The Brainiac (1961)

The mind is a terrible thing to taste!

If you ask the average cheesy horror fan to name one Mexican film, chances are that they may answer, 'The Brainiac' (aka, 'el Baron del Terror'). This is as it should be, because in the 100 plus years of cinematic history, there's never been anything quite like it.

In the year 1661, Baron Vitelius (Abel Salazar) is brought before a tribunal, accused of, among other things, seducing married women and maidens, using corpses to tell the future, and practicing dogmatism. One might wonder, if one is apt to wonder about such things, how corpses can be used in precognition pursuits. But one should get their mind back on the movie, lest they miss something important. The Baron is sentenced to being humiliated and tortured. When he laughs off the humiliation and welcomes the torture, he's condemned to be burned at the stake, as well. His friend, Miranda, defends him at the trial and gets 200 lashes for his trouble. Before being burned, Vitelius makes the chains that bind him disappear and warns the judges that he'll be back to kill all descendants of all those who have condemned him. A comet flies overhead and the baron states that when it returns, so will he.

Ahead 300 years, in 1961, the comet returns to Earth's orbit and a large fragment lands in Mexico. The meteorite dissolves into the human figure who sports a long forked tongue, oversized head and suction-cup fingers -- the Brainiac. The monster finds a man wandering in the woods and immediately sucks out his victim's brains, using his tongue as sort of a bendie straw. He then makes the corpse's clothes disappear and reappear on his own body. They fit beautifully.

Meanwhile, two young astronomers, Ronnie (descendant of Miranda) and Victoria (descendant of one of the judges at Vitelius' trial) search for the fallen comet. They come across the creature, who has transformed himself into human form (Abel Salazar). They all exchange pleasantries and go their separate ways. The reborn Vitelius wanders into a bar where he meets a young floozy (Ariadna Welter, star of the 'El Vampiro series' and one-time sister in-law to Tyrone Power). He momentarily disappears, before reappearing right beside her. As if this wasn't enough to make her suspicious, he then stares at her maniacally -- refusing to answers any of her questions. Instead of being cooled off, the young woman likes his style and tries to seduce him. He responds by turning into the Brainiac and sucking out her cerebral cortex. A short time later, while walking down the street, he meets a prostitute and gives her the same treatment. Having finally satisfied his 300-year hunger, the Baron now gets down to business. He organizes a party, inviting all the descendants of those who condemned him centuries ago. When they arrive, his guests ask him to join them for a drink. The baron declines, and in the stilted but beloved (at least by me) dialogue typical to all K. Gordon Murray's English-dubbed films, he states, "Liquor does me damage, I once had a very strange disease." Vitelius does take time out from the party to slip out, open a special cabinet, and partake of a spoonful of brain -- which is apparently kept in a bowl for just that purpose.

In the days following the party, the baron visits each of the descendants, in order to keep his 300-year old promise. One by one, Vitelius eliminates them. In a rather perverse touch, before killing each, he makes the male victims watch as he first seduces, then sucks the brain matter from the women in their lives. Finally, the baron invites Ronnie and Victoria (the last of the descendants) to his home for dinner. He gets Victoria alone and tells her that although he loves her, his hate is even stronger. Ronnie, who has been snooping around in another room, finds the bowl of brains and senses that things are not quite kosher. He rushes in to save Victoria, just as two policemen also arrive. This leads to a fiery conclusion.

The plot of 'The Brainiac' has some similarities to 'Black Sunday,' the classic Barbara Steele / Mario Bava film, made just a year earlier. It also has an element from, 'Fiend Without a Face' (the brain-sucking monster) produced in 1958. However, 'The Brainiac' is filled with a surreal charm, unmatched by those, or most other films of that (or any other) period.

The cast is fine. Salazar is much more effective here, playing the villain, then he was in his bland hero roles in films like, 'Hombre y el Monstruo' ('Man and the Monster') and 'El Vampiro' ('The Vampire'). He sports a suave manner one moment, only to turn depraved and vicious seconds later. As the producer of a series of horror films during this period, he had his choice of roles. One may wonder (it's OK to wonder now that the film is over) why he often chose such humdrum characters.

Salazar is well supported by German Robles and Ariadna Welter in victim roles, plus Mauricio Garces as a medical examiner. Even the policeman and his comical sidekick are less annoying than was usual.

If one wanted to quibble, he or she might question why a man who could make others do his bidding, could disappear and reappear at will, and could make chains vanish from his very body, would allow himself to be burned at the stake in the first place. But if what you want is logic, you'd be better served looking elsewhere. If you (like I) enjoy bizarrely entertaining films, then 'The Brainiac' is one of the best. Just check your brains at the door and enjoy.

(The English dubbed version was viewed for this review.)