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Brainiac, The (DVD)

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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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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.65 (20 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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