THE BRAINIAC (1962)
(a.k.a. EL BARON DEL TERROR)
Article #1672 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2005
Posting Date: 3-11-2006
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, David Silva
A seventeenth century sorcerer returns to earth in a comet and proceeds to seek vengeance on those who presided at his execution.
Ten thoughts on THE BRAINIAC:
1) This is perhaps my favorite Mexican horror movie. That doesn’t mean I consider it the best; it’s supremely silly and can’t really be taken seriously. But there is something in the way the various elements (both good and bad) combine to make it an unforgettable experience. It’s one I come back to again and again.
2) Probably the most memorable thing about this movie is the monster, who, I assume, is the Brainiac of the title. Baron Vitalius is able to transform himself into an ugly demon with bad hair, a pulsing head, two fingered-claws, and a long forked tongue with which he sucks out the brains of his victims. He also has the ability to phase out of this reality which allows him to pass through things and people undetected. If you remember nothing else about this movie, you won’t forget the monster.
3) The movie opens with the trial of the sorcerer by the Holy Inquisition. I’ve seen variations on this type of scene many a time, but this movie comes up with some interesting twists. During the description of the torture applied to the sorcerer to prove his use of witchcraft, we discover that the sorcerer didn’t insist on his innocence, but merely goaded the torturers to torment him to their heart’s content, laughing all the while.
4) One thing you can say about Inquisitional tribunals; they aren’t very nice or fair. When a character witness comes forth to attest that Baron Vitalius is actually a nice guy and a generous man, the Inquisition sentences him to a whipping of 200 lashes (which may be even nastier than the Baron’s execution). At least, I’m assuming it’s a whipping; the judge merely says that he will receive 200 lashes, which will be applied in the torture chamber, which could mean that he will emerge with the most alluring eyes in all of Mexico. But I doubt it.
5) Abel Salazar, who produced the movie and plays Baron Vitalius, is one of the most familiar faces in Mexican horror cinema next to that of German Robles (who appears here in a smaller role). This is perhaps his most memorable role, and he has some fun moments here. My favorites: when the Inquisition reads the charges against him, check the big grin on his face when they get to “for seducing married women”. Also, notice how he always looks around suspiciously to make sure no one is watching when he eats his favorite snack – human brains.
6) One of the charges leveled against Baron Vitalius by the Inquisition is “for practicing dogmatism”. Either someone didn’t check the dictionary, or the pot is once more calling the kettle black.
7) This is one of those movies where we have a comic relief cop and a serious cop. The problem: the serious cop is funnier. He has my favorite lines from the movie; after visiting the coroner to here the results of his examination of the dead bodies left behind by the Brainiac, he is told that the killer is an expert on anatomy, and the cop replies “I wish there was some way to control the subjects a man learns. A maniac with a lot of knowledge is a threat.” I also wonder if Mexican police regularly use flame-throwers when apprehending murders; at the very least, you’d think they’d teach the comic relief character to use his correctly.
8) When the Brainiac arrives from outer space on his comet, his first act is to suck the brains out of a passerby and magically steal his clothes. He doesn’t steal the man’s underwear, though. I hope he’s not chafing.
9) At least some of the funny moments seem intentional rather than as a result of the dubbing. For example, the moment after the trial when Baron Vitalius magically makes his chains disappear and walks away, the fact that the chains are now found on the ankles of his two guards is obviously a joke from the original movie.
10) There is at least one very effective moment in the movie. During his execution, the sorcerer calls out the names of the hooded leaders of the Inquisition, and at that point, we can see through their hoods to their real faces. This is actually quite eerie, and it sets up a nice sequence later, where the Baron invites several people to a party and as each one enters, the Baron sees in their faces the identity of the member of the Inquisition from which they are a descendant.