Review Date: April 4, 2004
Released by: Lions Gates
Release date: 3/28/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
God Bless Joe Bob Briggs. Only he can make sitting through films fermenting at the bottom of the B-movie barrel watchable and - dare I say it? - enjoyable. One such film that is deserving of this dubious distinction is Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
, an instantly forgettable time waster that rises above the confines of its creation thanks solely to Mr. Briggs and his encyclopedic knowledge of bad movies.
The setting of this horror western says everything about its attempt to blend a gothic creature feature with a shoot-'em-up cowboy yarn. Mexican peasants, doubling for the "angry villagers" inherent in Frankenstein films of yore, share an adobe-laden village with the residents of a creepy Victorian mansion perched high up on a hill. The peasants fear the goings-on in the spooky old house, maybe due to the fact that their friends and neighbors are disappearing at a fast clip for no reason. As such, they start packing up and leaving in droves?all except for Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) and her family.
As you probably surmised, the mansion's inhabitants really are up to no good. Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx), with the help of brother Rudolph (Steven Geray), is busy trying to recreate her grandfather's (yes, you read this right, she's his granddaughter) famous experiments involving reanimation of dead tissue. The local yokels in the village make such wonderful guinea pigs, but none of them survive the brain transplant that is an integral part of the reanimation expiration. Maria is in desperate need of a suitable subject.
Enter Jesse James (John Lupton), and the requisite "old West" setting of the picture. During a botched stagecoach holdup, Jesse's hunky sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder) is shot in the chest. Jesse and Hank flee the scene and run into Juanita, who takes one look at Hank and is determined to save his beefy hide. So, naturally, she takes him up to mad scientist's house for treatment. (What are you laughing about? After all, they are doctors.) When Jesse and Juanita bring the wounded Hank into Maria Frankenstein's lab, she knows in an instant she's got her man. To make a long story short (something I wish the filmmakers had done), Maria performs slapdash brain surgery on Hank, effectively turning him into "Igor", her strapping, shirtless, obedient pet/slave?and object of lust? With this burly beast, who looks less like Karloff and more like Conan the Barbarian in a skullcap and halo of sutures, Maria Frankenstein has realized her grandfather's vision and, more importantly, has a lapdog to send after her adversaries, notably Juanita and the legendary Jesse James.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter was directed by William Beaudine, hailed in the film industry as "One-Shot Beaudine" because he never shot a second take (he must have graduated from the same filmmaking school as Ed Wood). To emphasize Beaudine's insistence on single takes, it is apparent that the director favored filming whole scenes without cutting for a close-up, establishing shot or different vantage point. Consequently, the production often has the feel of a stage play. A very bad stage play. Let's cut to the chase - this is one awful movie. And not one of those "it's so bad it's good movies", either. Jesse James is boring and ludicrous. It is extremely talky, containing endless scenes of pointless exposition and explanatory dialogue that only serves to further irritate an already restless viewer who is wondering when the hell the monster is going to show up.
Notwithstanding the above rant, I learned from Joe Bob Briggs' informative and entertaining commentary (more on that below) that William Beaudine worked in the film industry for years, honing his skills in every imaginable genre from horror to westerns to live-action Disney movies and Charlie Chan flicks. He started as a silent film director (which is extremely evident in his actors' exaggerated wide-eyed, gaping expressions and hand-to-mouth gestures that signal horror) in 1915 and progressed through the age of television. The guy took whatever job came along, including any B-picture that landed on his desk, which might explain this career killer of a movie (Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter was his last film). But say what you will about the quality of his work - you can't deny that William Beaudine was a prolific director. Most people working in Hollywood would kill to have a resume so padded. For that reason alone, I speak of him with respect.
But despite my newfound regard for Mr. Beaudine, I have to confirm that his swan song is sorely lacking in the qualities that make up an entertaining "bad movie". It's full of substandard acting from performers forced to spout banal dialogue who never went on to make another film, with the exception of a few standout performances from some old character actors you might recognize from TV shows such as "Dallas", "I Love Lucy" and "E.R.". The Hank/Igor monster leaves something to be desired, and shows up long after most people will have pushed the "stop" button on their DVD players, or just fallen asleep. Jesse James - one of title characters, remember - is under-utilized and desperately needs something to do. The science of reanimation is imminently laughable, however, which is one of its strong points; see the psychedelic bike helmet used on the brain transplant "patients" and hear talk of "duothermic impulsators".
I'll be talking about the Joe Bob Brigg's audio commentary in a bit, but I must note that - to my immense disappointment - he does not provide any of the "drive-in totals" popularized by his newspaper columns and other movie reviews as well as his all too brief gig hosting Monstervision on TNT. So to make up for that teensy shortcoming, I have attempted to itemize the elements that I feel would have made Joe Bob's list. Here goes: Zero breasts. Two teaspoons blood. One beast. Five dead bodies. Two mad scientists. Marinated brains. Fist fights. Gunfights. Death by one-armed strangulation. Brain surgery. Botched stagecoach robbery. Crazy band of Injuns. Knife fu. Laboratory fu. Beaker fu. Hypodermic fu. Horse fu. Drive-In Academy Award nomination to Estelita Rodriguez for never changing her flamenco dress throughout the entire movie, even while sleeping. One and a half stars. Karen says check it out.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
is presented in 1:85 anamorphic widescreen. In my final thoughts, I infer that this movie might have a relatively small fan base. Elite apparently thinks so too, otherwise they might have bothered with giving this transfer a bit more TLC. I realize this zero-budgeter was most likely decomposing in some dusty studio vault, but we should no longer be seeing video like this in the digital age. The picture is extremely soft, almost fuzzy with age - the western scenes look like old episodes of "Bonanza". Many scenes have shadowing around the frame. Some of the colors remain true, but in many shots they are washed out - witness the female characters' ghastly, pale flesh tones due to heavy makeup applications whose colors have faded. Day-for-night shots are of extremely poor quality. Yes, heavy filters were used to create the nighttime illusion, and one gets the sense that even in the film's heyday these scenes were poorly shot (case in point: Jesse James is carelessly outfitted in black, making him virtually impossible to see at "night"). But combined with the flawed transfer, these shots come across as painfully bad.
The 2.0 mono soundtrack is a great companion to the dreadful video presented here. Hollow and flat, the (seemingly endless) dialogue is difficult to interpret and other sounds are just audible. Listen with the volume turned up. Don't worry about the commentary, however - Joe Bob comes in loud and clear.
Now let's get down to the business at hand and why we are really interested in this DVD at all: audio commentary by the one-and-only, irrepressible king of the drive-in movie critics: Joe Bob Briggs.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Joe Bob's work and therefore unclear why he is qualified to provide running commentary on a film of this sort, here's a brief history lesson: Joe Bob Briggs began his illustrious career in 1982 writing a weekly column for the Dallas Times Herald titled "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In", in which he would review B-movies great and small usually as an integral part of a satirical sociopolitical essay. (These essays/reviews are compiled in two books: Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In, both highly recommended by yours truly for your reading pleasure.) He continued amassing a great store of bad movie knowledge and passing it along to the rest of us until he was fired in 1985 for writing what the Times Herald thought was a particularly offensive feature (that's subject to your interpretation). In 1986 however, he was picked up by the Movie Channel to host Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater, essentially a spoken version of his old columns. The show lasted for nearly ten years, after which Joe Bob signed with TNT to host (my much beloved) Monstervision. Unfortunately, Monstervision is no more, but Joe Bob still writes syndicated columns and delves into the world of drive-in movies at various intervals, as he does here.
What Joe Bob does is take you by the hand and painlessly guide you through Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
by way of his quirky, down-home sense of humor and scary archival knowledge of the people, places and things surrounding this production. The minutia that man has stored in his noggin is staggering. He provides detailed biographical backgrounds on Beaudine, as well as all the principal cast members without missing a beat. And while I am confident that he is reading this stuff directly from his notes, I am sure that this information was not easy to come by (try looking up Narda Onyx on the Internet Movie Database and see what you come up with). Combine this "useless brain clutter" (so called by my second favorite columnist, Dave Barry) with casual, good ol' boy-accented delivery spiced with witty observations and the results are a moviegoing experience that is actually interesting despite the title you are watching.
One more thing about Joe Bob's commentary that impresses me is his unmistakable reverence for bad movies. He knows that Jesse James is a terrible movie, but he never flat out insults the filmmakers or resorts to bashing. There is not one snide MST3K-type comment to be found. Sure, he snickers at some of the cheesier elements and good-naturedly points out humorous gaffs, such as when the bleeding Hank raises himself from a prone position using his wounded arm. But it's done in the same manner that you would tell a friend that a shirt is on inside out or a fly is down - just harmless ribbing. What it boils down to simply is that Joe Bob Briggs loves these types of movies with a kind of unwavering strength that is rarely seen. And to take this love and make a living from it is, in my opinion, a worthy accomplishment that commands my utmost respect.
Oh yeah, the disc has a theatrical trailer too.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
is a harmless movie, really, but the sheer boredom I felt watching it could not convince me to recommend it to anyone, not even "bad" movie fans like myself. A lackluster transfer and ear-straining audio solidifies that opinion. Joe Bob's entertaining running commentary is its only saving grace. I don't know how many fans were out there clamoring for this movie, but I acknowledge that every movie and/or filmmaker has its followers. So for the dozen or so of you out there who were skipping past Jaws and Jeepers Creepers in the "J" section of your local video retailer's DVD rack, franticly hoping you would come upon this title, here it is. Enjoy it, 'cause doing so took some effort on my part!
Movie - D
Image Quality - D
Sound - D-
Supplements - B+
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- 8 Chapter Stops
- English Dolby 2.0 Mono
- Audio Commentary featuring host Joe Bob Briggs
- Original theatrical trailers