Halloween Endurance Test: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)

The Frankenstein franchise is easily my most popular blogs. From Universal’s classic monsters, to Hammer’s interpretation of Mary Shelley’s tale, people love the mix of mad scientists and monsters. Tonight we find the Frankensteins have traveled from Vienna to Texas; delving in life’s creation, South of the Border-style in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.

Up to this point, I had thought that Frogs would be the movie this year with the smallest budget. Then I uncovered this gem…

The first thing you’ll notice is how washed out the colors are. I’m not sure if this is a problem with the print, as I can’t imagine too many copies of this films laying around, or if the film stock it was shot out was washed out to begin with. Convincing cases can be made either way.

What can’t be made convincing are the “special effects.” The painting of Frankenstein’s manor looks horrible in the matte shot. The fact they decide to then follow up with a close-up, of the painting, is unbelievably audacious. With the effects budget this film had, it would’ve been better just to shoot a “Further Adventures of Jesse James” film instead of tying him to a story so technology prone.

Just look at it!

(Amazing! Rumor has it that the lab equipment in the film was the same equipment used in Universal’s films. A reuse almost as audacious as Ed Wood’s use of the octopus from John Wayne’s Wake of the Red Witch in Bride of the Monster! Supposedly one of the only times the famous lab stuff was shot in color.)

We learn early on that it was Frankenstein’s grandfather who did all the famous experiments. (He also apparently created artificial brains, thus killing off one popular franchise subplot right off the bat.) His granddaughter, Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) decides to move halfway across the world to continue the experiments in a land where life is cheap: the Wild West.

We also learn that the infamous bandit Jesse James (John Lupton) is also still alive. Alive and unlucky, as his latest heist goes bad, leaving him stranded out in the pueblo with a wounded henchman, Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder). They meet Juanita Lopez (Estelita Rodriguez), who offers to take them to Maria and her brother, Rudolph Frankenstein (Steven Geray).

This film is amazingly two-faced. First you have Jesse James, who, as a bandit, has to pretend he’s someone else throughout it. Then you have Maria Frankenstein, who offers to aid Hank in order to use his body in her experiments. She succeeds, and during the process, she finds out that her brother has been poisoning her prior experiments. Hank, newly birthed as the monster Igor, quickly offs the offending sibling. All the while Juanita, who brought Maria into this story, has been surreptitiously badmouthing the scientist behind her back.

(Juanita’s brother had been one of Maria’s previous test subjects. A brother who was surprisingly white to be part of the Lopez family. Thus indicating some deceit on the side of Juanita’s mother at some point!)

James eventually realizes that Maria’s concern for Hank is not entirely altruistic, and returns to the lab for revenge. Before Jesse gets there, Juanita has brought the police (yet another group she was lying to) to stop the operation, though the officer is unable to best Igor.

Sadly, even in monster-death, Hank plays 2nd fiddle to Jesse James.

In a strange twist, Maria loses her mental control of Igor mid-combat, and gets strangled by her creation. Leaving Igor, Jesse, and Juanita the last remaining characters. Jesse gets choked, and in perhaps the worst finale ever, Juanita blindly fires Jesse’s pistol twice (honestly, she’s not even looking at the action!), thankfully ending the tale.

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