There is a theory — and it’s largely borne out — that the classic-era Mexican horror films, or Mexi-horrors, are greatly improved when seen in uncut prints and in their original language. Well, in the case of The Brainiac (El Barón del Terror), I’m not so sure that’s true. Sure, you lose the awful dubbing and that helps, but nothing can really change the sheer loopiness of this one — nothing, nothing can alter what is quite probably the most preposterous monster makeup ever devised. What were they thinking? How did the other performers not burst out laughing at this…creation? Did adult human beings actually think the damned thing was scary? I have no idea, and the fact that little — if any — of director Chano Urueta’s work seems to have migrated north, there’s not much to compare it with. It is possibly notable that — apart from the film’s opening scenes where our title character was burned at the stake in 1661 — The Brainiac is mostly lacking in the kind of atmosphere that marks the better Mexi-horrors. Still, the film was produced by Abel Salazar — who for a change plays the monster rather than the hero — and so is very much a part of the best of the Mexi-horrors.
So what went wrong? Who knows. But there’s a huge upside to all this because the whole thing — not just the monster — is so screwy and off-the-wall that it’s inescapably entertaining. In fact, it may be more entertaining than it would have been if The Brainiac had been actually…you know, good. As it stands, there’s virtually no plot. When Baron Vitelius d’Estera is put to death for sorcery in 1661, he vows to return in 300 years and take it out on his executioners’ descendants. He does. That’s about it, though the method of offing them is unusual to say the least. Why he returns as this monster who needs brains to make himself look like Abel Salazar is never explained, but I suspect no one involved had a clue. Of course, the whole thing is dowsed in one of those bombastic musical scores by Gustavo César Carrion (dear Lord, did that man love timpani), without which it would be unthinkable. Is it a worthy effort? Well, not in the normal sense, but in the realm of bad cinema, it’s something like sublime.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Brainiac Thursday, April 11 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.