07 May 2012


THE BRAINIAC (El Barón del Terror)

1962/DIRECTOR: Chano Urueta /WRITER: Federico Curiel, Adolfo López Portillo

: Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, David Silva, Luis Aragón, René Cardona

NOTE: After a long dry spell I am back to doing some movie posting. Have quite a few things in the old draft folder and will start things off with a K. Gordon Murray gem from south of the border called The Brainiac. I expect to posting a bit more regularly for a while and will focus more on movies than some other things I veer off into here, like music and comic books. Not forsaken those categories as they tend to be pretty popular overall, but I enjoy researching and writing about these old and obscure films more. So, on to The Brainiac!

As time has gone on I have developed quite a liking for Mexican horror and wrestling (luchador or luchadora depending on the gender of the wrestler) films. I had long been aware of the film The Brainiac (El Barón del Terror) because of its movie poster. I finally found a copy online and have to say that this genuine cult classic from director Chano Urueta (a man with no less than 117 director credits to his name) is all it is built up to be, at least in the cheezy, camp classic departments. In fact I can’t imagine people who ordinarily hate “bad movies” would not have a half way decent time watching this one. What are some of the selling points? Really classic goofy dubbing (I have the dual audio version and preferred the dubbed track for its corniness) from the K. Gordon Murray outfit. Really wacky special effects and sets, including one of the worst comet depictions ever put to film. Really bad and consistently over the top acting, by some actors who typically could do a little better. Some truly horrific moments that catch you off guard. And last but surely not least, a monster that will leave the viewer nothing less than awestruck in it not only its campiness, but also its genuinely bizarre creepiness.

The movie follows one of the most tried and true formulas of films from the late 1950’s -in particular Bava’s Black Sunday- on in to the early 70’s; and that is the storyline of the accused and convicted witch –or warlock in this case- being burned alive at the stake and with their dying breath cursing the descendants of the people, or the entire townsfolk, responsible for their grisly deaths. I imagine somebody could run a blog on solely this one theme and have a near endless source of material to draw from. And of course the curse always takes place in the time of the film’s production and with the same actors who placed the accusers and executioners playing the descendants. They will have the same hairstyles and body weight and even identical mustaches. I think I have seen a half a dozen films of this type in the last couple months alone. In this case the evil Vetelius Destera (Abel Salazar) is sentenced to death for various heinous crimes by what appears to be some form of the Spanish Inquisition. He goes to the stake laughing and pulling pranks on the guards and, or course, laying down a curse on the various judges’ descendants. One of the judges is played by Mexican horror and luchador director Rene Cardona whose impressive credits include Dr. Of Doom, Night of the Bloody Apes Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (all reviewed here) and a few of the better El Santo films. In no time we are in 1961 and get to witness the return of Destera as he descends to earth in a comet, that is at times a 4th of July sparkler and at other times a cutout drawing. The evil baron emerges, for some reason, from the capsule as a bizarre looking alien that can take human form when necessary. Of course it takes on the form of the warlock Destera and is soon wrecking his vengeance on the unwitting descendants of the tribunal that was probably right about burning the Baron Destera alive in the first place.

The sets, both inside and out, fluctuate between looking like something from an Ed Wood Jr. film shows the inspiration and influence of Bava’s atmospheric Black Sunday. Some of the interior action takes place in what can only be called chill out tiki lounges. The kitschy mood these setting provide is perfect for the film. The Baron has the ability to hypnotize his victim into a state of stupor –often with unintentionally comical results as in the case of actor German Robles whose bugged eyes hypnotic state is one of the film’s high points- and then proceeds to transform into the hokey and yet unsettling creature that sucks the brains from its victims via a long forked tongue. The creature’s face pulsates in excitement and while the head is utterly oversized the Baron’s body does not seem to change in size or appearance at all, expect for his hands. While the guy’s are in this transfixed state the Baron usually kills off the beautiful female first, while the hapless man watches, frozen, and waits his turn. The whole mesmerizing sequences have a sort of surreal quality to them and at first I was not sure what was even going on, as in the case of German Robles and his priceless expression.

As I said before, there are a couple shocking moments as well that give a film a fairly sinister tone. In one case a woman finds her husband hanging upside down in the bathtub, his feet tied to the shower curtain frame and with his head submerged in the bath water, before she herself is dragged off pleading in vain for her own life. In another scene the Baron slips off while entertaining future victims for a quick snack of brains he keeps hidden away in an ornate trunk. And he eats the brains and we get to see this. It is actually a bit freaky and unexpected. The local police detectives are hot on the tail of the killer who is draining the aristocracy of their brains and show up in the nick of time with flame throwers –yes, flame throwers- to save the day. Lots of plump and beautiful Mexican beauties, above average camera work at times, campy but decent set designs and an unforgettable monster make this a must for fans of campy cinema, and of great campy Mexican cinema in particular.