The Brainiac/Baron of Terror/El Baron del Terror (1961/1963) -***
It’s been entirely too long since I looked south of the Rio Grande for my trash-celluloid fix, so I’m going to make my return to the world of Mexican B-movies in style. Once a staple of late night and Saturday afternoon programming on low-rent UHF television, The Brainiac/Baron of Terror/El Baron del Terror is all but forgotten now. This is a crying shame, because The Brainiac is a movie that every true lover of deliriously crappy monster flicks really ought to see at least once.
Mexico City, 1661. In a textbook violation of the cinematic rule that one should always show rather than tell, one of several black-hooded inquisitors reads to Baron Vitelius (Abel Salazar, from The Vampire and The Vampire’s Coffin) from a scroll, recounting the proceedings to date in the case against him. The inquisitor enumerates the charges against Vitelius: sorcery, heresy, necromancy, dogmatism (dogmatism?!), seduction of both married women and unbetrothed maidens, using the dead to forecast the future (which I would have thought already sufficiently covered by “necromancy,” but what do I know?), mocking and defying the church. Continuing on, the inquisitor describes how Vitelius was subjected to a “trial by torment,” in which any sign of pain or physical damage resulting from the torture would be taken as proof positive of guilt, and how Vitelius merely laughed derisively at the rack, the lash, and the branding iron. (In which case, shouldn’t he have been found innocent of all charges? Isn’t that pretty much the unspoken flipside of pain or visible injury being read as indicative of guilt?) Still not finished (there’s no way that fucking scroll is long enough to have all this stuff written on it!), the inquisitor tells how the baron was then sent back to his cell in chains, to await further torture according to the will of the Inquisition. Then, right about when I’m starting to fear that the whole goddamned movie is going to go on in this vein, the inquisitor announces that he and his colleagues will now hear the testimony of a witness in the baron’s favor, one Marcos Miranda (Ruben Rojo, of Santo in the Wax Museum and The Corpse Collectors). Miranda should have stayed at home. The Inquisition rejects his testimony out of hand, and sentences Marcos himself to 200 lashes for consorting with evildoers and attempting to deceive God’s appointed agents on Earth. Vitelius, meanwhile, has all of his property confiscated and is taken to the nearest open field to be burned at the stake. We’ve seen enough of these movies to know what’s coming, though, haven’t we? As the flames lick higher and higher around the baron’s body, an uncannily bright comet suddenly appears in the sky. Bathed in its harsh glow, Vitelius pronounces the names of each of his judges and executioners (despite the fact that their hoods ought to be hiding their identities from him), and vows that in 300 years, when the comet above completes its cycle, he will rise from the dead and exterminate all of their descendants.
300 years later, an astronomer named Milan (Luis Aragon, from The Genie of Darkness and The Curse of the Doll People) calls his two talented young proteges, Ronald Miranda (Rojo again) and Victoria Contrenas (Creature of the Walking Dead’s Rosa Maria Gallardo)— both of whom share surnames with people who figured somehow in the baron’s trial— over to his observatory. Milan has been going through a lot of very old records lately, and he has come to believe that the comet reportedly seen in Mexico in 1661— which is commonly regarded to be a misdating of the 1680 comet discussed extensively by Sir Isaac Newton— really was a separate celestial body. And if contemporary descriptions of the comet were anything like accurate when it comes to the object’s position and path through the sky, then Milan expects it to be back in the Earth’s neighborhood right about now. In fact, according to Milan’s calculations, the comet should become visible this very night at around 2:37 am. Sure enough, the comet is but a few minutes later than Milan predicted, and excitement around the observatory runs high. But then suddenly and without warning, the comet disappears completely. Neither Milan nor his two assistants have any clue what to make of it.
Yeah, well just maybe it has something to do with that big-ass hunk of glowing, white rock that comes crashing to earth in the woods just outside of town. A man out for a late night walk happens to be on hand to witness the landing, and he also witnesses the object’s disintegration and the consequent release of the monster inside it. With The Brainiac, we might finally have come across a monster suit that I can’t adequately describe, but I’ll give it a try. The thing is the size and shape of a man, but much of its body is covered with thick, black fur. Its hands have but two fingers on them, and I would be tempted to describe them as pincers were it not for the fact that the digits have obvious joints and knuckles, along with suction cups on the ends. Its head is even weirder. The monster has huge, pointed ears, sharp but stubby horns above its bushy eyebrows, tusk-like fangs in its lower jaw, and a downward-curving nose at least eight or nine inches long. But none of that is nearly as peculiar as the fact that its face pulsates, as though it were a rubber contrivance (gee— go figure...) that somebody was inflating and deflating slightly with every breath. The monster seizes the unfortunate wayfarer, and then sticks him in the back of the neck with a barbed, forked tongue almost a foot and a half long, through which it literally sucks out the man’s brain. Its savagery sated, the monster then transforms into— that’s right— the long-dead Baron Vitelius.
Vitelius spends the next couple of evenings prowling around Mexico City, seducing and sucking the brains out of trashy young women. He gets himself a place to stay worthy of his noble title (hell, it might even be his own castle from back in the day), and finally pays a visit to what used to be the headquarters of the Inquisition, now reduced to a harmless and somewhat stodgy museum. There he does some genealogical research, and figures out who represents the current generation of his killers’ families. These he invites to a party over at his chateau, so that he might at last see his enemies face to face. Do you even need me to tell you that Victoria Contrenas is among these luckless scions?
Meanwhile, some Komic Relief Kops, led by David Silva from Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon and Innocents from Hell, are hot on the case of the Cerebrum-Sucking Strumpet Slayer. When Vitelius begins working his way down the list of his hereditary foes, the similarity between their injuries and those on the various dead floozies is miraculously not lost on the police. In fact, the inspector in charge of the investigation is even smart enough to realize that a substantial proportion of the victims had been on the guest list at the baron’s party. Thus the law is able to blunder its way around to the truth just in time to save Victoria. The police arrive at the Vitelius place packing flamethrowers, of all things, right as the baron is revealing his real face to his intended victim and Miranda is discovering the secret stash of human brains that Vitelius keeps on hand for those times when he simply must have a midnight snack. The baron is burned to a cost-conscious crisp, and everyone left in one piece presumably lives happily ever after.
You’re just not going to find too many movies that are unselfconsciously twisted to a significantly greater degree than The Brainiac. Chances are the monster suit will steal the show to such an extent that you won’t even notice all the other stuff that’s fucked up about the film at first, and that’s entirely understandable. Not only is this a creature costume that no sane man would ever devise, the filmmakers have such tremendous misplaced pride in it that they brazenly defy the conventional wisdom about keeping it mostly offscreen until the last couple of reels. Whereas your typical rubber-suit monster spends the bulk of the movie sneaking around and letting only bits and pieces of itself be glimpsed by the audience, Baron Vitelius shamelessly transforms in perfect lighting and full view of the camera about once every ten minutes, and stays in monster form plenty long enough for you to feast your eyes to satiety on his stupefying rubber ugliness. No skulking in shadows for the Brainiac! Look past the throbbing-headed beastie, though, and the craziness doesn’t stop. Vitelius is, if anything, even more disturbingly warped in his human guise. The way women throw themselves at him despite his total lack of even the most rudimentary social skills is incredible, and I just love the idea that the baron would have a tureen full of human brains (and a matching long-handled spoon— yum!) locked in a cabinet in his goddamned living room. Then there’s the technobabble. This is a movie in which the villain has to ingratiate himself to a historian, an engineer, and an entire nest of astronomers; the result can only be described by the phrase “bullshit polymath.” But the best thing of all is that The Brainiac’s creators treat everything that goes on onscreen as though it were the most natural, obvious, sensible thing in the world. They’re not out to dazzle you with the surreal, it just kind of turned out that way. The fact that it all looks like it was done on approximately the price of a steak quesadilla just makes it that much better.
Thanks to Professor Mortis for providing me with my copy of this film.