FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Mar 7, 2024


As you may know by now, each week's Chilling Classic is chosen by a random number generator, lest I forever flip back and forth through all 12 discs trying to figure out which movie I'm in the mood for. It's best to put my faith, as always, into RNGesus's hands. And so it was Mill Creek's will that I sat down with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966), which is really the only way I ever would have sat down with it. The title alone screams "not my bag," and I will admit to a heavy sigh as I pressed play. It was a "lie back and think of England Chilling Classics Cthursday" scenario! Now, on the other side of having done my duty (or at least half of my duty: I still have a lot of post to write), I can say with a bold confidence that I have, in fact, seen Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

As is the case with the seminal 1985 film The Nail Gun Massacre, the title Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter tells you all you need to know. Famous outlaw Jesse James does indeed meet Frankenstein's daughter! Truth in advertising. A blessing in this chatbot-riddled world, amirite? Love it.

Dr. Maria Frankenstein  (Narda Onyx) and her assistant Rudolph have immigrated to the American southwest from Vienna. The desert lightning storms are great for their evil experiments, experiments that began attracting the attention of authorities in Europe. Now, tucked far away in a matte painting an abandoned mission, they prey on the local Mexican population; When young men die in the lab, they quickly dispose of the bodies, telling grieving families that it had to be done for fear of spreading a contagious disease.

Maria is a mad scientist who takes after her grandfather Victor, wanting to create a living automaton that will do her bidding. She makes it clear that her father was a wuss who--much like Rudolph--didn't have the stomach to do what it takes to get this unethical shit done. So she keeps bringing up her grandfather, which might make you wonder for a second why they didn't call this Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Granddaughter. But that's a more awkward title, no? Maybe someday future nerds will argue over this in some even lame-er parallel to the "it's actually Frankenstein's monster" arguments. Yes, she is still a Frankenstein's daughter, but that Frankenstein isn't the Frankenstein you're thinking of. The point is...WHO CARES, I guess. Especially when we have more important things to talk about, like the way her lab coat is more of an overcoat!

Meanwhile, Jesse James and his "friend" (I put those quotes there to fuel your imagination), the hulking lummox Hank, decide to rob a stagecoach with Butch Cassidy Curry and the Wild Bunch. But Curry's brother rats out the gang to the Marshall, who is played by STOP THE PRESSES none other than Jim Davis--no, not the inventor of Garfield Jim Davis. (Although how cool would that be?) I'm talking about the Jim Davis who portrayed none other than Jock Ewing on a little something called television's Dallas! Reader, I fell out of my chair, puked in my pants with excitement, and started spinning around in a circle going WOOB WOOB WOOB like whichever Three Stooge does that. I will never doubt the powers of the almighty RNGesus ever again!

Thanks to the ol' double cross, there's a shootout during the stagecoach robbery, and Hank takes a bullet for Jesse, as friends do.

As they're wanted by the law, they can't go to just any old doctor. The pair stumble across the Lopez family, who have left town after their son died at the hands of Dr. Frankenstein. The daughter, Juanita, reluctantly directs Jesse and Hank to Castle Mission Frankenstein. On the way, they are attacked by a single "savage injun," complete with headband and buckskin outfit; Jesse saves Juanita, which means they are now in love. (Sorry, Hank.)

Maria is excited by Hank's physique, as unlike the "ignorant" and puny locals he is sufficiently strapping enough to handle the brain transplant. There are no racial implications to any of this at all!!!

The mad doctor activates the artificial brain that she will put inside Hank's head (which gives it...a heart beat? I guess the science checks out), puts on her mad doctor helmet, gets the machines where the blue lightning spark goes "bzzzzrt bzzzzrt" as it travels up between two filaments (you know what I'm talking about), and the next thing you know, Hank is reanimated.  He is now christened "Igor," and Maria can command him around.

It all makes sense if you think about it.

Oh, speaking of other things that make sense, Maria is also in love with Jesse James. He spurns her advances (he's loyal to Juanita, whom he has known for fifteen minutes longer), so Maria wants Juanita dead. Hell hath no fury like a Frankenstein scorned!

The only reason any of this matters is because the Marshall eventually shows up, and I can pretend that the Marshall is actually Jock Ewing. So it's Jock Ewing facing off against Dr. Maria Frankenstein, which will color my viewing of every episode of Dallas forevermore. In fact, I think this makes Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter an official prequel to Dallas, which is all any of us could ever want from life.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter was...not as bad as I thought it was going to be. And I'm not even saying that because of the surprise Jock Ewing! It's a goofy-yet-solid, delightfully dumb lite horror-oater. Narda Onyx leans into her role as Maria, arching her eyebrows and managing to wear that helmet with a straight face. John Lupton makes for a dull-as-dishwater Jesse James, but it's not entirely his fault. The film portrays James as a Robin Hood-type, making it a point that "he's not the type to hurt women" while stressing the tragic love story between the heading-for-the-gallows outlaw and the headstrong Juanita.

Yeah, it drags in the middle. William Beaudine's direction is very workmanlike, mostly wide shots of folks standing or sitting around talking. This is par for the course for Beaudine, the insanely prolific director who began making Poverty Row pictures in 1915 and ended with drive-in fare like today's movie and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula half a century later. If you wanted a movie made in a week on the cheap, you called "one shot" Beaudine, who shot only what he needed and often edited in-camera. Little fuss, little muss, hundreds of movies and television episodes. But no Dallas! Except, of course, this prequel. Later this week I will be starting a change dot org petition to have the film officially renamed Jock Ewing Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. I hope you'll sign it and forward it to your friends.


Riccardo said...

I'd heard about this for almost a half century (funny how time flies) but didn't get around to it until a few months ago with one of my online movie chat groups. It's surprisingly solid if you know the era and don't expect too much. I'm truly curious about Billy the Kid Vs Dracula, which I'm voting up for another movie chat. It's not in your 50-pack so you're safe from that one. :-)

Stacie Ponder said...

It was really a pleasant surprise! The title had me thinking it'd be a comedy, so I was thankful it turned out to be a delightfully hokey horror oater. If Billy the Kid... was in the 50-pack, I'd almost, dare I say, look forward to it--especially if it features anyone from Dallas haha

Riccardo said...

For Billy the Kid Versus Dracula the IMDB comparisons search only turns up Harry Carey Jr., who played "Red" in a season 4 episode of Dallas.

I tried some other primetime soap matches and both monster/western matchups share an art director and makeup person with Dynasty (Paul Sylos and Ted Coodley, respectively). :-)

Stacie Ponder said...

That's a good enough connection for me!

Riccardo said...

Having now seen both "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" and "Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula" I'm convinced that "one shot" Beaudine's horror-oater duo are more notorious for their names than their actual content. Billy/Drac is a perfectly serviceable vampire flick (of the bat-on-a-string kind), and you do get John Carradine mugging it up as Dracula though YMMV will vary on that (and the bat on a string -- I loved it).

Stacie Ponder said...

Okay, I had no idea John Carradine was Dracula! He and a bat on a string are dealmakers, not dealbreakers for me. I gotta make this one a priority.

Riccardo said...

At least it will complete the set. :-)

There might be something interesting to say about this Dracula that he's old, his powers are waning (a convenient explanation for Carradine's exaggerated mugging) and he knows it, since when he sees his "prey" (requisite pretty girl) he uses more than just his supernatural powers to attempt to establish control.

Also, Jesse gives us a female Dr. Frankenstein and Billy gives us a female Van Helsing. That's sort of unusual for the time, I think (the only other female Van Helsing that comes to mind is from Return of the Vampire in 1943).