Brainiac AKA El Barón del terror (1962)
R0 - America - CasaNegra Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (21st March 2007).
The Film

Thanks to the US based “CasaNegra Entertainment”, I´ve officially fallen for the Mexican horror films from the 1950s-1960s. Sure, many of these films owe plenty to the American horror-films from “Universal” and you can´t hide the obvious camp-values that Mexican horror often provides, but there´s something quite unique and wild in these films - they just take you over. Did I say “wild”? Well, one of the most notorious Mexican films was directed by Chano Urueta (e.g. “The Witch's Mirror AKA El Espejo de la bruja (1962)” and the first “Blue Demon AKA Demonio azul (1965)”) in 1962. It offers sci-fi, a film noir-feel, a gothic mood, surrealism, horror and this all culminates to the most fake looking monster of all time. Do I have to add that it´s one crazy and entertaining ride in the history of horror films? This film is of course “Brainiac AKA El Barón del terror (1962)”.

The film opens in the dark year of 1661. Baron Vitelius (Abel Salazar - also the producer of the film) is facing a ruthless inquisitor and is accused of everything from witchcraft and seducing women to being an heretic. Let´s say that Baron has not been the nicest guy around. Four members of the “jury” will hear only one defensive speech, coming from Marcos Miranda (Rubén Rojo), who is only getting slashes for his efforts. There is no mercy for Baron, who´ll be burned alive in the field. When the flames are already licking the body of Baron, he looks up in the sky, where a passing comet makes a trace (a very amateurish one, I might add). His gloomy voice will place the curse for all members of the jury; the Baron will return to the world in 300 years, when the same comet passes through our latitude again, only to destroy all the descendants of the jury. Their lineage will be exterminated. So be it.

Time to move to modern-day 1961. Reinaldo Miranda (Rubén Rojo again) and her fiancée Victoria Contreras (Rosa María Gallardo - as Rosa Ma. Gallardo) are dancing in the local bar, having a good time. The dancing must stop for a while, since Professor Saturnino Millán (Luis Aragón) is already waiting near his big telescope. Reinaldo and Victoria are astronomers and tonight is the big night; a comet - last seen in 1661, will show itself in the sky and the professor has calculated the exact time of the major event. The comet is finally spotted after some confusion and to surprise them all, part of it seems to fall to the earth! Reinaldo and Victoria drive after it (!), but an unknown man in the woods will see the comet first - or what comes out if it to be more exact. The horrible monster with claws, hairy skin (like the mixture of old 1950s “The Fly”, the werewolf and cheap Conan O'Brien joke), pointy nose, flammable head, and the long tongue will kill the man and steals his clothes. In a matter of seconds, the monster has taken the form of 1661 Baron Vitelius - like he never went away at all. It´s time to start his long awaited revenge.

“Brainiac” keeps changing its mood as fast as Baron Vitelius can change his appearance. The film starts as a very Bava-inspired gothic story, but soon we are in a sci-fi atmosphere, like introducing the monster from outer space. After this the film briefly takes almost a film noir-approach with seductive women and lonely hearts in the night, but again it´s time to move, this time toward the cheap exploitation, when the monster will suck the brain from a poor woman with his special tongue! We also meet the comical police duo, led by a detective inspector (David Silva) and his sidekick, who are trying to figure out what´s going on when the bodies are missing all their brains. Sucking brains is not all that Baron can do; he has the special “cosmic ray” that hypnotises the ladies (they just can´t resist the Baron after that) and completely freezes the men (very funny moments). He can also turn himself invisible when things get too hectic. All this will turn into a very enjoyable, but very silly movie. The most over-the-top scenes are still saved for later, when our Baron calmly takes a bowl of brain (!) and a spoon, just to enjoy some light snack in the middle of all the revenge business. I know which film to blame when I can´t eat my ice cream from the bowl next Sunday.

There has been some speculation whether “Brainiac” is just a spoof film from its own genre, since many other Mexican horror films have a quite serious tone (they can look low budget, but the mood is old-school horror). Whether this is the case or not, the cheap looking monster definitely hurts the “credibility” of the film. There´s some interesting story development, but as soon as the rubber-head monster is seen on the screen, you can forget it. The film turns into (unintentional or not?) comedy. The general look of the film is also rather cheap (plenty of matte paintings/back projection), but I actually like it. All those scenes together with decent optical tricks add a certain feel for the film and the B&W cinematography. Acting is quite wooden and although Abel Salazar has the look and some screen presence, he also seems to be quite out of place in many scenes (and this can be said of many other actors). As a horror film, and story wise, “Brainiac” is quite a messy affair and can´t live up to its interesting revenge set-up. Basically everything else is more interesting in the film than the goofy monster, which just looks something done literally in 15 minutes from the materials that were lying somewhere in the corner of the studio. But this is a highly recommended film of course, since, as a horror film buff, I can´t resist a crazy movie like this one. When have you seen the lead actor eating a brain from a bowl like a dessert of some kind? When have you seen a more hilarious scene involving flamethrowers? When have you seen the more amateurish scenes of “hypnotic rays”? When have you seen a monster like this one? I´ll tell you - never. That´s why you should see this film, pronto.

Video

“CasaNegra Entertainment” (part of the “Panik House Entertainment”) presents the film in its original aspect ratio 4:3, which again looks very good. The transfer is clean, blacks are strong and contrasts are solid. There´s some softness, a few film artifacts and some selected scenes do look a bit inferior, but nothing major. Some natural film grain is visible. “Single layer” disc is coded “R0” (back cover says “R1”), and runs 76:53 (NTSC). 15 chapters are included.

Audio

The disc includes the original Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono-track, along with the English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono - the dub from the US distributor K. Gordon Murray. Optional English subtitles are included. I watched the film in Spanish (for me the only choice really, although the US dub has its sentimental values for many fans) and the results are again quite good. The track is (unavoidable in some degree, I´m sure) slightly muffled and has occasional hiss on the background, but it´s still a decent Mono-track. With “Pro Logic”, the track adds some “static” to the surround-channels also, which is probably a minor mistake during the encoding (you don´t really hear it, though). The English track is not as clear as the Spanish one and has more hissing. Apparently the English track is also missing some seconds dialogue and has some lip synch-issues.

Extras

First, you can choose between the English or Spanish menu. Via this choice you can also read the extras (text based) in English or Spanish.

Audio commentary (it also includes optional Spanish subtitles) with Kirb Pheeler (pseudonym of Frank Coleman, I believe) starts off the extras. The audio commentaries in “CasaNegra”-releases have been so far more like “fan commentaries” than anything that serious, and this is no exception. “Pheeler” provides a mildly funny chat, giving some information about the actors and also how he got interested with the genre (after seeing photos from the legendary “Famous Monsters in Filmland” magazine). You don´t really learn anything that significant, but “Pheeler” has the eye for the funny moments and different themes in the film and he gives some information about the American version also (e.g. opening credits are different and there are some soundtrack-differences). Perhaps the next commentary can take a bit more of a serious route, since it´s possible that “the joke” is getting old soon. Still, this is what I could call “easy listening”.

“Keep Repeating, it’s Only the Most Bizzare Horror Film Ever Made” text notes: includes 8 pages, written by Casamiro Buenavista.

“The Brainiac Interactive Press Kit” is created by Frank Coleman and Bruce Landolt, including 4 sections (“Arrival”, “Attack”, “Outtake” and “Bar B-Q”). The full version can be found from here.

“1969 US Theatrical Release Radio Spot” was made for the double feature with “The Curse of the Crying Woman AKA La Maldición de la Llorona (1963)” (also out from “CasaNegra”). The narrator says “crying womEn”, by the way.

Again, well written and informative cast & crew biographies and filmographies are also included, about Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter (Bar girl - victim #2), David Silva, Germán Robles (Indalecio Pantoja/Sebastian de Pantoja), and René Cardona (Baltasar de Meneses/Luis Meneses).

Poster and stills gallery includes 1 US lobby card, 2 Spanish lobby card, 1 Spanish poster and 6 B&W stills from the film.

Reversible cover is in English or Spanish, and case also includes a Loteria game card.

Overall

Perhaps “Brainiac” is not the first film you should see from the Mexican horror genre (since they aren´t all like this one), but every horror buff should see this film at some point in time. “CasaNegra” offers the great way to see the film and a few extras are also included. Dig in!

For more info, please visit the homepage of CasaNegra Entertainment.

 


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