Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Head Cheesiness: The Brainiac a.k.a. El Baron del Terror (1962)


By Hank Parmer

Mexico City, 1661: When he least expected it, Baron Vitelius of Astara has been arrested by the Spanish Inquisition. Despite having been imprisoned in some filthy dungeon and tortured, except for the manacles and leg irons he looks tanned and rested, as if he's just back from an invigorating weekend at the spa -- a sure sign that Satanic forces must be at work!

(The Baron is played by Mexican actor Abel Salazar, who hogs most of the screen time, and, on a completely unrelated note, produced this crappy film. He also bears a striking resemblance to Sheldon Leonard, best known as Nick the bartender in It's a Wonderful Life.)

In a gloomy, ill-lit chamber, a hooded Inquisitor reads out the indictment. Besides the usual grab bag of accusations -- heresy, witchcraft, conjuration, causing infertility in his neighbor's phlox, whistling on a Tuesday -- the Baron is charged with dabbling in that darkest of sorcerous arts: necromancy! And he's seduced married women and maidens!

This last one sounds more like sour grapes, prompting an oily grin from the accused.

The Inquisition's mouthpiece continues: Baron Vitalis was warned he was to be subjected to the torment. Here the indictment inserts the sort of standard disclaimer which should sound familiar to anyone who's read the fine print on a rent-to-own contract or seen one of those "Ask your doctor about ..." drug ads:

"If, during said torment, he should be maimed in any way, or should die, or his blood should be drawn in carrying out the sentence, this would serve as proof of his guilt and show that he had not repented."

Well, what sort of a chance does that give you? Damn, but they've got some sharp lawyers.

He reads on: Spoilsport Vitalis, when told of the sentence, declared they could torment him all they wished. When tortured, he merely laughed at "these acts of justice" -- and look at him, sitting there now, cool as a cucumber. Can't he see he's ruining it for them!

In fact the Baron acts more like a star jock being lectured by the vice principal for giving wedgies to the AV squad; he squirms in his chair and hardly attempts to hide his frequent smirks. Adding insult to injury, not a hair is out of place on that patrician noggin, while they have to wear these hot, stuffy, extremely unflattering black hoods.

But wait ... some poor schmuck has actually volunteered to be a character witness for the Baron! He identifies himself as Marcos Miranda, a former resident of Portugal. He claims that the Baron Vitalis he knows is a really sweet guy, smart as a whip, and loved by everyone. But the Inquisitors aren't having any of this. As a consolation prize, Marcos is awarded two hundred lashes for being such a credulous dolt.

The hoodies hold a quick confab, then the sentence is pronounced: Baron Vitalis is to be stripped of his possessions, dressed in funny-looking clothes for a public shaming, and then burnt alive in an open field.

The Baron sneers: "If my body is to be burned, it will be without chains!" and he magics his shackles onto his two guards. (Top that, The Amazing Randi!) He turns and walks away, while the guards attempt to follow him and do simultaneous face-plants. [Cue Nelson Muntz "Ha-ha!"]

Cut to that open field. Just like they promised, the Inquisition has rigged Vitalis out in a cardboard mitre and a hospital gown, so everyone could point and laugh at his butt-crack and pale, hairy legs and knobby knees. He's tied to the stake. Marcos is one of the bystanders. He's astonishingly chipper, after having just received a couple hundred lashes.

The Head Hoodie gives the signal; the pyre is set alight. The flames rise all around the Baron. Suddenly, he's transfigured by a light from above -- which must have caused his persecutors an uneasy minute or two there, as they might have suspected they'd got the wrong heretic.

It's only an ultra-cheesy, out-of-focus (so maybe the cheesiness won't be quite so noticeable) visual effect of a comet. I've seen more realistic depictions created with glow-in-the-dark stickers. Vitalis looks at Marcos. Marcos looks at Vitalis. Vitalis looks at Marcos. They both look up at the comet.

Then Vitalis lays his curse on the four Inquisitors. Their costumes are no disguise, because their faces are superimposed on their hoods as he names them one by one.

With the cellophane crackling around him, Baron Vitalis informs them he's off on a getaway cruise of the Oort Cloud, but when the comet returns in 300 years, he promises he'll get his revenge then by killing all their descendants. Thereby cinching the "World's Foremost Procrastinator" award for the year 1661, possibly the entire Early Modern Era.

Vitalis is obscured by the out-of-scale blaze. Partially melted years emerge from the flames: 1661 ... 1761 ... 1861 ... 1961! Yup, it's three centuries later, alright. Time for the fun to begin.



A nightclub in Mexico City: Marcos' descendant, Reynaldo "Ronnie" Miranda, is dancing cheek-to-cheek with his fiance, Victoria Contreras. The young lovers could trip the night away, but duty calls, because they're astronomers and Ronnie has to go look for a star.

Accompanied by eerie SF music, Ronnie and his affianced pull up in front of a process shot of an observatory. Notice that because of the rear-projected image's point-of-view of its subject, when combined with the action in front of the camera, it looks like the architect situated this observatory at a lower elevation than its parking lot. Good job!

They join Prof. Saturnino Millán inside, as he peers at the Moon through his telescope.

The Prof. springs a quick pop quiz on them about comets. Satisfied they're not just some rubber-necking tourists who wandered in off the street, he shows them some ancient, leather-bound books, where a strange comet is mentioned as having been seen back in 1661. On the strength of this one observation, the Prof. can predict precisely when it will reappear: at 2:36 this morning, at a distance of 53 million miles.

Ronnie glances at his watch. "Why, Professor, that's right now!" he reminds the absent-minded astronomer, and scurries to the telescope.

He scans the heavens, giving the film a chance to pad its running time by regaling us with vignetted photographs of a couple of galaxies, a star cluster, and the Great Nebula in Orion, but nope, no comet. The Prof. is puzzled. He takes Ronnie's place at the eyepiece and tries without success to locate it.

Peevishly mumbling something must be wrong, he abandons the telescope to pore over his calculations, while Ronnie watches over his shoulder. Meanwhile, Victoria takes her turn at the eyepiece, and locates that same crude visual effect of the celestial wanderer in no time flat.

Typical, huh?

Prof. Millán is ecstatic: Those snotty jerks at the Mexican Astronomical Society will have to eat their words! And this time, they'll sit up and take notice when he reveals his latest discovery: He has proof that Anteater Men from the Andromeda Galaxy are abducting his garden gnomes!

Ronnie and Victoria rush out to take a look at the comet through a spotting scope. Which may seem silly, since they have that high-power instrument, but it's the one thing in this movie that makes sense -- if you want to see anything more than a fuzzy blob. Note that behind them, according to the process shot, that sixteen-inch diameter refracting telescope has just mysteriously upgraded itself to a 200-inch reflector. Maybe it's on loan from Mt. Palomar.

While gazing through the spotting scope, Ronnie gasps in surprise: "I don't understand -- the comet just let out a strange light!"

We'll just have to take his word for that -- the "strange light", that is, since they couldn't afford an effect for it. As for the first part of his statement, trust me, by the end of this movie we'll all be able to agree that there's nothing unusual about this character's lack of comprehension.

"Come on!" he urges Victoria, grabbing her by the hand. "We'd better investigate!"

Exactly what they're supposed to be looking for is something of a mystery, when that comet's supposed to be fifty-three million miles distant, but sure, let's go with it. Maybe "strange light" leaves traces which are visible only to trained astronomers. Though I wouldn't be surprised if their car runs out of gas somewhere on a lonely road. After all, Ronnie didn't specify what he intends to investigate.

Cut to a road somewhere in the woods. A hapless motorist stops his car to check out that wild bongo riff. What a kooky place to open a coffee house, daddy-o! He spies a blazing sparkler up in the sky -- but wait, this isn't Cinco de Mayo!
Look out below!

With a whistle and a thud, a chunk of comet plunks down a short distance off in the woods. You really have to see this one to appreciate how hilariously shoddy this sequence is. Words can't do it justice.

The motorist reacts with a feral spasm of greed.


I want it so bad I can taste it!

If he can somehow get that comet chunk to his freezer before it melts, he'll make a mint! He pushes his way through the underbrush, then pauses behind a bush, while he warily scans the object.

Unfortunately for his dreams of wealth (or anything else) the icy meteorite abruptly evaporates, leaving in its stead -- The Brainiac!!!
I'll give you such a pinch!

Now we're getting somewhere! Or would be, if this costume didn't look like the love child of a crayfish and a crude anti-Semitic caricature from a 17th Century woodcut, complete with beard, misshapen head and huge hooked nose, gussied up a bit with the addition of a pair of ludicrous fangs and a foot-long forked tongue. So maybe there's some pit viper in the mix, too. Notice that the pincer-like claws it's got instead of hands are tipped with suckers. (Because it's from outer space, see? I think the species might have evolved them so they can have credit cards.)

Terrified by this unearthly apparition, the motorist takes off through the woods. The Brainiac ambles after him, yet overtakes its prey within a few seconds. It somehow compels him to stop, and turn around, then it shines a light in the guy's face, freezing him like a deer on the highway. Its cheeks puff in and out furiously -- maybe its got asthma, which could explain why it has to pursue its victim at such a deliberate pace.

The monster lunges at him, snarling like a tiger, grabs him by the neck with its rubbery, sucker-tipped pincers. It spins him around and attacks him from behind. This creature, however, is no fanny-bandit from beyond. Not in the Land of Muy Macho, buster! Instead, it applies its forked tongue to the back of its victim's head. The luckless minor character screams once, horribly, then slips limply to the ground.

The Brainiac magically strips the guy of his garments, leaving him lying there in his Fruit o' the Loom boxers and t-shirt. In another manifestation of its hell-spawned powers (and excellent sartorial taste) the weird being transforms what looked like a rumpled, off-the-rack J. C. Penney jacket and slacks into an impeccably tailored Gucci, adding a smartly elegant pair of leather gloves, while it assumes the form of -- Baron Vitalis! Of course his hair is perfect.

He saunters off into the night.

Ronnie and Victoria pull up in front of a rear projection of a half-finished railroad bridge. (Who needs all the bother and expense of a location shoot?) They get out of the car and stand around for a few seconds, then the eerie music starts up as they see someone approaching in the darkness. They run to meet him, so addled now by comet fever they're overjoyed to encounter a stranger, late at night, on a dark and deserted road.

It's Baron Vitalis. He doesn't bother to introduce himself, but simply stands there, staring at them. (He does a lot of that.) Ronnie and Victoria trade looks, evidently at a loss for a conversation-starter with this sinister pedestrian, until our budding astronomer thinks to ask him if he's seen any "aerolites".

No, replies the Baron. Nope, nosiree, nary a one -- and even if I did, absolutely, positively no aerolites with hellish brain-sucking hitchhikers!

"You seem to be surprised to see me," he observes, quickly changing the subject. You see, he explains, he likes to take long walks at this hour ... and drill holes in the back of people's skulls with his forked tongue so he can suck out their -- no, no ... he was making a joke ...

Ronnie responds that the two are astronomers out looking for "aerolites", and introduces himself and his fiancé. He gives Baron Vitalis his card -- I guess lady astronomers aren't allowed to have cards of their own, much less join the conversation while the men are speaking. Ronnie patronizes the Baron, too, by assuming that Vitalis doesn't know aerolites are a type of meteorite. But it turns out he shares their interest in -- dramatic pause -- astronomy. He'd like to get together with them to suck out -- er, pick their brains on the subject; Ronnie invites him to drop by anytime.

Ronnie and Victoria exit the scene. Vitalis poses for a moment in front of a rear projection of ominously back-lit clouds, then wends his way to a local nightclub. He finds the establishment almost deserted at this hour of the A.M. At one end of the bar the owner, Bobby, and the bartender are tallying up the evening's take. At the other, a beautiful woman nurses her margarita. Clearly bored, she licks salt from her finger, unaware of the Baron's presence.

Since a high-powered warlock were-demon like Baron Vitalis can't be bothered to walk around a table to get at his next victim, he dematerializes and then pops up next to her, standing with his back to the woman, apparently disinterested. It's encouraging to see the Baron's legendary pick-up skillz haven't entirely atrophied as a result of his 300-year cometary sojourn.

After a moment, the “bar girl” notices the newcomer. So does the owner, Bobby, who comes over and pointedly informs the Baron it's closing time. But she persuades the boss to let Vitalis have just one drink, because this oddly intriguing stranger is "an old friend". Bobby grudgingly tells the barkeep to give the guy one cognac, then goes back to his office. The couple down their cognacs, gazing hungrily into each others' eyes, while the bartender heads out the door.

Bobby starts putting the money in the safe. Back in the bar, alone now with the Baron, the woman tells him she has the feeling they've met before, although she's fuzzy about the circumstances.

Vitalis just stares at her. She admits his total silence makes her afraid -- and yet deeply aroused! (Man, this guy has a killer technique with the babes!) Tragically, she doesn't notice the warning light shining down upon the Baron's face. She puts the moves on him, even kisses him passionately, but doesn't get much of a rise. Frustrated, she snarls, "I guess it's just useless!" and leaves him at the bar.

She takes a few steps, stops, pauses for effect, then assumes that look of love and slowly turns around -- perhaps her little gambit will finally thaw this cold fish -- only to find that she's been all too successful: Vitalis has once again turned into the Brainiac! And there's that bongo riff ...

It's all over but the shrieking, though interestingly, the creature appears to believe this woman's brains are located in her left breast.

They've got to be around here somewhere ...

Blackout. At the morgue, the coroner confesses to a couple of plainclothes dicks he's mystified: He has two bodies, each with identical wounds in the back of their skulls. (The Brainiac must have eventually found the right spot on that second victim.) The holes were made with surgical precision, possibly with an electric drill. The lead detective -- the “Comandante” -- quickly deduces that this must have been the work of the killer.

Then the coroner imparts an even more astounding piece of weirdness: The victims' brains are missing! This murderer must really know his way around a cranium. Sort of like those hobbyists who build full-rigged clipper ships in a bottle – but the other way around.

The Comandante grumps that he wishes they'd find a way to control what a man studies, because a brainy maniac is a threat. (Oh, so close ...) However, he does have a point: Titles like Brain Extraction for Dummies and The Neuron Slurpee Diet shouldn't be readily available at your local bookstore or public library. And they definitely shouldn't be allowed to offer courses in cranial hoovering at just any old community college.

The Comandante suspects these murders could be linked to a bank robbery which took place that same night, on the same block where they found the girl's body. That's some right smart police-figurin' there, compadre!

This was no boating accident!

The Comandante has a goofy, wisecracking sidekick, named Benny, played by Federico Curiel. (Some call him "The Mexican Phil Silvers" or would, if he were funny.) Benny theorizes that the girl must have seen the robbery while it was in progress and the burglar waxed her to keep her mouth shut -- taking the time afterwards to drill two holes in the back of her head and suck her brains out with a couple of straws from the glove box.

It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to find out this guy was the Chief's nephew.

The Comandante squashes his subordinate's attempted display of initiative by reminding him that the other body was found miles away, by the highway. Although in fairness to the flunky, that doesn't really disprove his idiotic theory. After all, nothing says that guy had to be killed for the same reason.

Okay, so the Brainiac killed the “bar girl” and apparently dumped her body near the robbery. But what happened to Bobby, the nightclub owner? Didn't he hear that ruckus going on out there in the bar? Maybe his office is really well sound-proofed.

Since the Comandante has run rings around him logically, the sidekick throws up his hands and declares the murders unsolvable. A real credit to the force, this one.

Cut to Baron Vitalis, standing in front of yet another process shot, this one of a big, ugly, Colonial-era edifice.

The Baron helpfully translates the inscription on the plaque at the gate: "In front of this place stood the crematorium of the Inquisition, from 1596 to 1771." Making it the longest-running show in Mexico City history!

The Baron walks down a flight of stairs. A librarian is working at a desk. He looks up and asks the Baron of Terror if he's come to see the archives, adding that it's closing time. The Baron does his trademark "stare at you silently until I get what I want" routine. (We share our house with a cat who's also quite adept at this technique.)

So he gets the run of the archives. Vitalis leafs through a bound volume of back issues of the National Inquisitor. Sandwiched in between the ads for thumbscrews, fire starters and correspondence courses in witch-smelling (which were a total rip-off, especially that strap-on hooter they gave you when you graduated) he finds the "Proceedings of the Inquisition Done in the Year 1661". He immediately closes the volume and replaces it on the shelf.

Maybe he's having trouble recalling his Inquisitors' names -- demonstrating why it may not be such a good idea to delay your diabolical vengeance for several centuries. That might explain why he next goes down to the crypt and examines the nameplates on the Inquisitorial Wall of Fame. Here we get another example of how downright considerate these folks could be, reputation to the contrary. How thoughtful to group the names together for him, in case he needed to jog his memory three hundred years later.

Next we see the Baron strolling down a city sidewalk at night, while the theme from The Naked City plays in the background. He's accosted by a lady of the evening, who leans against a lamppost until she can think of an even bigger cliche.

“Got a match for me?” she purrs seductively.

He lights her cigarette, they lock lips, but Vitalis pushes her away, walks a few paces, stops, turns around and -- bongo riff, please -- Ta-da! Iiiiiiiiiit's the Brainiac!
  "Strangers in the night..."

He's got something for her, alright: twelve inches of tongue. But not in a nice way. This hapless victim then does the single worst thing you can do when attacked by this brain-sucking hell-beast from outer space: She presents the back of her neck to it! 

Cut to the Comandante and Benny, at a diner. The Comandante reads the autopsy report of this third mysterious murder to his sidekick. Cranium perforated, electric drill, brains sucked out -- the usual, he comments. The Comandante is now convinced this is the work of a schizophrenic. Tomorrow early, he promises, he'll start posting men throughout the city. No big hurry, right?

Just then, Benny's order of calf's brains arrives. ¡Muchas risas!

Back to the observatory, two weeks after the return of the Baron. Prof. Millán kvetches to Ronnie about that crazy comet, which mysteriously disappeared after that one appearance. The boys are stumped. Victoria returns from fetching the mail -- it frees the menfolk up to do the important stuff, after all. But today's post brings nothing but frustration: None of his colleagues can confirm his sighting.

Here's that eerie music again. There's an invitation to a party tonight, from someone styling himself "Baron Vitelius of Astara". Ronnie, as always extremely trusting of strangers, is dying to attend. After so much fruitless stargazing, he thinks they could all use a chance to unwind. (Not to mention industrial quantities of Visine.)

It would have served him right if the Baron had been throwing a Herbalife recruiting party. Compared to that, having your brains sucked out is a walk in the park. Although, come to think of it, after a thorough cranial hoovering you'd probably be ready to jump at that distributorship ...

Cut to the Comandante and his comic-relief dead weight, stuffing their gobs again, this time in front of another process shot, of Mexico City at night. Am I the only one to think that working Homicide in this department isn't exactly a high-stress occupation? Then again, the fact they've just received orders to provide security for the Baron's shindig may be some indication of just how essential they're considered by their superiors.

Benny doesn't care. Stopping a brain-sucking psycho on a murder spree can wait, so long as there's food and drink at the party! Now, there's dedication for you. Or at least, a well-developed instinct for self-preservation.

Cut to the Baron's palatial digs, where Mexico City's elite meet. Vitalis -- who circulates among the sparse assortment of party goers, but doesn't really mingle -- hears the butler announce a pair of new arrivals: Luis Meneses and spouse.

(If you're expecting me to make the obvious pun on that surname, I can tell you right now you're in for a disappointment.)

Hubby has the same last name as one of the Baron's erstwhile Inquisitors! Just in case the audience has trouble remembering this, through the miracle of editing Luis dons a black pullover and powdered late-18th-Century style wig for a few seconds. He's the spittin' image of Great-Great-Great-Great-etc-etc-Grandpa Balthazar. What are the odds of that?

Vitalis slides over to extend his personal greeting.

Next, a "Miss Ana Luisa del Vivar" is announced, along with her escort. Cue dramatic music again, as her Inquisitorial ancestor's potato-headed, butt-ugly visage is rudely superimposed on this Latina beauty.
Surprise!

Holy frijoles! Don't do that! Not without warning us first, okay?

Our third prospective victim arrives unaccompanied: Professor Indalecio Pantoja, great-great-yada-yada of Sebastián, the Inquisitor. Yeah, yeah: Stick a wig on him and he looks just like his ancestor. Thanks again, fellas.

Vitalis shakes his hand, declaring it's an honor to have such a renowned historian at his party. Prof. Pendejo replies the honor is his, since he knows of the Baron's reputation as a gentleman. Which makes me wonder how in two short weeks Vitalis found the time to acquire that rep, in between the brain-slurping, boning up on those descendants' bios, writing out invitations, wrangling with the florist and the caterers, and all the other necessary preparations for tonight's glittering occasion. He must have been one very industrious little hell-beast.

Ronnie, Victoria and Prof. Millán enter. Note that although Victoria is also supposed to be an astronomer, during the introductions only Ronnie and Millán get the "Professor" honorific. Oh no, there's that "my ancestor burnt you alive" theme again. Sure enough, Vicky's a descendant of Inquisitor Álvaro Contreras. (This is the guy who was the spitting image of Captain Beefheart; you can bet that on his watch, the torture never stopped.)

Now, wait a minute: Why didn't Vitalis realize who she was the first time they met? Perhaps he was suffering from comet lag then, and needed that little memory refresher he got at the archives. It's a good thing he'd already had a snack before he bumped into them.

Quite unnecessarily, Ronnie momentarily switches out his collar for a 17th Century model to remind everyone he had an ancestor in this deal, too. Though if you ask me, it's a Darwinian miracle that old Marcos' line managed to continue. I guess looks really are a passable substitute for smarts.

The Baron is pleased to see them. He's effusively complimentary to their mentor about the "young astronomers". Vitalis conducts the trio to the table, where he hands them glasses of champagne. He doesn't drink, though. "It so happens liquor does me damage," he explains. "I once had a very strange disease."

While his guests are politely sympathetic to his plight, Vitalis gets a rumble in his tummy, and hastily excuses himself. He unlocks a secretary and opens it to reveal a large, fancy silver footed bowl brimming with brains! Yum!

Mmm mmm good!

So … he sucks people's brains out and then regurgitates them, completely intact, to snack on later? Makes perfect sense to me ...

I guess revenge -- when it involves suctioned cerebrums -- is best served at room temperature, in an embossed sterling silver dish.

He spoons a heapin' helpin' into a goblet. But no, one spoonful's never enough. He manages to make himself stop at three, then raises the goblet to his lips, but stops, because he notices our detectives have just entered the scene. Which means the Baron keeps his brain buffet in a corner of the same hall where he's entertaining his guests. Of course, it's not like those party goers would be expected to think there was anything odd about their host suddenly dropping everything to surreptitiously scarf down some brains. Happens all the time at this kind of affair.

The Comandante looks around, and admonishes Benny to keep on his toes. These posh soirees are like catnip to criminal masterminds. (Just keep telling yourself that, Jefe.)

"Yeah," agrees his sidekick. "And there are plenty of suspects here, right, Chief?" Well, technically they're called "guests", but it's hardly worth correcting El Idiota over such a relatively minor detail.

The party is a smashing success. The last to leave are the Inquisition kids and their friends. They're all captivated by Vitalis' inexplicable charm, or suck-ups to aristocracy, because everybody wants a piece of him: Señorita del Vivar invites him to attend her wedding; Prof. Pendejo wants to show him some old books; Prof. Millán won't leave until the Baron promises to drop by soon for a chat; the Meneses go with the flow, and insist on giving Vitalis a tour of their foundry.

This is just too easy!

With the guests departed, the pigs-in-a-blanket devoured, the Ritz crackers with a generous schmear of that delightful salmon mousse -- garnished with pineapple, no less! -- gone with the snows of yesteryear, and the Cheetos bowl a desolation of virulent-orange crumbs and powder, the detectives reluctantly conclude it's pumpkin time.

Sometime later, the Baron's with Prof. Pendejo in the historian's study. The scholar proudly shows him some of his research: a folio of "Proceedings of the Inquisition". He tells Vitalis they're from the last half of the 1600s. (This is not going to end well.)

Pendejo: "You know, in this century, to talk about the Holy Inquisition and the ways they did justice is not what I call easy. There exists a legend -- "

The Professor's interrupted by the entrance of his daughter. The Baron stares at her, while his forehead is illuminated by that baby-spot again. It blinks twice, possibly because like all the female victims in this thing, she's young and attractive. I'm not sure, but I think this might be the Brainiac's version of a wolf-whistle.

Papa introduces Maria to Vitalis, calling her his pride and joy. She's an authority on religious history, working on her doctorate. Maria notices the folio. She sidles up close to Vitalis, and coyly observes "These decrees certainly are interesting, aren't they, Baron?"

As a come-on, at least you can say it has a certain originality going for it.

While the Baron stares at her, her dad explains that his daughter doesn't mean the decrees themselves are interesting, but that they were written in an interesting way. (A fine distinction, there, Prof.) From the way they were written, he adds, one may see that religion at the time was not very enlightened.

"Here, for example ..." He points to a decree, and -- bingo! -- it's the one which condemned the Baron. Pendejo's puzzled to note that the accused has the same name as his guest.

This is the opening Vitalis has been looking for. Keeping his eyes on Maria, the Baron of Terror recites the list of charges, concluding with " ... for seducing young maidens that couldn't ..." he pauses to mildly leer at the Prof's daughter, who's now plainly got a thundering case of the hot sloppies for him, "... couldn't resist."

But the interesting thing, Vitalis continues, is the sentence. He becomes slightly emotional as he relates what was done to him, back in the day. Poor doomed Maria, putty now in his pincers, coos, "This Vitelius of Astara must have been one of your ancestors, Baron."

"No," he replies, "I never had any ancestors!" (That's a neat trick.) He announces he is Baron Vitelius! He points an accusing finger at the portrait of old Sebastián, and reminds them their ancestor did him the dirty. Maria protests that that's impossible, while the Prof. appears somewhat at a loss for how to proceed with this flagrant nutball.

Enough of the sweet talk: Baron Vitalis jiffy-hypnotizes the ill-fated pair and forces Papa to watch, unable to speak, his eyes bugging out with horror, while the Baron desultorily necks with Maria. Kinky ... But Vitalis quickly grows bored with the foreplay. He silently compels her to walk a couple of steps away and stop, with her back to him. It's demonic transformation time!

The Professor can do nothing but stare helplessly, as the Brainiac approaches Maria from behind, and caresses her body with his rubbery pincer-tentacles. Although at first she seems kind of into it, Maria draws the line at doing it crawdad-style (sometimes euphemized as a "Cajun Etoufee") so he sucks her brains out. Papa gets the same treatment, then the critter tosses some books and papers around and sets the place on fire.

Later, the Comandante and Benny survey the scene of the crime. Even though the bodies are horribly burned, this seasoned detective hasn't been fooled by the Brainiac. The Comandante is certain the victims' brains are missing, no doubt because of those telltale holes in the back of their heads. Still, he feels the experts at the lab should give them the once-over. He orders his flunky to accompany the bodies to the morgue and get back with him when he has all the data. That ought to keep this clown out of his hair for a while.

The Comandante departs; Benny tells the EMTs to hurry it up so's he can get the bodies down to the lab and identify the guy who drilled those holes in their skulls. He jokes that the killer must have been some maniac, who thought he was cracking a safe, yuk, yuk, yuk! Oh, and be sure to "tag all the bones well" because if they lose one, he might get mixed up. A real laugh riot, this guy.

Back to the observatory. Vicky's brought in the mail and the newspaper. (Good girl! Now, fetch Ronnie's slippers!)

She draws her fiance's attention to a disturbing article in today's paper. He reads the tragic news aloud. (It helps if he can sound out the letters.) Professor Pendejo and his daughter have been murdered by a "completely maniacal killer"! So ... I guess the police are now taking Benny's "safecracker who's too crazy to tell the difference" hypothesis seriously.

And darn it, that screwy comet is still AWOL! Prof. Millán receives more letters from other observatories: London, Paris, Moscow, San Francisco -- all of them advising he should clean his telescope and if that doesn't fix it, see a good ophthalmologist, pronto.

"But it's right here in the book!" he protests, hauling out that massive tome again and opening it to the page for 1661. He mumbles something about a magician ... Could that guy who made the Statue of Liberty disappear be responsible for this?

Now it's Luis and wife's turn. Returning with them from a tour of Luis' foundry, the Baron declares himself highly impressed by their business acumen. His host insists the Baron should see his laboratory, where he experiments with new alloys. After viewing all the spiffy apparatus, Vitalis promises Luis that if he'll lend him a furnace and the makings, in no time flat he can whip up an alloy with all sorts of amazing properties. Luis positively salivates at the prospect of all the money he'll make.

Ah, but Vitalis was only cruelly toying with him. When he tires of his sadistic little game, Luis is made to go stand by a furnace and watch while the Baron makes out with his wife, another sultry Latina. I guess now the Baron needs a little exhibitionism to get a rise out of that appendage. But maybe we should cut him some slack; after all, the guy is 300-plus years old.

Señora Meneses suddenly realizes what she's doing, cries out and breaks away from the Baron. He turns into the Brainiac, chases her down, and -- well, you know. Luis can only stand there, a helpless witness to the slurping. The monster speaks for the first time, although all he does is repeat that boilerplate spiel about what his victim's ancestor did. Vitalis must be getting bored with the same old retribution -- or he may be a bit glutted with gray matter by this point -- because he merely commands hapless Luis to hop into his own furnace.

The next day, Ronnie's reading aloud from the paper again, where it's reported that Meneses and his wife perished in an explosion and fire. Our hero can't shake the feeling that the Baron is "a bad omen". Perhaps because lately Vicky's been insisting he add some brain foods to his diet, he believes there's something suspicious in both couples having died shortly after attending the Baron's bash.

Cut to the detectives, back at Vitalis' digs. The Comandante asks to see the Baron. While waiting for the butler to fetch him, the two cops wander around the great hall. The Comandante peers closely at the locked secretary. Then he examines a couple of books on a nearby table, and notices one of those old-fashioned flip-up telephone indexes. He opens it and copies some numbers to his notebook. Having heard the rumors about Vitalis' reputation with the Chicas, you can bet he's not about to pass up an opportunity like this!

The Baron enters, elegantly attired in a smoking jacket. The Comandante questions him about his recently-deceased guests. Vitalis replies they weren't really friends, just people he met in passing while he was gadding about Europe. Being a newcomer to these parts, he invited them along with all those other society swells. Apparently satisfied with the meager results of this interrogation, the detectives exit.

The Baron puffs meditatively on his cigarette. After a moment, he goes to the secretary and unlocks it. Now that the cops are sniffing around, he needs a more secure hiding-place for his stash, so he moves the bowl to a chest in another corner of the great hall. We get a nice, lingering close-up of the bowl o' brains, before he closes the lid of the chest and locks it.

Next we see the Baron at the cathedral, delivering his congratulations to Ana Luisa and her new hubby. Vitalis offers his apologies for arriving late to the wedding, but the newlyweds are simply thrilled he deigned to grace them with the radiance of his glorious presence. (Like I said: What a bunch of suck-ups.) Ana Luisa thanks him nicely for his wedding gift. The Baron asks if they're planning to leave on their honeymoon immediately, but no, they're staying in town for a few days while hubby closes a big deal. Vitalis bestows a lingering kiss on Ana Luisa's hand, as he frankly ogles the beaming bride.

Enter Ronnie and Victoria. The Baron strikes up a conversation with them. They're tired and worn out, because they've been up all night, looking for that phantom comet. The Professor is a virtual shut-in at the observatory.

"You mean, you're still hoping this strange comet will reappear?" asks the Baron. (No doubt laughing up his sleeve at them.)

But we've already seen it once, Ronnie reminds him, the night we first met, out in the woods.

"Who can forget such a meeting?" says Vitalis. "We became friends then, did we not?" Awwww ...

The conversation turns to the recent murders of the Pendejos and Meneses by a lunatic. And it happened right after Ronnie and Vicky met them at the Baron's shindig. Go fig!

Yes, agrees the Baron, it was very tragic.

Ronnie thinks it's a strange coincidence, though, what with the killings taking place just a couple of days after the party. The Baron scoffs at the scientist for giving way to superstition, but Ronnie says he's just curious.

Cut to the honeymoon suite at the Mexico City Holiday Inn. Ana Luisa -- dressed in a voluminous nightgown which has all the graceful, clinging lines of a canvas sack -- enters and sits at the dresser, applying the final touches to this vision of loveliness (what you can see of it, anyway). She eagerly anticipates the upcoming utterly abandoned, screaming, clawing, sweat-soaked multiple-orgasmic love-making. (That's what always happens on a wedding night, right, ladies?)

But tragically, except for the screaming part of that agenda, the Baron of Terror has other plans for this virginal bride. She notices his reflection in the mirror.

"Baron!" she exclaims, shocked and frightened at this unwelcome intrusion on her dreamy little dreams. "You didn't knock! I didn't hear you enter! Is there anything I can do for you?"

Well, now that you mention it ...

Hubby is in the bathroom. Ana Luisa runs to the door, pounds on it and begs him to help her, but gets no response. When she finally opens the door, she finds him hanging upside down from the shower curtain rod, with his head submerged in the bathtub, in about a foot of water. Whatever floats your boat...

By this point, we all surely know the routine by heart: The Baron informs the prospective victim of his grievance, tells her she must die for what her tenth-generation ancestor did, and turns into the Brainiac. Ana Luisa faints, falling back onto the honeymoon suite's expansive full-size Fluffo “Dream Weaver” mattress and box spring set. Here the movie belatedly attempts to get clever, by ripping off -- I mean, referencing a famous image from Murnau's classic silent, Nosferatu: Ana Luisa lies senseless on what should have been her marriage bed, as the menacing shadow of the Brainiac bends over her. Wow.

Back to the archives. Our tight-lipped Comandante is checking out that same book the Baron consulted earlier. He scribbles some more notes, then repairs to the crypt, with a confused Benny in tow, and re-enacts Vitalis' inspection of the nameplates.

The detective's jittery sidekick eventually can't contain himself any longer, and pleads with his boss to get him out of "this dripping apartment house"! (Kids: Ask your elders about what effect the sound of water can have on an overactive bladder.)

They drop by the morgue, where there are two fresh corpses, holes in heads, brains sucked out -- you know: the usual. The actor playing the coroner lends dramatic emphasis to his gruesome recital with a piece of stunningly unoriginal stage business, by removing his horn rim glasses.

The Comandante huddles with Benny. He hauls out his notebook and checks off the names of the victims against their Inquisitorial forebears. Eureka!

Now hold on there just a cotton-pickin' minute: Overlooking obvious nonsense like the malleable nature of inanimate items like suits of clothing and telescopes, or the notion that -- as the story strongly implies -- after ten generations these are the only descendants of the Baron's persecutors, and that all of them are quite conveniently grouped in the Mexico City area, what could possibly have prompted the Comandante to look this up in the archives? Truly, this is a tale spun from pure, unadulterated WTF.

But he realizes there's one descendant of the Baron-burners who's still alive -- Victoria Contreras! With not a moment to lose, our dauntless dicks race to the observatory, only to be informed she's out with Ronnie. Prof. Millán says they've been invited to dinner up at the Baron's place, Falcon Hill.

D'oh!

The Comandante and Benny jump in their car. They're crashing the Baron's intimate get-together, but he orders his lieutenant to stop by Headquarters first. Stand on that accelerator!

So here we are at the Baron's, for the big finale. There's just the three of them: our hero, Vicky and the Baron. Ronnie's itching to hear this information Vitalis claims to possesses, which he said would help them finally spot that damned elusive comet. The Baron of Terror tells him to be patient. In another twenty minutes, promises Vitalis, he'll know ... everything.

I hadn't realized these things have to be so precisely timed. No wonder the Brainiac's been having a little trouble getting in the mood.

Vitalis excuses himself for a moment, saying he has to go "take his medicine". Which of course means he has to open the chest and gobble some more gray matter. To heck with the goblet, the Baron eats his brains now with that ice tea spoon, and he's just wild for that creamy custard center. ¡Muy sabroso!
I know I ought to have some self-control, but this is just soooooo good!

Ronnie and Vicky exchange uneasy glances, as they finally begin to wonder what Vitalis is up to back there. The Baron hastily shuts the chest and rejoins them. He asks if they're planning to get married soon. Answered in the affirmative, the Baron requests that, as a favor to a lonely man, he wants Victoria to accept a jewel as a gift. If she'll go to his office with him, alone, she can choose which one she wants without Ronnie interfering -- er, influencing her decision.

A cunning plan, that. But some synapses buried deep beneath those thick layers of protective bone fleetingly fire in sync: Ronnie becomes suspicious.

"You don't trust me?" asks the Baron.

"Certainly, I trust you," Ronnie assures him.

Well, why not? So what if they only met the guy a couple of weeks ago, while he was wandering in the woods late at night, went to one party at his place -- after which five of the other attendees were horribly murdered -- and ran into him briefly at a wedding. Why be suspicious of the Baron just because he's been flattering them outrageously, and is now pressing an expensive gift on them, if he can be alone with Ronnie's fiancé? I, for one, would trust this man with my life!

So without further protest, Ronnie allows Vitalis to lead Vicky away. As I said before, the fact that Marcos' lineage survived to the present day may be the single most unbelievable premise of this tripe. Once he's alone, Ronnie uses the opportunity to take a gander at that chest. But the Baron has been careful to keep it locked.

Meanwhile, in the Baron's office, Vitalis shows a casket of jewels to Victoria.

"Ah, but none can compare to you," he tells our heroine, who lowers her eyes prettily at the compliment. "And none can compare to your tender gaze."

Belatedly, she begins to get a bit creeped-out by the guy.

Vitalis launches into an impassioned (for him, anyway) soliloquy. He's terribly conflicted because he can't decide whether he wants to make her his mate, or -- as the culminating act of his long-delayed vengeance -- suck her brains out. And after that, she probably wouldn't be much fun at all.

Out in the hall, Ronnie stops by a table and picks up a letter opener.

Back in his office, the Baron is in full spate, raging at the cruel Fates who inflicted this grim practical joke on him. Victoria appears slightly puzzled at whatever it is he's going on about. Vitalis finally gets around to that drearily familiar "I have to kill you because ..." part of his spiel.

Cut to Ronnie, who employs the letter opener to jimmy that chest's laughably inadequate lock. Why did the Baron think it was a good idea to transfer the brain bowl there from the secretary, which had a stout hasp and lock? Beats me.

Ronnie is understandably revolted by what he finds: a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged. The brains are pretty disgusting, too.

Meanwhile, the Baron, now in Brainiac guise, can't quite seem to get its pincers on this one, and chases her into the hall. She flies to Ronnie's arms, but the fiendish creature warns him that even though Vitalis was big buddies with his ancestor, Marcos, that won't prevent it from taking his revenge now on Victoria.

Ronnie shoves her away and tells her to run. He bravely faces the monster, but thanks to his friendship with Ronnie's ancestor, Vitalis spares him: Rather than grappling with our hero, the Braniac resorts to a double exposure and runs directly through him, then becomes solid again as it pursues Victoria, intent only on sating its overpowering lust for vengeance.

It corners her against a column, while Ronnie continues to be completely useless. It's the Comandante to the rescue! He and his colleague enter the scene, sporting the flamethrowers they've borrowed from Headquarters. (The Chief got them for his justly-famed whole-beef-half instant barbacoas.)

The butler valiantly attempts to hinder the two, but the geezer's clubbed aside. Of all the characters in this crappy film, he's the one I find most interesting, because his motivation is so obscure. Why does he feel bound to run interference for the Baron: Is he some kind of Renfield, or a demon familiar in human guise? A reanimated corpse? Is he hypnotized, or is this the kind of old-fashioned loyalty you seldom encounter in the help nowadays? Maybe he's just plain desperate to keep the job. Sure, the benefits suck (as does his boss) but on the other hand, those custards are mighty tasty ...

The Brainiac releases Victoria. Which is very accommodating of it, since it wouldn't do to toast the heroine, and flamethrowers aren't exactly known for their pinpoint accuracy. She runs to Ronnie, while the monster attacks the policemen. Benny of course fumbles ineffectually with his flamethrower in the background. It must be one of those damned child-proof designs.
Eat flame, sucka!

Fortunately, the Comandante is able to hose the Brainiac down with fire (how ironic) while somehow managing to set none of those highly flammable furnishings alight. And that's the end of the Baron's grisly rampage.

Although you have to admit, three out of four is a pretty good score.

But again, how did the Comandante figure they'd have to use a flamethrower to off the Brainiac? Typically, the police have to get clued in to that whole “Bullets won't stop it!” thing by actually shooting at the monster, but this story skips straight to the napalm. And why didn't the Brainiac use his dematerializing trick to escape? Like so many things about this movie, including why it was made in the first place, it's a puzzle.

Regardless, one simply can't conclude this kind of genre flick without the obligatory reverse transformation sequence. The charred, still-smoking brazed Brainiac stretched out on the floor does a quick dissolve into Baron Vitalis, wearing his not-even-slightly singed, 17th Century pre-humiliation garb, then another dissolve, and there's nothing left but a blackened skeleton. Which, strangely, is missing its hands. I guess the props master mislaid them.

Ronnie and Vicky hold each other close.

The End.

3 comments:

Randall said...

it assumes the form of -- Baron Vitalis! Of course his hair is perfect.

So, are you saying he's a werewolf?

Robert Muir said...

So fond of this weird werid weird film - One thing that came to me while I was watching it was as the Baron Vitalis is promising to return in 300 years and kill all the judge's descendants you would think that maybe one of them would written something to the effect -well it's probably just the ravings of a madman but if you are reading this about 1961 you just might to take some precautions in the unlikely event this wizard does return.

Scott said...

One thing that's always struck me about Mexican horror films of the 50s and 60s is how suave their monsters often were, especially compared to their Norte Americano counterparts. If the cerebellum-sucking fiend were played by Robert Clarke, say, or John Agar, he would have been sweaty and furtive and shifty-eyed, and he would have wolfed down his brains in secret, like Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, not delicately sampled them with a silver spoon in full view of his party guests like they was a palate-cleansing course of sorbet.