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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reel Bad Cinema: The Brainiac (1961) review


Abel Salazar (Vetelius Destera), Ruben Rojo (Marcos Miranda), Rosa Maria Gallardo (Victoria Contreras), German Robles (Sebastian de Pantoja), Rene Cardona (Luis Meneses)

Directed Chano Urueta

The Short Version: One of the greatest cult films and one of the most fun is this low budget, but big on laughs Mexi-horror madness from one of that countries biggest directors of the macabre. Words cannot describe, nor cause one to fully appreciate the gleeful insanity on display here. It's because of movies like this that the word 'cult' was coined. You'll see the craziest cinematic monster ever created and some priceless performances amidst scenes of brain slurping and cops with flame throwers. One doesn't need a high IQ to realize indulging in the antics of El Baron is a no brainer.

In 1661, Baron Vetelius Destera is condemned to be burned at the stake for unspeakable crimes. As he burns, all the while wearing a hat that makes him look-a like-a da Pope-a, he swears vengeance on the descendants of his accusers. 300 years later a kids sparkler masquerading as a meteorite brings a paper mache rock crashing to Earth held up by a wire. It transforms into the Baron, now a hairy, insectoid thingamajig with a pulsating head, foam tentacles for hands and a long tongue with which to puncture its victims necks and suck out their brains! Maintaining his human form on occasion, the Baron goes about hypnotizing beautiful women while exacting his revenge and dining on Brains A La Carte kept in a dish in his study. The police are both bumbling and baffled till they realize the only thing that can stop a brain-eating sorcerer with a hairy, pulsating head is to fry him with flamethrowers.

One of the Baron's victims is about to be deep throated.

Simply amazing and jaw-droppingly insane are two ways to describe Chano Urueta's hellzapoppin' wonder from 1961. One of the most famous, if not the single most famous example of the wild, wild world of Mexi-horror, THE BRAINIAC is an hilarious good time not to be missed by bad movie buffs. Combining some striking photographic moments with an Ed Woodian level of filmmaking prowess (check out those cardboard backdrops!), Urueta's movie, like so many Mexi-horrors, is uniquely surreal even when it borrows elements from popular American and Euro horror productions.

Werewolfisms are mixed with ancient curses resulting in vengeance from beyond the grave. Considering El Baron returns riding a comet, shouldn't this be revenge from beyond the stars? Anyway, whenever the brain sucking Baron isn't throttling his victims and scarfing down their gray matter, he takes the form of Abel Salazar, the human guise of the sorcerous Destera. While the monster moments offer up some choice hilarity, the transfixing scenes of Vetelius hypnotizing his victims (heralded by the flash of an offscreen light that appears on the Baron's face) are just as unintentionally riotous. The expressions (or sometimes lack of expression) of the actors and actresses are priceless and serve to add to the sheer nuttiness that the English dubbed version only exacerbates in this lovingly brainless movie.

German Robles is lost in a gaze

German Robles--who became a big star in Mexican cinema and also internationally well known to the cult of fans who saw him in the classic THE VAMPIRE (1957) and its sequel, THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (1957)--has a supporting role here as one of the brain slurpers victims. Robles' frozen gaze with his excited, bulging eyeballs is beyond melodramatic instead turning into comedy gold.

The Baron casually mocks his executioners

Salazar himself gets in on the unintended goofiness during the extended 1661 trial sequence that takes place at the beginning. As his numerous crimes are read off, he cracks the most random smile and laugh that looks more suited for a vacation photo than for mocking accusations of necromancy and other sadistic acts. Speaking of this opening sequence, it features the single most self assured warlock the screen has ever seen. Vetelius simply doesn't care he's being burned at the stake (check out the execution approved Pope hat!). He shows his defiance and non chalant attitude by using his powers to transfer his chains and shackles to the two men guarding him in a bit of Stoogian practical jokery.

The Baron loves his brains fresh and ready to slurp.

And with all this rampant absurdity assaulting the viewers senses, many questions remain unanswered, but this, too, adds to the charms of this shameless oddity from South of the Border. Why does Vetelius come back 300 years later looking like a space alien? Why does he suck out brains...through the back of the neck? Why does he keep a big bowl of brains inside a desk, and why are they not refrigerated? Would not leaving brains out like that cause them to spoil? Why does he brazenly scoop up these brains and eat them right in the middle of big parties he holds? Where exactly do those brains in the dish come from? Are they the same ones sucked out by Baron Brain, but regurgitated? If so, how are they magically put back together again? Just like eating peanuts wouldn't you say? Are flamethrowers the weapon of choice for all Mexican cops? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, it's refreshing the movie ignores such things as logic and cohesiveness in its mission to visualize the looniest story possible.

Even with the thick air of retardation, this picture, like a lot of Mexi-horrors, contains some questionably gruesome moments that would no doubt raise an eyebrow or two if utilized in an American film of this vintage. These mostly compile the aforementioned brain eating moments. Seeing Salazar openly scooping up brains and slurping them down is an incredibly queasy sight for a movie made in 1961. Another semi-shocking moment is a shot of a murdered man hanging upside down in his shower drowned in a bathtub full of water! Possibly most shockingly surreal of all are the opening credits. Backing the titles are these amazingly detailed paintings that detail such kid friendly sights as decapitated corpses hanging upside down from trees and naked witches riding their broomsticks!

THE BRAINIAC isn't the best example of Mexi-Horror cinema, but it's easily one of the most fun, not to mention one of the wackiest movies you're ever likely to see. Watching it, you'd swear this was intended as some sort of parody and the commentary track by Kirb Pheeler attests to this. The plot mixes ingredients of oldeworld witch burners with some dashes of lycanthropic and otherworldy shenanigans to create a brain throbbing stew of goofy, mind melting fun. If bad movies are among your cinematic cravings, then it's a no-brainer to select THE BRAINIAC for some midnight movie madness.

This review is representative of the CasaNegra DVD


Craig Edwards said...

Wow, what a movie! I first saw this on cable when we first got it around 1980 - there was some weird station - not sure what it was or where it was out of - that would show a Mexican horror movie every Saturday afternoon around 3 or 4. Even as a newly minted teen I howled at the absurdities on display - like the one you mentioned - he sucks out their large bulbous brains through a tongue no wider than a straw, then somehow gets them into a bowl intact - where they soften to a consistency that is best eaten with a spoon (?!?) I love this movie a lot and am proud to have it in the video vault on a cheapie DVD. Great review! Cheers!

venoms5 said...

Hello, Craig. I first saw the film on Commander USA's Groovie Movies that came on the USA Network in the mid 80s. He showed lots of Mexi-horrors on there. It also was part of the same networks Reel Wild Cinema hosted by Sandra Bernhard in the 90s. They condensed bad movies down to 30 minutes and had other things on the program, too. Thanks for stopping by, buddy!

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