Director: Chano Urueta
Stars: Abel Salazar, German Robles
Snack Report: Homemade fresh salsa with tortilla chips
Viewing Companions: Zelda, Mr. Falbeaux
Mexican horror films of the 50s and 60s have a strange and wonderful heritage, heavily influenced by the old Universal classic monster films of the 30s and 40s. The filmmakers did a great job recreating the dark gothic atmosphere of those masterpieces. They were even able to be a little more out there with sexuality and disturbing images, as they were free of the “moral standards” imposed upon American studios.
But at the same time, they also were usually filming on the leanest of shoestring budgets.
The film I screened this evening – Brainiac (or El Baron del Terror as they call him at home) is not simply a “low budget” film – it’s more like a NO budget film. A film that was produced for about the cost of a combo meal at Taco Bell. Nonetheless, it is endlessly entertaining and fun to watch.
Our story begins as the evil Baron Vitelius (after a lot of torture, to which he said “pfft, nice try”), is sentenced by a jury of sexually repressed inquisitors to burn for a very long list of crimes – Mostly sorcery-type stuff, doing science, and seducing women. Lots and lots of women. You can see it in his smirk, even as his sentence is pronounced. He’s like, “Yup, totally worth it.”
As he’s being slow-roasted, a matte painting comet appears in the sky overhead, and he calls out all the inquisitors by name, vowing to take revenge on their descendants when the comet next returns 300 years in the future.
Brainiac isn’t sure if he’s a demon or a space alien. He’s unique in a lot of ways, especially his bizarre appearance. He has a giant pulsating head, big pointy ears, and stubby little horns. He’s covered with stringy hair and has lobster pincers for hands. But his most prominent feature is his huge forked tongue. Seriously, it’s like 18 inches long. He unrolls it and uses it to puncture the skulls of his victims and suck out their brains.
Generally, the lower the budget, the less time the monster spends on screen. We only get glimpses, so we’re not beaten over the head with the fact that it’s a crappy costume. But like the Honey Badger, Brainiac don’t care! He transforms at the drop of a hat, right in front of the camera, whenever he feels like it.
His attacks are always accompanied by flashing lights around his eyes and bongo drums, dispensing with the customary lengthy transformation scene where his victims – floozies and assorted scientists and academics – might run away. One minute he’s hottie Baron Vitelius, and the next thing you know he slips ‘em the tongue, so to speak.
So the Baron wanders around Mexico City, preying on trashy young women. (To my knowledge, Brainiac is the only non-human movie monster who always hits on his victims before killing them.) Eventually he looks up the descendants of his executioners. As luck would have it, they all have living family members who still have the same surnames, closely resemble their ancestors, and even live nearby! How convenient. In the end, only some comic-relief cops and a couple astronomers can put a stop to his diabolical revenge.
In a movie with so many delightful bits, it’s not easy to choose my favorite, but here goes: At one point during his party, the Baron is feeling a bit hungry, so he discreetly opens a locked cabinet (in his LIVING ROOM!) where he has a great big dish of BRAINS! He scoops some into a dessert cup and prepares to enjoy.
Brainiac is such delightful, unapologetically outrageous representative of the 1950s-60s Universal-wannabe-Mexican-horror-film genre, it cries out to be seen at least once in a lifetime. Or at least every 300 years.