Some films you don’t need more than the title and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is a film that inspires faith as soon as you hear its name. A weird western (meaning it combines horror and western elements), we meet Dracula (or “the vampire,” as he’s never identified) as a bat, about to go in for the kill before a cross drives him away.
Directed by William Beaudine, with a screenplay by Carl K. Hittleman, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is low budget filmmaking at its most entertaining. The bat’s fake. You’re left kind of scratching your head over what to think about John Carradine’s vampire. With his cape and pointed goatee you could buy him as a Devil or a magician (film historians, Lee Gambin and John Harrison, note the resemblance in their commentary track), but Carradine’s a vampire and one who lays on the eyes a bit thick when he’s trying to compel people.
The first thing you see after the opening credits is Carradine yawning, and the impulse is to laugh, but for all that Carradine’s performance can be amusing, you forget his vampire’s clever. It’s not always easy to take him seriously, but anyone who can get other people to do their dirty work without realizing that’s what they’re doing isn’t someone to be trifled with, and Hittleman gives his vampire enough smarts to make him a worthy opponent.
Surprisingly, it’s Billy who’s the one that’s lacking and while Chuck Courtney makes for an extremely likable cowboy, a legendary outlaw he is not. Pushed around by monster and human alike, he’s trying to put his Billy the Kid days behind him, but when the vampire starts having eyes for his girlfriend you realize fighting’s not like riding a bike and Billy’s pretty bad at it.
According to Harrison (who also cites Tom Weaver’s book, John Carradine: The Films, as a resource) cinematographer, Lothrop B. Worth, admitted to shooting the film in five days and it does create some inconsistencies. Traditionally vampires can’t walk during the day but Carradine’s vampire does. The trouble is you get the impression the film is trying to pass off the day for the night, which is how you get one of the stage passengers saying, “You know, this is a little frightening, this traveling at night” when the sun’s still up.
Gambin and Harrison give another passionate talk on everything from weird westerns and color gels, to other films about Billy the Kid, to the film’s portrayal of Native Americans, and becoming obsessed with someone off of their photograph. The connection they make between Dr. Henrietta Hull (Olive Carey) and Van Helsing is especially inspired, though I’m also biased for thinking that Carey’s the bee’s knees in this movie (getting called a “backwoods, female pill-slinger” by the vampire, no less).
With a final showdown that needs to be seen to believe, and a credit sequence that involves animated bats as windshield wipers, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.