The month of October is upon us, and it’s that time of year when every major magazine and entertainment news show rolls out their own list of the best horror movies (EVER!) that should be on your required viewing list as we run up to Halloween. This series will not be that kind of list. No, we’ll be looking at the movies that, while still kind of good in their own special way, didn’t quite live up to the expectations of the creators involved and might be best played for maximum enjoyment at your Halloween get together only after copious amounts of your favorite adult beverage has been consumed. Yes, these are the films that are so bad that they’re good(ish) and enjoyable for how spectacularly they failed to live up to their potential.
Today we look at The Brainiac.
Oh calm down. It’s not that bad. Well, it’s not entirely that bad.
The Brainiac (El barón del terror) is a 1962 Mexican offering in the horror genre that was brought up to America by producer K. Gordon Murphy, best known at the time for dubbing and distributing foreign fairy tale films to American audiences, and actually has a fairly solid concept and story idea behind it. Unfortunately for our film, it also possesses acting worthy of an elementary school play, dubbing that is at times spectacularly hilarious, effects work not seen in most American films since the heyday of the Buck Roger matinee serials, and a monster with a nose that a toucan would be envious of as well as big pinchy claws and a large floppy tongue about which the less is said the better. In short, if you’re looking for a film for your Halloween party drinking game, this could be the film for you.
The story itself is actually a pretty solid revenge based horror offering. If nothing else, this is the type of film that supports the argument that Hollywood should be looking to remake the failed and unknown films of the past and not the well-known classics as you could easily remake this today into at least a better than average Syfy original movie. Actually, it may already be better than your average Syfy original movie, but that’s a debate for another time.
Our story opens in 1661 Mexico where we find Baron Vitelius d’Estera being tried on charges of necromancy, witchcraft, and other dark arts. With only one man speaking up to defend him he is thus in short order found guilty and condemned to death by fire. This is also where we see one of the film’s first “WTF” moments as, at this point, the Baron makes his chains disappear, thus showing that he likely could have escaped at any time he so felt inclined to do so, and then willingly walks to his own death.
As the not-so-good Baron is being burned alive, he looks up and spies a comet burning its way across the sky. Well, it’s either that or a scrap of wobbling tissue paper, but the film says it’s a comet, so we’ll go along with it. At this point he swears out his curse that when this comet returns to the skies once more in 300 years it will return him to seek vengeance on the descendants of the Holy Inquisitors and then snuffs it on the stake. One would think that a warlock capable of making big metal shackles disappear into thin air might be able to blow out a few flames, but apparently not.
Cut to three hundred years later and the return of the comet. The Baron returns and, after a brief monstrous appearance and quick kill, is looking very much the modern man. He immediately sets out on his quest for revenge and, fortunately for him, almost all of the key players are easily spotted since the same actors that played the Inquisitors also play many of their descendants. This fact is driven home for us with the ever so subtle trick of having the good Baron glare at each actor in 1961 and then watching as a set of bad wigs and robes are stuck on them.
His quest for total revenge runs into a small snag, however, as the descendant of the one man who defended him back in the day has become the love interest of a young lady who is the descendant of one of the Holy Inquisitors. This doesn’t inconvenience the Baron for very long, though, as at the key moment later in the film he simply decides to just go for it and kill everybody anyhow. But it’s a nice moment of almost dramatic tension there for almost an entire minute or two.
Anyhow… The Baron well and truly sets out on his killing spree, and we see “The Brainiac” emerge in full. This is his monstrous alter ego that looks like a guy in a cheap suit wearing a bad Mardi Gras mask covered with a shag rug.
The viewer is clued in on the fact that he is about to transform from the Baron to the Brainiac and claim his victims thanks to someone off camera pointing a small flashlight at his face and repeatedly turning it on and off whenever the Baron is filled with murderous intent. His means of killing, removing his victims’ brains, is done with a long tongue that looks and acts not entirely unlike the paper whistle blow toys everyone plays with at birthday parties and on New Year’s Eve. There are also moments where it looks like someone is using a bicycle pump to inflate the monster’s rubber face and head in order to make it look more terrifying. This does not quite have the intended effect on the viewer.
The acting is, to say the least, a bit stiff. How stiff? You know you’re well into making Spanish soap opera acting look good when this is what passes as a look of sheer and utter terror by your actors. I’m not sure if he’s scared out of his mind here or if he has just discovered that his laxative kicked in at the wrong time.
The dubbing is, in many moments throughout the film, hilariously bad on multiple levels, the mood conveyed by the music is, at times, incredibly out of sync with the mood of the scene, special effects are less than special, and the monster’s general appearance is laughably bad. But, believe it or not, this film can be an enjoyable entry in the “So Bad It’s Good” genre, especially in a group environment where the viewers have had sufficient quantities of their favorite adult beverages and/or wish to engage in MST3K: The Home Version.
The Brainiac can be found and purchased on DVD, ranging in price from $1.99 to $24.99 depending on the print on various online sales sites.
This post brought to you by Jerry Chandler.
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