Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
What a fool I've been! The dual thermic impulsonator is to be attached only to the body of the living brain and the artificial brain!
It was a dark and stormy night.
The natives were growing restless.
And our cliché generator just broke.
In a small village along the Mexican border, the locals quickly pack their belongings to escape the curse that has plagued the town. It all started when those two foreigners moved into the monastery, up on the hill, overlooking the town. Children who worked for them began to die under mysterious circumstances.
The two strangers were doctors from Europe, Vienna to be precise, and claimed that the children were stricken with some mysterious contagious disease. The townspeople were suspicious but frightened by the rumors of what was really going on inside the monastery walls.
Soon, the Lopez family - Poppa, Mama and Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) - are the only ones left in town. They remain because their only son, Francisco, is somewhere inside the monastery walls. Juanita tries to see him but is informed that he, too, has contracted the mystery contagion. The family mourns.
But if they only knew what really happened to Francisco, their blood would curdle with fright.
Methinks I'm taking this a little too seriously. We are talking about a film called Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. *sigh*
Okay, no more amateur dramatics. On with the film.
As a lightning storm rages outside, inside the monastery, Maria and Rudolph Frankenstein (Narda Onyx & Steven Geray) marvel at the severe weather that rumbles through the plains on a regular basis. They’re a chip right off of dad’s old block and continue his ghoulish experiments, although Rudolph doesn’t seem to have the stomach for it.
They aren’t interested in reanimating cadavers, though, instead they are experimenting with an artificial brain their father created. When the pre-processed brain is placed in the subject patient - they become mindless slaves.
So far, though, each attempt to transplant a brain has ended in failure. (Francisco was their latest disaster.) Maria believes that the test subjects were too young and weak. She doesn’t realize that Rudolph, who thinks these experiments are an abomination, is secretly poisoning the test subjects. They only have one brain left so they must find the perfect transplantee.
Meanwhile, Jesse James (John Lupton) and his beefy friend, Hank (Cal Bolder), are trying to raise a little money. Hank fights the local thug of the saloon owner (Nestor Paiva) (another fan favorite here at 3B Theater) and beats him soundly. Nestor tries to welch on the bet until he realizes he’s messing with thee Jesse James.
What’s left of the James Gang meets up with what’s left of the Wild Bunch to pull off a stage hold-up. (Both gangs have seen better days, put together there are only five men.) Butch, the leader of the Wild Bunch, argues with his brother, Lonny (Rayford Barnes) (who looks real familiar), about his share of the loot. Lonny found out about the stage carrying the $100000 payroll, and the decoy trick they use to get through the Pia del Morte (a small pass that's a perfect spot for an ambush.) So he feels he deserves a bigger cut.
He also isn’t very happy about the inclusion of the James Gang. In a drunken stupor, he draws on Jesse. But Jesse proves faster and shoots the gun out of Lonny's hand. Butch plays peacemaker then tells Lonny he’ll only get the same amount as everybody else.
This doesn’t sit well with Lonny, so he sneaks off and rats the gang out to Marshall Macfee (Jim Davis). He tells Macfee that he is going straight and wants to see Jesse James hang.
So Macfee and his posse get to Pia del Morte first and set an ambush for the ambushers. Then the James Gang/Wild Bunch shows up, including the turncoat Lonny, and wait for the decoy stage to pass through first.
When they stop the real stage, Macfee springs his trap. The posse takes care of the Wild Bunch while Lonny aims his rifle at Jesse. Hank sees this and gets in the line of fire, taking a bullet in the shoulder. Jesse helps him onto a horse and they both escape.
Macfee tells the others to take the bodies back to town while he goes after Jesse. Lonny demands to go with him because he wants to see the outlaw dead. (I’m sure the $10000 reward has nothing to do with it. Lonny’s a pretty cold fish, his brother was just shot down and he doesn’t even give him a second glance.)
Hank’s wound is pretty serious. Luckily, they stumble upon the Lopez family. Jesse tells them that Hank was hurt by accident. Juanita offers to take them to the doctor in Prescott. Being on the lamb, Jesse declines as best he can. Juanita figures out that it wasn’t an accident and offers to take the men to the doctors at the monastery.
Along the way, Juanita goes to the river for some water and an Indian grabs her. Jesse goes to search for her and soon finds himself wrestling with the Indian for his trouble. Jesse manages to kill the brave with his own knife. Juanita is very, very grateful to him for saving her life. Then suddenly, they stumble onto a John Ford set as the rest of the tribe thunders by on horseback - never to be seen or heard from again. They’re safe, so the girl and the outlaw kiss.
They enter the abandoned town. Juanita refuses to go up to the monastery and tells Jesse that she will stay behind. Jesse takes Hank to the monastery and asks for help. He tells the sibling doctors it was an accident. Rudolph wants to help while Maria’s eyes bulge with glee at Hank’s beefy frame - she has found her perfect specimen.
While Jesse takes care of the horses, the doctors begin to work on Hank. In a delirium, Hank calls for Jesse by name. I guess they’ve even heard of the outlaw way over in Vienna. Maria tells Rudolph that the situation is perfect, the outlaws are on the run and won’t be missed. She sends Rudolph out to bring Juanita in, rounding up all the witnesses.
Time passes. Macfee and Lonny show up at the monastery but Maria lies and says she has seen no one. They believe her and leave.
Hank starts to get better with Rudolph’s care. Juanita sits with him and warns him that as soon as he is strong enough, he and Jesse must leave or they will die. Hank asks Juanita if she will come with them. She has no answer.
That evening, Juanita pleads with Jesse to leave as soon as Hank is able. She is pleased that he, too, asks if she will come with them. Even though she does love him, she cannot go and must remain to stop the evil that destroyed her village.
Someone else has got a thing for Jesse, too. Maria turns on her feminine wiles, and weird accent, and tries to seduce him. She promises that, together, they can build an empire and rule it, well, together. Jesse is not swayed and informs Maria that he will be leaving as soon as Hank is ready.
This sends Maria into a snit. If she can’t have the outlaw, then no one can. She sets in a motion a trap that will get Jesse out of the way so she can experiment freely on Hank. She tells Jesse that Hank has relapsed and needs medicine from the pharmacy in Prescott. (Uh, okay.) She gives Jesse a prescription that reads: Hello, my name is Jesse James. If lost please return me to Marshall Macfee and hang me by the neck until dead (or something like that.)
After Jesse rides off to Prescott, Maria and Rudolph begin the brain transplant procedures on Hank by shaving his head. And while Rudolph amputates his old brain, Maria starts percolating the new one.
In town, Jesse gives the pharmacist the bum prescription. The clerk reads it then nervously excuses himself to the back room. He high tails it out the back door to the Marshall’s office but Lonny is the only one there. Lonny sees the reward dollar signs and sends the reluctant apothecary back to his store to distract Jesse.
Lonny isn’t very sneaky, though, and Jesse quickly dispatches him. The druggist shows him Maria’s false prescription. Realizing he's been had, he heads back to the monastery where Juanita has managed to sneak in and observe the awful experiments.
The transplant completed, Maria moves on to the next step. She dons her Strickfaden's Electronic Brain-Swapping-Beanie-Helmet, that is connected to Hank’s new brain. Fluorescent tubes light up, machines whir and Tessla coils spark off as she begins to program the artificial brain. This is accomplished by raving at the top of her lungs, and thinking bad thoughts into her magic helmet.
The experiment appears to be a success as Hank stirs - but he quickly loses consciousness. Maria tells Rudolph to get her a syringe of medicine to stimulate him. But this time she catches Rudolph filling it up with poison. He has had enough and turns on his sister. As they struggle, Maria screams for help. Hank wakes back up and throttles Rudolph to death.
Maria gleefully dubs her new pet Igor.
Horrified by what she's seen, Juanita flees to find Jesse. They meet on the road to Prescott. She pleads with him not to return to the monastery; but Jesse is a stand up guy and must return to see if he can help Hank. Juanita continues in to town to find Macfee.
Jesse arrives at the monastery. He thinks he has the jump on Maria but Igor sneaks up and knocks him out. She straps him to the table and drugs him. She intends to make him a slave too. (Wait a second. I thought they only had one brain left?)
Somehow, Juanita manages to convince Macfee to the evil goings on at the monastery. They arrive and he tells Juanita to wait outside. Inside, he finds Jesse strapped to the table.
Unfortunately, Maria finds him before he can cut Jesse loose. She sics Igor on him and he bear hugs Macfee into unconsciousness. While they drag Macfee off to the dungeon, Juanita enters the lab and releases Jesse.
But her timing isn’t very good either, as the bad guys come back and catch them. Maria tells Igor to kill them both. Hank manages to assert himself and can’t kill his friends. He turns on Maria and kills her. The relapse is only temporary, though, and Igor’s faulty motor neurons get stuck on kill mode.
Jesse can’t shoot his friend, so Igor starts to wipe the floor with him. Juanita quickly picks up one of Jesse’s discarded guns and shoots Igor. As he dies, Igor reverts back to Hank and calls out Juanita’s name.
The film ends with Juanita tearfully saying goodbye to Jesse as Macfee hauls him off to jail.
Well, that’s kind of a downer.
So, we finally got around to doing the companion piece to Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. I’m sorry to report, though, that this film fell victim to the exact same pitfalls. Director William "One-Shot" Beaudine and writer Carl K. Hittleman, again, play it straight - so we’re basically stuck with a Halloween episode of Bonanza.
The script is solid, the sets are solid and the stunts are solid - so there really isn’t a whole lot wrong with it. But it comes off as so banal, you’ll catch yourself anxiously awaiting the conclusion so's you can move on with your life.
It does pick up a little during the brain swapping scenes but they can’t carry the film. Narda Onyx plays her character with much gusto. I’m not quite sure what accent she was trying to pull off but it didn't stay the same from scene to scene. And I finally remember where I saw Rayford Barnes before. He was Joe Don Baker’s fellow detective in the MST3K great Mitchell.
I don’t want to be a historical nitpicker but if memory serves me correctly, I believe Billy the Kid wore twin guns while Jesse James wore only one. The creators of these two films even got that mixed up. That shouldn’t really bug me but for some reason, it did.
The film doesn’t even fall in to the "so bad it’s good" category because it is so mundane. Not a lot happens in this movie. It isn’t terrible but again, with that title, I was expecting more.
The biggest difference between the films is that in Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, I kinda warmed up to the characters of Billy and Betty. In this film I was indifferent to Jesse and Juanita. I don’t know if I can blame the story or the actors, but I really didn’t care what happened to them.
I can only recommend both films as anomalies of mixed genres but beyond that, there just isn’t a whole lot there.