — Igor. Her task for her new brute? Kill her fellow-mad-scientist brother, Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein, who she’s got a beef with.
Can Jesse resuce Hank/Igor from Maria’s clutches and return him to normal before it’s too late? Can an outlaw match wits with an evil scientific genius? Will Jesse and his new-found Mexican gal pal Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) live happily ever after south of the border? Does any of it really matter ????
Of course not. That’s the beauty of the thing, you see. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter isn’t even about what it says it is, since it’s Frankenstein’s granddaughter that Jesse meets up with. Making sense doesn’t matter here, nor do acting, story, production values — any of that high-fallutin’ stuff. The goal here is a simple one : make this thing as quickly and cheaply as you can in order to turn the highest possible profit because you know that there are bound to be some yokels dumb enough to get drawn in by the title. What you throw up on the screen doesn’t matter in the least — only the name you put on the poster. If you want something more than that, shit — this is the wrong movie for you, friend.
Admittedly, beyond its brazen marketing, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter doesn’t have much to offer. Hell, it doesn’t have anything to offer. Nor does it need to offer anything else — this is the rare movie that has won the battle merely by existing. That’s a concept that, if you really sit down and think about it, is almost mind-blowing in its simplicity. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, though — poor Igor got his mind blown and look how he turned out.
Don’t expect the “outsider art” charm of, say, an Ed Wood film here. Or the paranoia of Ron Ormond. Or anything that reeks, even accidentally, of auteurism. There are no hidden meanings to be drawn from this, or any interpretation that can be offered to make it sound, or seem, like anything other than what it is. Hell, whether or not you even like this movie is absolutely immaterial — William Beaudine didn’t care if you did, why should you? Thanks for your money, sucker. See ya in a few months with another one. Haw, haw haw!!!!
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter has, as you would expect, lapsed into the public domain, and is therefore available in several iterations on DVD, including on an “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” release. I caught it in a version from Elite Entertainment that features a commentary from the one and only Joe Bob Briggs which is, needless to say, far and away the best thing about it. The picture’s been remastered, is presented full-frame, and looks pretty good, and the mono sound is just fine, too. It’s probably — okay, certainly — a better release than this thing could ever deserve or hope for, but what the hell — I’ll take it. The original theatrical trailer’s included, as well.
Honestly, though, if you give a single, solitary damn about the technical specs for a film like this, you’re living in the wrong universe. Just kick back, relax, and let William Beaudine rip you off. At least he knew how to do it with something strangely akin to — dare I say it — integrity.