Brainiac (El Baron Del Terror) Review
In 1661, the Spanish Baron Vitelius is shackled while he is forced to listen as the Inquisition accuse him of heresy and of consorting with the devil. Laughing at those who declare him guilty, Vitelius is led outside and tied to a stake, around which a fire is prepared and lit. But in spite of the flames licking at the gown that he wears, Vitelius has made himself ready for death and looking up into the night sky, watches a comet passing overhead. Looking back at his accusers, Vitelius studies each one and memorises the faces behind the mask. Eventually, the flames take and Vitelius is burned alive but not once was there a sound from him.
Three hundred years later, that comet once again passes by the earth and out of it falls a rock that lands in the Spanish countryside. Crumbling away, the rock releases a monster with a forked tongue, claws and a pulsating head. Seeing a motorist stopping to look, this creature - the Brainiac! - sucks out his brain, removes his clothes and assumes the shape of Baron Vitelius. Three hundred years may have passed but now returned to earth, the baron prepares himself to take revenge on those who condemned him to death so many years before by sucking the brains out of each of their descendants. Will he succeed?
Actually, it's worth saying that the Brainiac doesn't remove the clothes of the motorist who stops to gawk at the rock that falls from the passing comet. They just kind of disappear suggesting that the Brainiac doesn't just have the ability to suck the brain out of someone's head but to leave them lying in the desert in nothing but a white vest - curiously unbloodied for someone who's just had their brain removed through the application of a foot-long tongue - and a pair of spotted underpants. Similarly, that rock doesn't crumble either, more that it fades out in the manner of a fairly rudimentary special effect. And it doesn't actually fall out of the comet, it's, well, lowered from a crane onto a studio floor whilst some bright lights attempt to give it some significance. It is, however, quite brilliant in spite of my sneering.
In fact, very little of what I've written above actually happens but I've been generous to the filmmakers, explaining what I'm sure they intended rather than what they achieved. None of this is any more clearer than in the film's finale, which I'm sure that I won't spoil for anyone by giving some of it away. We see, for example, two policemen storming the home of the Baron armed with flamethrowers but look carefully and watch as one of them doesn't just fail to get his working but actually cowers as the other one threatens to set the studio alight. The Baron himself cowers somewhere near the flames but is obviously nowhere near them whilst his final fade to dust ends with his smoking skeleton lying on the ground. A skeleton without feet, which is odd given how, only moments earlier, the Brainiac was wearing boots.
I don't doubt that the makers of Brainiac began each day with good intentions, leaving it difficult to be particularly hard on them and their film when it turned out as it did. I suspect that there were long silences during the editing of it as the director and producers were faced with their completed efforts and the actualité fell some way short of their vision. The movement of the Brainiac's head, for example, whilst it ought to pulsate, just inflates and deflates as though there were a couple of men around his back blowing into a tube connected to the back of the Brainiac's obviously rubber head. Which was probably the case. Indeed, if you drew a monster's face on a paper bag, put it over your head and breathed in and out, you would achieve largely the same effect at a similar cost.
Happily, Brainiac, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, is a bad film but also an entertaining one. Much of this, like Ed Wood's movie, is to do with one enjoying the shoddy effects, the dreadful plotting and dialogue that may well have been hastily written in the minutes before the cameras rolled but Brainiac is no less fun because of it. Of course, this enjoyment has much to do with not looking past the faults but rather directly at them - staring in disbelief in some occasions - but that doesn't make it any less delightful a way to spend an hour-and-a-quarter. If only every bad film was as good as this one, the world would be so much better a place.
Once again, Casa Negra have done a quite superb job with this release, perhaps not as obviously good as with The Black Pit Of Dr. M but they may not have as good a print to work with. However, this is still an excellent transfer of the film with an impressive amount of detail and, were it not for the very occasional bit of print damage, it would look better than I could ever imagine Brainiac doing. Similarly, the DD2.0 Spanish Mono and Dubbed English audio tracks are in good shape - the former much better than the latter but it's clear that the restoration team have spent more time on it - but the dialogue tends to fade on occasion. This may, rather than being a fault of the transfer, be more a reflection of the low-budget origins of the film.
Commentary: Kirb Pheeler - creator of the Brainiac Interactive Press Kit, of which more later - is the only guest on this commentary and is thoroughly entertaining during each and every minute of the film. Never afraid to laugh at Brainiac's strangest moments but equally proud to discuss those scenes when it chances upon something unique, this is probably the commentary that Brainiac deserves.
Keep Repeating It's Only The Most Bizarre Horror Film Ever Made: Such is the rather unwieldy title of this essay on the film, which overstates just how odd Brainiac is. Certainly it's an unusual film but the most bizarre? Probably not. Regardless, what we have here is a very complete essay on Brainiac and includes the background to its production, the making of it and how well it was received. Or how badly given how critics and audiences have laughed and sneered at it from the very beginning.
Brainiac Interactive Press Kit: Kirby Pheeler returns, or rather his press kit for Brainiac does. This is actually available online at www.21ca.com/brainiac but is also presented here on the DVD with short clips from the film as well as short descriptions of the arrival, an attack and the fiery end of the Brainiac, as well as an outtake from the film.
Finally, there is an Original Radio Promotion for Brainiac from its release in April 1969 as part of a double feature with Curse Of The Crying Woman as well as Cast Biographies and a Poster And Stills Gallery.
Taken together, The Black Pit Of Dr. M and Brainiac - alright, El Baron Del Terror - represent the two sides of horror. One, the former, is an artfully directed, atmospheric drama that does everything right in drawing out the horror of an already terrifying situation. The other has a man in a daft monster suit, brains being scooped out of a jar and more unintentional laughs than you'd believe possible in one movie. If Casa Negra continue in this manner, bestowing an equal amount of care on the brilliant and the unbelievable, then long may they go on.