Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vamp or Not? Brainiac

dvdFrom 1962 and directed by Chano Urueta, Brainiac or El Barón del Terror is somewhat of an oddity – and I understand that is saying something given that this is a Mexican horror flick. Most definitely a B movie (at times, during its length, the printed backdrops used might even suggest a Z grade movie) there is something oddly compelling about the film.

It is often listed as a vampire flick, indeed vampire is a plot keyword on imdb and yet it becomes one of the oddest vampire flicks produced – if it is indeed a vampire flick and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are investigating here today.

the Baron has a cheeky little grinThe film begins in 1661, in the court of the Mexican inquisition and the Baron Vitelius d’Estera (Abel Salazar, the Curse of the Crying Woman, el Vampiro and el Ataúd del Vampiro) sits accused of all sorts of crimes. From casting spells and heresy, to seducing women, it seems he’s done it all! Indeed when they mention seducing women d’Esera gives a little grin, as he also does when they describe the tortures that had no effect on him – Salazar stealing the show in these scenes with just a twitch of his lips.

One man, Marcos Miranda (Rubén Rojo), stands up for him and is sentenced to 200 lashes for doing so. The masked inquisition then orders that the baron will be burned at the stake. He acquiesces to this but removes his manacles with magic and walks to the execution site with pride. He is set alight but a comet flies above the scene. He names all four of the inquisitors, seeing exactly who they are behind their hoods, and says that when the comet returns in 300 years he will extract his revenge on their descendants.

Reinaldo and VictoriaCut to 1961 and Reinaldo (Rubén Rojo) is dancing with Victoria (Rosa María Gallardo). However they have to leave to go to the observatory as they are both astronomers. The Professor (Luis Aragón) has predicted a comet will burn through the night sky and, indeed, it does. They go out for a closer look but soon discover it has vanished from the skies (and no other observatory spots it).

the space rock gently landedOut in the countryside a rock lands on Earth – quite serenely and leaving no crater. It becomes a creature and said creature is the Baron returned. He has a mutated, pulsating head, fangs, two sucker like appendages for fingers and a long forked tongue. He grabs a guy, sticks the tongue at the back of his head and then magically makes the man’s suit appear on himself. The baron then takes on human form.

wound marksWhat the tongue did is quickly revealed. It plunged into the back of the man’s head (like the man was attacked with an electric drill, we hear) and allowed the baron to suck the man’s brain out, for the baron lives on brain matter now. When we see the tongue marks they look a bit crap, to be honest – but effects clearly are not the film’s forte. However, we have to concede that they look awfully like typical fang marks for your standard vampire movie, is it enough for our 'Vamp or Not' though?

a bowl of brainsWe discover, as the film goes on, that the Baron must periodically eat brains and he has a bowl of them for surreptitious snacking thereof. He is able to go invisible and pass through solid objects (a mysterious bank robbery is mentioned and we can safely assume it was him). He also has eye mojo (that appears to be someone flashing a light in his eyes). He uses this to freeze male victims and cause female victims to get all passionate, often kissing him in front of their husbands/fathers/boyfriends.

scream until you like itThe passion does not last long, however, as he quickly turns into brainiac form and allows the girl to have a good old scream as he attacks her. The one woman who doesn’t seem to succumb to this is a bride, perhaps this tells us something as the film flirts with the idea of suppressed sexuality and yet she does not fall for it, she also faints rather than screams.

the brainiac gets his first victimHe goes on a wrecking course through the descendants of the inquisition until only one is left – Victoria. Of course, Reinaldo is the descendant/reincarnation of the man who defended the Baron. Also interesting is the fact that the Baron has actually fallen in love with her – but his hatred is stronger than his love. The Baron can be killed by fire. Luckily the local police station keeps a stock of handy-dandy flame throwers.

brainiac in all his gloryIt is an odd film, no doubt, but is it vampire? I can see why it is listed. He comes back from the dead, he has fangs (though they are not used) and has a tongue – the use of the tongue as the killing implement is not unique for it is both a favourite of some Far Eastern vampire varieties (for instance the aswang) and also appears in some Western films, such as Daughter of Darkness. This is, however, one of the earlier examples in a film. The eating of brains is unusual (and pre it becoming a zombie favourite) but it is still ingestion of human tissue to survive.

Abel Salazar as the BaronHowever, for me the reason this might fall into the vampire genre is all around the repressed sexuality and the Baron being the figure who releases it. Even when he doesn’t use mojo women seem to love him, but he can release their desires with a flash of his eyes and they become wanton – kissing him in front of the significant male in their lives. This, of course, leads to their doom rather than turning them, thus he does not create others of his kind.

I pretty much fell onto the vamp side when I watched this – though I am prepared to debate that. The imdb page is here.


Christine said...

Being old-fashioned I would put this in the "no vamp" category. I think this had not "real" vampire, but then I have never thought blood-drinking organs (a´la Rabid) as vampires either. Like I said, I´m old-fashioned! p

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I can see where you are coming from Christine - but then the old fashioned vampires are nothing at all like traditional, folklore vampires.

The vampires I know that you recognise are in the more gothic realm, and one thing they had in common (for the rules often twisted with them) was a strong sense of sexuality (working from Lugosi's Dracula forward) - that is certainly a defining bit of this.

However, as I said this is one I am readily open to debate over.

Christine said...

Hey, folklore vampires had sexlife! p They were not actually disfigured rotten corpses, they were red-faced or "rosy" and looked like normal people, although many were fat. They could have sex and create those half-vampires, dhampirs, to give Blade run for his money...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine - agreed, some folklore vampires did indeed have recorded sex lives. Some did not. It depended on the source of the folklore.

However it was not until Gothic literature that the vampire became dashing and seductive as a standard - that is more what I meant, and meant no disrespect either. Knowing, to a degree, your tastes via your (always welcome) comments you are an afficianado of the gothic vampire and that is a damn fine tradition of vampirism.

This film is far from that and my point was, I guess, that what you (and to a large degree I) consider vampires was very different to many of the traditional types.

The sexuality in this was very vampiric, to my way of thinking, and pushed me in the direction of vamp - but I am willing to be swayed.

Christine said...

Oh definitely, although vampire folklore was interesting, it features lot of stuff which made folklore vampire source of disgust and horror. Vampirism was punishment. Who would be disgusted by sumptuous Carmilla in period dress? And nice to hear my "stalking" is welcomed! p