Brainiac, The (DVD)

Brainiac reviewStarring Abel Salazar, German Robles, Rene Cardona, Ariadne Welter, David Silva

Directed by Chano Urueta

Released by Casanegra Entertainment

It was almost a decade ago that the American Film Institute released a list they compiled of what they considered to be the 100 greatest films of the 20th century. Nowhere on that list will you find The Brainiac. By snubbing this motion picture not only is that list completely negated, frankly, AFI should just close their doors forever. They clearly don’t know jack about cinema.

If you have already seen El Baron Del Terror – the motion picture we English-speaking gringos know as The Brainiac – then you can probably stop reading right now. I seriously doubt there’s anything more I can tell you that you don’t already know and chances are strong that you’ve already purchased this recently released DVD or are planning to do so shortly. If you have not seen the magnificence that is The Brainiac then let me begin by saying… "You MUST see this movie!"

Now to be honest, nothing anyone, including yours truly, ever writes in a review of this motion picture can serve as a substitute for actually seeing it with your own eyes. The Brainiac is a movie that must be experienced for oneself, and I assure you that watching it is indeed an experience, one you won’t soon forget. The sheer number of adjectives that will go through your mind as you watch it cannot be reproduced in print form. Writing a review that does it justice is damn near impossible. It’s also impossible to call The Brainiac a straight-up good movie; yet dismissing it as a bad movie doesn’t seem appropriate either. The movie exists in a cinematic netherworld located somewhere between good and bad. Only one thing is for absolute certain – it’s still a damn fun flick to watch.

Now if The Brainiac had been featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" then it would already be more widely known to modern audiences and almost assuredly received a proper DVD treatment before now. How it evaded the "MST3K" treatment is beyond me since it was in public domain limbo for a considerable amount of time. After numerous cheapo offerings by small time companies that specialize in dollar store quality DVD releases of old public domain movies, the fine folks at Casanegra (a relatively new DVD company that is specializing in releasing top flight DVDs of Mexican genre movies) have graced us with that which we Brainiac fanatics have been craving for far too long: the quintessential DVD of what may or may not be the greatest Mexican horror movie of all time. Gracias, Casanegra.

In 1661 Mexico, the evil sorcerer Baron Vitelius (Iconic Mexican horror actor Abel Salazar) is condemned to death by the Mexican branch of the Spanish Inquisition. Unrepentant and smug in his knowledge that his death isn’t as certain as those that have sentenced him to being burnt at the stake believe, the diabolical Baron vows vengeance and escapes his fate by hopping a ride on a passing comet (comet effects worthy of a 1960’s PBS children’s program).

When the comet returns 300 years later, the Baron also returns – with a vengeance. A passing motorist bears witness to a large paper mache meteorite dropping ever so gently from the night sky. The space debris dematerializes; standing there in the smoke is the new and improved Baron Vitelius.

Exactly why the Baron returns in the form of a hairy man-monster with a huge nose, pincers for hands, a pulsating air bladder in its head and a foot-long tongue that can suck a person’s brain out through puncture wounds in the neck in mere seconds is perhaps the biggest mystery that the makers of The Brainiac never felt compelled to explain. And who really cares why? Baron Vitelius’ beastly side is both one of the most bizarre (and goofiest looking) movie monsters to ever grace the silver screen. It’s a truly unique design that’s unlike anything prior or since. How many creature features do you know of that have a monster that looks like David Crosby after getting dumped into a vat of toxic waste? I can only think of one – this one.

Needless to say, the well-dressed passing motorist will be the first to get de-brain-ified. The monster will then steal the dead man’s clothing via telepathic depantsing and once again take the form of the now sharp dressed human version Baron Vitelius. He’s ready to begin his quest for revenge against the descendants of his executioners and luckily for him, all of those descendants just so happen to live within a several mile radius of one another. Unluckily for him, the Baron finds himself attracted to one particular senorita he’s sworn to kill and she has a boyfriend who’s quite suspicious of him. Even more unluckily for him, a pair of somewhat inept cops (one a Jesse "The Body" Ventura look-a-like and the other a Mexican dead ringer for "21" gameshow scandal contestant Herb Stempel) are investigating the rash of dead bodies he’s leaving behind. Oh, and it seems the Mexican police have flamethrowers readily available to them at a moments notice. Keep in mind that evil Mexican warlocks that hitchhike for hundreds of years on cyclical comets and can transform into monsters that looks a mutated Gene Shalit don’t much care for fire.

Why does the Baron feast on brains? How is the Brainiac capable of sucking out a person’s brains through his forked tongue in mere seconds? How those brains are then deposited perfectly intact into a bowl that the Baron keeps in a cupboard so that he can dip into it with a long spoon from time to time like someone enjoying a quick tapioca snack? Why does the Brainiac’s own brain pulsate like an air bladder? Why? Why? Why? So many why’s – all good questions never answered. Normally this is the sort of thing that would get me on a film’s bad side but in this case the astounding lack of explanations only serves to enhance the full Brainiac viewing experience. Isn’t the fact that Baron Vitelius is evil answer enough? Sometimes it just has to be. Sometimes you just have to roll with it, and if you’re willing to roll with The Brainiac then you’re guaranteed a good time. It’s gleefully insane; sometimes due to its intentionally surreal nature and sometimes due to what one could easily dismiss as an Ed Wood factor.

One thing that isn’t deniable is the cinematography. Say what you will about the story and its title monster, El Baron Del Terror succeeds in capturing the look and feel of the classic black & white Universal monster movies of the Thirties and Forties that it was clearly influenced by. The whole film has the vibe of a horror film from that era, albeit a totally gonzo film from that era. If it had been an American production then odds are good that the film would already be a better known classic of the era. Ah, hell, Hollywood would have already done a big budget remake.

No one scene best exemplifies this film’s insanity than when Baron Vitelius confronts the descendant of one of his inquisitors played by actor German Robles, who was something of the Bela Lugosi of Mexico. Lugosi was famous for his intense stare; Robles’ stare, at least in this movie, is equally memorable. Baron Vitelius uses his hypnotic powers – an effect accomplished by having someone blinking a flashlight on and off directly at the hypnotized actor’s eyes – on both Robles and that character’s adult daughter before briefly seducing the daughter and then transforming into his monstrous form to kill them both. Because his character had been physically paralyzed by the Brainiac’s hypnosis German Robles had to act the entire scene with his eyes in order to convey the horror of what he was witnessing. Does he ever! He acts the hell out of this scene. Just look for yourself…

Now that’s some five star, Academy Award quality eye-bugging!

Casanegra’s DVD release comes complete with both the original Spanish language version subtitled in English and the infamous English language track. I say infamous because The Brainiac was imported to the US by schlock-specialist producer K. Gordon Murray who was infamous for supplying foreign language films with some of the most laughably bad English language dub jobs ever. These dub jobs were often hilarious due to terrible voice acting and dubbers that were more concerned with making the words fit the actors’ mouths with little regard for the actual dialogue originally spoken. While I found it fascinating to actually hear the actor’s original voices, I think the English dubbed version is superior given the bizarre nature of the film to begin with.

Casanegra’s DVD also comes loaded with extras, most notably an often humorous commentary track with Kirb Pheeler, creator of the "Brainiac Interactive Press Kit" (which is also included on the DVD). Pheeler is a fountain of information about pretty much every aspect of the movie and everyone involved to the point that there were times when I found myself listening to him and thinking I didn’t need to know that much. Ironically, the one thing he isn’t sure of is whether or not the filmmakers actually intended for El Baron Del Terror to be off-the-wall or if the zaniness of the production was purely unintentional.

Other extras include the previously mentioned "Brainiac Interactive Press Kit" itself, a gallery of posters and production stills, bios of the film’s primary cast members, a radio commercial from 1969 hyping the film’s US theatrical release, and a wonderful (albeit a bit of a strain to read) essay by a fellow named Casamiro Buenavista explaining why Ki>The Brainiac/El Baron Del Terror is quite possibly the most bizarre movie ever made. He makes a good argument.

I must say that while the radio spot was interesting to hear I did find myself a tad disappointed that the DVD didn’t also include American trailer for the film that K. Gordon Murray did. It’s a damn shame that it wasn’t included on the DVD because it too is quite a hoot. When you’re seeing footage of The Brainiac in action while the voiceover guy is describing the movie as "the most horror-filled film of the century" – that takes cajones.

I don’t know what else I can say to try and convince you that you must see this movie other than to repeat … "You MUST see this movie!" It’s strange. It’s hilarious. It’s an absolute must see. What are the odds that a movie known as The Brainiac would prove to be so gleefully insane?

Special Features:
Remastered from original vault elements
Commentary by Kirb Pheeler
The Brainiac Interactive Digital Press Kit
Essay by Casamiro Buenavista
U.S. radio spot
Still and poster gallery
Cast bios
Exclusive collectible card

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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