Roaring guns against a raging monster!
In a murky Tex-Mex ghost town, a Hispanic family mourns the death of their beloved son and brother Francisco by arguing with each other. Papasita and Mamasita wanna beat-a feet-a out of this dusty death trap, but saucy, strident Juanita won't budge her maracas. She is determined to figure out why her hermano never returned from the creepy, gothic matte painting of a haunted castle high on the hillside. Turns out, the atrocious artwork belongs to Doctors Maria and Rudolph Frankenstein, a brother/sister reanimation team from somewhere back East…ern Europe. They have taken up residence in this half-assed hacienda to perfect their experiments in brain rearranging. Maria needs a big bulky bodybuilder type to withstand the embarrassment of having tinker toys attached to his frontal lobes, and as luck would have it, a rather beefy slab of pork butt named Hank Tracy is hanging out with Jesse James, the infamous outlaw and owner of the Monster Garage. When the Wild Bunch (in actuality, they're just the Feral Few) shows up and asks for Jesse's help in robbing the most ridiculous means of transporting money this side of a fanny pack, a traitor in their midst named Lonny gets most everyone killed, the hulking Hank Tracy is mortally wounded, and Jesse gets the runs from the law. Eventually, the gunslinger and his gay traveling companion meet up with Juanita, and she leads them to the castle of Drs. Frankensteins. One look at Hank's hemorrhaging pec and Maria is in lab lust. Some cornball skull surgery later and Hank is "Igor," Miss F's personal slaughter slave. With the law breathing down his bandana and Juanita constantly groping his saddlebags, it's just a matter of screen time before we get a final farcical showdown as Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter…again…since he met her with Hank before, and…oh, just skip it.
For a while, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter chugs along like the little exploitation engine that could. It offers some incredibly goofy ideas, a lot of mad scientist mumbo jumbo, a sense of linear adventure, and a muffiny piece of man meat to satisfy your same-sex tooth. Indeed, not since Peter Lupus pursed his way through far too many impossible missions have we had a hero/homunculus who was so wooden and yet contained so much raw, pulsating implausibility (one question—where exactly did men in the Old West get their hands on Met-RX?). When this bald Blue Boy centerfold with a cross-stitch halo starts squat thrusting his glass chin around the dungeon, blank stare to match bland dramatic skills, he turns Karloff's creature into Old Vic virtuosity. But somewhere near the end, right after Hank has his medulla oblongata elongated, the film's fun cheesiness derails and things just falls apart like overripe feta. Perhaps it's one too many of Narda Onyx's Teutonic temper tantrums. She seems in a constant state of flux between anger and slight indigestion. Maybe it's John Lupton's Jesse James, who looks more like a greeter at a Mississippi Riverboat Casino that an amoral outlaw. Writer Carl K. Hiltleman was obviously asleep during the third act wrap-up section of the Syd Field's Screenwriting 101. More than likely, though, it's the fault of director William Beaudine, a filmmaker who never quite understood the concept of spreading oneself too thin. He made hundreds of movies stretching all the way back to the silent era. He was also responsible for thousands of hours of television (including almost every single episode of Lassie). But just like the old cliché, magnitude did not always mean eminence. And since Jesse James was the last film he would ever make, it's clear that his well of imagination was pumping thick and brackish. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter manages the near impossible. It uses inept amateurishness to both compel and repel you.
But let's face it: the majority of you are not gong to buy this title for the stupid story of a Bavarian bee-atch who tampered in God's domain and ended up with Zane Grey's personal trainer. No, you want this DVD because of the unbelievable sexy visage holding the movie poster on the colorful cover. Having had great success sprucing up the infamous sordid sicko I Spit on Your Grave (otherwise known as I Test Your Patience), Elite returns to that DVD's saving grace for another round of rowdy rodeo clowning. That's right, the legendary Drive-In Movie Critic Joe Bob Briggs has been given his own imprint over at the video vender and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter is his first official release. Not only is he in charge of the packaging and presentation, but he provides this moldering movie with yet another of his insight filled "Brigg's Briefs" (patent pending), an alternative audio track of observations and anecdotes that make even the most brain damaged diversion come convulsing to life. Indeed, his commentary here is priceless, if a little repetitive. Almost everything he writes on the DVD linear notes (the nickname "One Shot" Beaudine, the "last film" coincidences) is repeated in the discussion. But we also learn a great many other tantalizing tidbits, like: Beaudine's connection to Kroger Babb's notorious live birth of a baby bedlam called Mom and Dad; the deal with Lonny Curry's teeth; and why the decision was made to cobble together two disparaging genres to create a film that is three-quarters daffy matinee madness and one-quarter leaden gas passing. Proving that one faux redneck can single-handedly save even the dreariest of projects, here's hoping that JBB gets a chance to resurrect a few far more viable offerings in the future.
But aside from Brigg's formidable verbal elocution and storytelling acumen, there is not much else here to recommend this title. Those who are hoping that Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter would be a digitally remastered visual and aural feast are in for a long, hard famine. The movie is offered in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image than looks like it was taped on a single head VCR and then broadcast over UHF with the color and tint turned way down before the transfer was captured and saved to DVD. The print is faded and forlorn and that translates into one weak sarsaparilla of a picture show (even Briggs remarks about it in his commentary). The sound isn't much better, but then again, it's not like Hank and Jesse break out into show tunes every other minute (traveling trail "companionship" aside). With nothing to challenge the channels, the movie's overall noise nuances just sit there. We do get a trailer, which if it's possible looks worse than the movie. But once again, Texas' favorite son of the soil provides personalized menu screen quips whenever you click the onscreen options that make the package worth owning once again. They are funny in their typical deadpan dag-gummit drawl. The Movie Channel had a chance to keep him. Ted Turner and the "high sheriffs" over at his namesake Network Television canned his ham without giving his fan base a chance to respond with ratings. But thanks to the digital versatile disc and a gaggle of geniuses over at Elite, the drive-in will never die. The wit, wisdom, and wily marketing strategy of Joe Bob Briggs can turn even the most decomposing donkey of a dud into a bodacious banquet of bocephus. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter proves that, as long as he's wearing his Stetson of satire and has a half-assed horror movie to mock, a country boy can—and will—survive.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Audio Commentary by Drive-In Movie Critic Extraordinaire Joe Bob Briggs
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