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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

31 DAYS OF HORROR- Day 30: THE BRAINIAC (1962)

While THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN offered up ultra-atmospheric Mexican horror that looked and felt like a welcome evocation of the old school Universal horror fright fests, 1962's EL BARON DEL TERROR, better known in the States as THE BRAINIAC, brings the audience something with a whole other flavor, namely that of over-the-top, fun on a bun "we don't give a fuck" insanity.

In the year 1661 in Mexico, ultra-cool Baron Vitelius d'Estera (Abel Salazar) faces officials of the Holy Inquisition when accused with charges of:
  • practicing "dogmatism"
  • having used superstition, witchcraft, and conjurations for "depraved and dishonest ends"
  • having employed the art of necromancy; invoking the dead and trying to foretell the future through the use of corpses
  • having seduced married women and maidens (at that accusation, the baron breaks out an ear-to-ear grin that instantly made me like him)
Baron Vitelius (Abel Salazar) reacts to the citing of his having "seduced married women and maidens." What a pimp!

His hooded inquisitors are quite pissed off at the guy, especially because at no point does the accused take their threats seriously, as he reportedly laughed in their faces as their attempts to harm him via torture utterly failed to have any effect. With his attitude and apparent diabolically-generated invulnerability proving to be one enormous "fuck you" to both the Church and the general public's sense of decency, coupled with the fact that the baron actually welcomes his tormentors showing their impotence by continuing to torture him, the inquisitors opt to burn Vitelius at the state. Only one townsperson, Marcos Miranda (Ruben Rojo), comes forward to defend Vitelius, noting the baron's championing of the arts and science and helping the land's downtrodden people, an effort that earns Miranda an immediately-applied two-hundred lashes (and the gratitude of the condemned, but more on that in a moment). But, unlike a number of other cinematic accusations of witchcraft and sorcery, Baron Vitelius actually is everything he's accused of, and when considering his civic-minded activities as weighed against his crimes, it comes off as the inquisitors being nothing more than a bunch of jealous, vindictive pricks who want the baron gone because he's just so damned cool. (That, and the the fact that he fucked all of their wives, girlfriends, and daughters.) 

Skip to the burning at the stake, where the baron is mockingly dressed in robes of like those of the Pope, and he uses his bitchin' x-ray vision to identify the men beneath the hoods of his inquisitors. As an ominous comet passes overhead, the baron names those he would wreak vengeance upon and states that he will return in three-hundred years, when the comment repeats its cycle and once more passes the Earth, at which point he will expunge their descendants from the face of the planet. The comet returns in 1961 and dumps a huge styrofoam boulder upon the Mexican countryside, which dissipates to reveal a hideous, clawed, balloon-head, brain-devouring monster with a two-foot forked tongue and a taste for human brains. Yes, it's good ol' baron Vitelius, back from the dead and royally pissed off, so look out, innocent 20th century descendants of self-righteous assholes!

Baron Vitelius is back, and now he's out for brains!

Armed with already-sorcerous powers including hypnotism, the ability to make himself disappear and become intangible, along with shape-shifting, the baron slays a random motorist for his clothes (and brain) and promptly gets busy at his promised quest for revenge, killing off the inquisitors' descendants and keeping their freshly-excised gray matter in a chafing dish for snacks (with a handy serving spoon), as well as preying on hookers and barflies while a pair of intrepid detectives attempt to make sense of the trail of literally empty-skulled corpses the baron leaves in his wake. 

Hey, it beats Chicken McNuggets.

Complicating matters is the 20th century relative of the baron's lone supporter from back in the days who is betrothed to a woman descended from one of the inquisitors, and being the inveterate womanizer that he is, the baron struggles with his desire to nail the young woman or kill her to fulfill his curse. So will the couple's love see them through the monster's reign of terror, or will the situation be resolved by the detectives suddenly arriving at the last minute with a pair of army surplus flamethrowers?

Mexican horror films of the 1960's tend to get a bad rap, more often than not deservedly so, but when you have works as unique and balls-out loco as this one, one must remember that sometimes gold nuggets can be found among turds. Many of those turds were brought to the United States and dubbed for sale directly to television, where they became perennials in late-night airings enjoyed by insomniacs, drunks, and stoners, and in the case of THE BRAINIAC, its cult rep was all but guaranteed thanks to it's completely insane content. It's internal story logic could kindly be called highly unsound, and the dubbing is amusing dreadful and overwrought in its scripting and vocal delivery, but the single element that makes this one a classic is Abel Salazar as Baron Vitelius. 

Abel Salazar, epitomizing satanic coolness (when not in balloon-headed monster form).

He's super-cool before getting torched, and when he returns in 1961 he displays a focused single-mindedness that is (understandably) inhuman. But while he's admittedly a juggernaut of horrible destruction and evil, Vitelius puts forth a south of the border coolness that makes him an almost James Bondian protagonist that most men will find themselves rooting with (though why a sorcerer of his mettle would choose to visit vengeance upon completely innocent descendants three centuries after the fact rather than just do in his enemies immediately is beyond me).

Campy as hell and majorly weird, I highly recommend THE BRAINIAC to one and all, especially if you can get your hands on the edition released by Casa Negra, which grants the viewer the choice of watching the film dubbed into English, or on the original Spanish with English subtitles. But no matter which choice is made, balls-out crazy is a language that requires no translation.

Poster from the original Mexican theatrical release.

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