The Giant Claw's Mara Corday, McFarland Books
The Brainiac

The Brainiac a.k.a. El baron del terror (1962)

The Brainiac, set in 17th century Mexico, is about a devious chap named Baron Vitelius of Astara, a nobleman with swarthy good looks and a distinguished nose one might find on a Ricardo Montalban/Jamie Farr love child. The baron is on trial for a laundry list of naughtiness, including witchcraft. If he were fortunate enough to have legal representation, I'm sure the first advice given might be that he stop smirking while the charges are being read - especially when they get to "necromancy."

The judges consist of the Tribunal of Grand Inquisitors. Even though their heads are covered by black hoods, their voices are extremely loud and clear due to what I can only assume are lavalier microphones clipped to their frilly collars.

But just when the trail looks bleakest for the baron, a man named Marcos steps forward to defend the baron's good name. He claims the baron has used his knowledge of the sciences to help the downtrodden people of Mexico. Well, there you have it. I'm sure the Grand Inquisitors will recognize this whole thing as a misunderstanding and release the baron. No sooner has Marcos finished his 10-second testimony, the Grand Inquisitors sentence Marcos to 200 lashings and he is dragged away to the torture chamber. It's worth mentioning that Marcos sailed all the way from Portugal for this. I wonder what other plans Marcos had before coming here. “Let's see. I could either sail to Mexico and help the baron or I could hang around here and relax. Nah, I'd better help the baron." Taps fingers on chin thinking, "I'd better pack lots of bags because this'll be a long and uncomfortable voyage! I'll need to protect myself from icy wind and rain. Oh! And I get terrible seasickness...shall I bring a leather satchel to throw up in? No, it shall be easier to just heave overboard." As he packs his bags, mutters, "I do hope none of my shipmates carry the plague.”

Before you jump in to help out a buddy, you'd better watch this first.

After Marco's “defense rests,” the baron is found guilty and the sentence is burning at the stake. But everybody knows with good behavior, he'll probably only be lightly toasted. In any event, a nonchalant baron replies, “If I am to be burned alive, let it be without chains.” Then, using black magic, the ball and chains disappear from each of his legs and reappear around the legs of two guards. Hey, baran, do you know another time that would've been handy? To save poor Marcos! You know - the guy who sailed from Portugal to save you?! The baron, wearing an, “Aw, yeah – that's what I'm talkin' 'bout” look on his face calmly walks out of the courtroom. Holy crap! The baron's not just into witchcraft – this guy can control matter! He's unstoppable! Nobody can...huh? In the next scene, he's outside tied to a stake with fire all around him. Did I skip a DVD chapter?

We can only assume this is all part of the baron's master plan. His plan to...y'know...suffer unimaginable pain. Suddenly, the baron's face glows with light from above as a comet flies overhead (When the movie shows the comet, it looks like a painting of a badminton birdie done by a 4-year-old).

As the flames get higher, the baron looks at each of the four hooded judges. He chastises them through wild, facial expressions making his eyes grow large and then narrow as if his eyes were marionettes and the strings pulling them were somehow tied to his eyebrows.

With the use of handy magic, he knows each of their names. When he says their names out loud, their hoods become translucent, revealing their faces. Then the baron proclaims, “When this comet returns to these latitudes in 300 years, I shall return and expunge your descendants from this earth!” There should be a scene where, after the baron disappears on the comet, the judges just look at each other, "Soooo...that's it? We get off scot-free?" // "What an idiot! The Coronas are on me, boys! Woo hoo!" // "I wasn't planning on having kids anyway!" // "Because no girl would have you, Marty. // "Shut up, Maurice!"

Now, we jump in time to 1961 where a young man named Ronnie and his lovely fiancé Victoria (both aspiring astronomers) leave a party at 2:30 a.m. to meet their professor at an observatory. Because that's what crazy kids in love do after a party at 2:30 in the morning.

The trio has assembled to watch a comet pass by in its elliptical orbit around the sun. After watching the comet through the observatory's humungous telescope, Ronnie says, “Let's go outside and see it!” Then Ronnie and Victoria view the comet through a much smaller telescope (Um, you guys really are new at this astronomy thing, aren't you?)

la nave de los monstruos

Believing the comet is somehow falling to earth, they jump into their jalopy and follow the trail in the sky. A comet hitting the Earth?! This kind of impact could be devastating! This could cause a tsunami! This could be a … miniature model of a mountain top lowered by strings onto artificial turf.

Arriving ahead of the kids, a passerby gets out of his car and walks up to the zero of ground zeroes. Suddenly, Baron Vitelius of Astara materializes from the comet. But now he's sporting a new look: He's now a furry demon with a long, forked tongue and pincers for hands. But perhaps the oddest feature, even for a demon, might be the way his cheeks go in and out as if he's got tiny lungs in his cheeks. His clothing has also changed to some sort of spaniardy skirt and swashbuckling boots. The passerby is suddenly frozen either from fear or costume befuddlement. The monster leans in and...licks him to death. I'm as confused as you are, but I swear he just licked him to death.

The baron reverts back to his aristocratic good looks and magically transfers his victim's clothing onto himself leaving the passerby laying in the grass in his boxers. Although it would have been interesting had he left him in the swashbuckling costume. In any case, you can add “theft of clothing” to the baron's long list of wrong-doings. Hey wait-a-minute... if the dead guy is still wearing his own boxer shorts, the baron's going commando! Ew!!!

Ronnie and Victoria never find the crashed comet, because they bump into the baron. Freaked out by finding a stranger in the dead of night, the baron eases the tension by explaining, “I always take a walk this time of night.” (Yes. In the woods. At three o'clock in the morning. Wearing a suit and tie.) Ronnie, who apparently was never taught to beware of strangers, introduces himself and ends up giving the baron his business card. Ronnie's not what you'd call “street smart.”

The baron walks to a nightclub (probably hoping to see his favorite band, Sarah Bellum and the Four Lobes.) It's closing time and the only people in attendance are a young lady at the bar and the club's manager. The manager asks the baron to leave but the lady insists he's an “old friend.” She's what they used to call, “a floozy.”

After the manager leaves them alone, a strobe light flashes on the baron's face. We, the viewers, have come to understand this is a signal that the baron is using his hypnotic power. Then he transforms into furry-pincered-crab-devil-guy, and gives the lady a good tongue lashing just before she dies. I don't understand - does the baron have a toxic tongue like one of those brightly-colored jungle frogs?

Later, at the morgue, a couple of detectives view the dearly de-brained and talk to the coroner. I'm not sure the detectives should be lighting cigarettes around a coroner who has that much greasy Vitalis in his hair. The coroner has discovered two perforations at the base of the victims' skulls, which he says were made, “as if with an electric drill.” Makes sense – a manual drill would take far too long for a speedy escape. He's also noticed their brains have been removed. So, they weren't licked to death, the demon's forked tongue acts as a silly straw! Incidentally, the baron has become the first person to perform forced brain stem cell research. Really earning his paycheck today the detective deduces, “Doc, I believe the killer made these perforations.” The coroner adds, “And the killer is an expert at anatomy.” Yes. Who else but an expert could have known the brain is located in the skull?

In the next scene, a dapper baron strolls down a dark street and passes by a prostitute. I don't know if all hookers looked this wholesome in 1961, but this one looks like June Cleaver. This Lady of the Evening's a real lady!

Maybe she really is wholesome and she'll take him to a motel but make him do household chores. At first, he will think she's being kinky. “OK, I've dusted and vacuumed,” he will say playing along with her game, “What happens next?” Then she puts a dime in his hand and sends him to the movies. Of course, in reality the baron's giving her tongue like even she's never had before.

Meanwhile, Ronnie, Victoria and professor Milland are trying to figure out what happened to the comet. Apparently, a large celestial body crashing to earth goes unnoticed by the entire country. Sir Ronnie the Helpful offers, “Could it be the whole thing's been an hallucination?” It would be great if Victoria and the professor simultaneously smacked him on the back of the head.

Victoria fetches the mail like a good early 60s female and finds an invitation for the three of them to a shindig at the baron's new mansion on Balkin Hill. I can't help but wonder how a man who was just recently born of a comet, could have a fortune in 1961. But I believe I have the answer. I think he pulled a Shawshank Redemption and wrote this letter to himself 300 years ago:

Test

Dear Baron, if you ever wind up in 1961 America, do me a favor. There's this big hayfield up near Hollywood Boulevard. You know where Hollywood Boulevard is? Lots of hay fields there. One in particular. Got a long graffiti wall with a big oak at the north end. Like something out of a Robert Frost poem. In the base of that wall you'll find a fancy bowl filled with brains that has no earthly business in a hayfield. I guess that goes without saying.
Love, Baron
P.S. There's a bunch of Spanish gold in there too. Use that to buy a mansion, throw a dinner party and ... well, you'll figure it out.

The night of the baron's dinner party, the guests are introduced. Baron Vitelius has only invited the descendants of those who burned him alive. If you're as bad at Spanish as I am, the movie thoughtfully superimposes the faces of the Inquisitors over the faces of the descendants so you know who's who. The thing that's almost as amazing as the baron traveling 300 years into the future is the fact that all of the descendants happen to live in the same town.

It's funny how angry the baron still is, making vile faces at people who were simply invited to a party. They must be wondering if they've mistakenly arrived late or tracked mud on the carpet. One guest says, “I know your reputation as a gentleman.” Reputation?! The guy's existed for less than a week!

Ronnie, Victoria and Professor Milland are the last to arrive. The baron tells the professor, “You've selected two fine collaborators. I've admired them for a long time.” (Yes, ever since you met them in the woods a couple of days ago.)

The baron excuses himself and walks over to a large, wooden trunk. He unlocks it and removes a large fancy bowl and a spoon. Now, let's pretend you're a guest of the baron's, eating and hobnobbing. "Where did you get that dress, Sandy", you might ask, "It's positively beautiful!" (Sorry, I should have mentioned you're a friend of Sandy. And have a keen eye for fashion.) "Doesn't the baron throw a wonderful party? We really should thank him again. Have you seen him? He's over there in the corner? Let's walk over and oh my God he's eating brains." You abruptly turn your back to him and whisper, "Yes, he IS eating brains, Sandy! You think he's eating what? Oh, don't be ridiculous! I know brains when I see them and besides - chicken and dumplings isn't party food!"

But in reality, nobody actually notices the baron. Not even the two detectives who have been assigned as security. That's right – it seems that even if you're promoted to detective, you'll still have to work security for parties and rock concerts. And sometimes a mall cop.

The party is actually a success (by boring, rich people standards) and everyone invites the baron to visit them at their house sometime. They will all regret extending that invitation.

The next day, the baron indeed pays a visit to one of his guests/targets who has an old book filled with decrees by the Inquisition which he was reading earlier while on the toilet. Their conversation is interrupted by his beautiful, 20-something daughter who's getting her doctorate. Mmmm - smart brains! Although I would assume dumb brains would be tastier – more fatty and juicy. Who wants to eat brains with the texture of tofu?

They turn to the page that lists the sentencing of Baron Vitelius. The guy says, “This gentleman had the same name as yours!” The baron recites his own story from the book, become madder and madder. This time when he comes to “necromancy,” he doesn't smile. Words like that were funny when he was in his 30s, but now that he's in his 330s, he's much more mature.

When he finishes reading, he reveals, “I am Vitelius of Astara! I was condemned and burned alive!” The flashing light returns to his face and he renders the man immobile. He casts a spell on the daughter compelling her to make out with him (OK, maybe he's not that much more mature.) He turns into the monster, sucks out their brains and burns their house down. Y'know, I'm not calling Marco a liar, but I'm finding it hard to believe this guy ever helped anyone in Portugal.

The next day at the observatory, Victoria brings in the morning newspaper. I know what you're thinking. Ronnie and the professor are so misogynistic they had a female bring in the paper. Well, that's not it at all! They just thought, since they made Victoria sleep outside last night anyway (tethered to a dog tie-out), she might as well bring the paper in. I mean it just makes sense.

The real sexism is in the newspaper headline: Imminent scholar, Professor Enhalacio Pentoja and his daughter killed by a maniac. "And his daughter?" Geez, in b movies a female doesn't get her name in the paper even if she's murdered!

The professor receives return letters from scientists around the world denying they've seen the comet. He brings out his big book of every comet ever recorded(which is second in popularity only to decrees by the Inquisition.) His book says the comet is linked to a sorcerer. Wow, those comet authors really do their research!

The baron's next targets are a man and wife who own a foundry. They invite the baron to see their laboratory where they invent new alloys. They also have a big, fiery furnace. You can see where this is going.The baron agrees to help them create new alloys that will make them both even richer, but soon voids the offer by performing an encephalectomy on the woman and hypnotizing the man into walking into his own metal furnace. You have to admit that's pretty creative. The baron must be eating lots of right sides of brains lately.

Later, (there's no telling how much time is passing between these scenes – could be the next day, could be a month) the two detectives are beginning to connect the fire-roasted dots. When the detectives insinuate the dinner guests are being targeted, the baron comes up with an air-tight alibi: “How could I have killed anyone? I've only recently moved to your country.” That it makes no sense is of no consequence to the detectives who are completely satisfied with that answer. I'm beginning to understand why they get demoted to security duty.

As soon as they leave, the baron returns to his treasured bowl of brains. So it's like the old proverb says: Revenge is a dish best served filled with lukewarm brains. But I don't get it. Does he suck the brains through his forked tongue then regurgitate them into the bowl like a mother bird? And if so, how can they still be intact in their little brain shapes? And wouldn't fresh brains need refrigeration or are they like non-dairy creamers?

Next, the baron shows up at a wedding. How nice! Maybe he'll bring a big bouquet of brain stems. He tells the bride and groom, “I wish you all kinds of joy.” But afterward, in the honeymoon suite as the bride brushes her hair in front of a 1960's vanity the size of a chest freezer, the baron shows his leathery face. Terrified by his silent, panther-like stare, she runs to alert her groom who's taking a shower. She opens the bathroom door to find her betrothed tied upside down in the shower, drowned. This makes the baron the most despicable human being ever, other than Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis.

I'm thinking the bride must apply make-up very loudly not to have heard that struggle in the bathroom! Unless the baron hypnotized the groom into climbing the shower like a monkey, tie his own feet in a sit-up position, and drown himself. I wouldn't put it past the baron – he's a pretty twisted dude. And although the baron got his revenge, he must've been peeved he didn't get to set anyone on fire this time.

After turning her husband into essentially a giant lufa brush, the baron informs the bride she's an ancestor of those who murdered him 300 years ago and that she must pay the penalty. A flashlight shines on the baron's face, meaning he's trying his hypno powers on her. But this time it doesn't seem to be working. Seems kind of strange that he's so good at materializing out of thin air, but his skills at hypnotizing people are spotty at best. I guess it's like someone can really know his way around an engine but not so great at, say, drawing a picture of a horse.

The bride ends up fainting, but to her credit she does end up on her back thus defending the rear of her brain. Although they don't show it, I imagine the baron will simply roll her over and suck out her grey matter anyway. After all, it's not brain surgery.

In the next scene, the two detectives visit the crematorium and jot down the names of the Inquisitors. Note to self: Visit your local crematorium for the names of every person who's ever died, ever. The detectives match those names with the names of the recent victims. Later, they take a side trip down yonder to the morgue where the coroner explains that the bride and groom's brains have been, to quote the coroner's own medical terminology, “sucked out.”

Yes, Ronnie, for the love of God try to control yourself!

Fearing the last living descendant on the baron's hit list is Victoria, the detectives race to the observatory. Alas, their suspicions are confirmed - the professor informs them that Ronnie and Victoria are at the baron's house right now as “guests.”

In the baron's unusually large and uncomfortable-looking parlor, Ronnie and Victoria sip tea with him. Ronnie, still unaware the comet has already crashed, is waiting for the baron to say when and where the comet might reappear. The baron excuses himself saying he needs to take his medicine for an ailment. It's worth repeating that the baron is once again eating brains over in the corner. If Ronnie and Victoria simply looked behind the tall settee on which they sit, they would see their host gulping grey matter like it was Grey Poupon.

After finishing his snack and wiping off a billion neurons from his chin, the baron tells Victoria she may select any jewel from his collection as a wedding present. Ronnie doesn't like this. Ronnie, who had no problem giving his business card to a stranger he met in the woods in the middle of the night, has a problem accepting a wedding gift. Victoria agrees to see the jewels with the baron in another room. There, the baron boldly proclaims his love for her (Careful, Victoria – don't let him get inside your head!) Unfortunately for her, the next words out of his mouth are, “But my hatred for you is much stronger than my love.” Oh, too bad – she had a 50/50 shot.

Ronnie, wondering why the baron spends so much time in the corner, pries the wooden trunk open with a letter opener. But before he can get a good look inside, Victoria comes screaming back into the room with a furry-pincered devil on her tail.

Now, remember – Ronnie hasn't heard the baron's sob story a thousand times like we have. He doesn't know what the detectives know. He's just a young lad who only knows three things: 1. He wants to be an astronomer. 2. He wants to marry Victoria and make her his little 50's-style homemaker, banking that she gives up her dream of becoming an astronomer and instead hones her skills at bringing in the morning newspaper. 3. He just wants to find out where that #%@! comet is! So imagine Ronnie's surprise when a monster runs into the room yelling, “Your ancestors offended me 300 years ago!” What's that? “Offended” you? What are you, a southern plantation owner? Are you going to demand satisfaction by throwing down your gauntlet which in this case would be in the shape of a pincer?

The guy who gets no street cred in this flick is the baron's butler. I don't know fwhat penitentiary the baron sprung this guy from, but this guy will go to the wall for the baron blocking the exits every time someone tries to escape. You gotta give it up for him - he puts Batman's butler Alfred to shame.

Then the baron, who's ability to walk through solid matter is as spotty as his hypnotism, phases right through Ronnie's body to get to Victoria, but then has to run around a couch and around a column until he nabs her.

Now, as we come to my favorite scene in the movie, let me first say that at a certain age a b-movie reviewer like myself starts to ask himself certain questions. Like, why did two detectives suddenly burst into the room carrying flamethrowers? Having never been alive in 1961, never mind serving on a police force, I wonder if flamethrowers were considered police "standard issue" or if you could find them at a Rent-a-Center located between the Magnavox hi-fi stereo consoles and those weight-loss machines that jiggle your belly with the big belt?

Then I ask myself questions like: Although the detectives are clearly dealing with a brain-Hoovering psychopath, at what point did they deem it necessary to arm themselves with a weapon meant to be used against bunkers rather than, say, something that would fit nicely in a holster? Other questions might be: Isn't it a little dangerous to use flamethrowers indoors? Or: Who taught them how to take a flamethrower nozzle and use it to karate chop a butler into unconsciousness? But then I stop asking because as I watch stream after stream of petrol ignite in front of them (the flames even licking around their own gray flannel suits and polyester ties) one thing's for certain: these two know what they're doing.

At any rate, it turns out their arrival is the lucky break Victoria needs to escape the baron. There's no distraction quite like seeing two guys with flamethrowers standing on your expensive oriental rug. They cut loose with the flames. Don't worry, baron - you can become intangible like a ghost! Oooh, the flames are burning him. That's OK, baron - you can hypnotize them and force them to turn their weapons on themselves. Oooh, he's getting crispy. That's OK, baron - remember how you escaped on that passing comet? Maybe you can transport yourself onto a table lamp or a passing dust mite. Oooh, now he's a smoldering pile of ashes like the wicked witch of the west.

Well, it looks like the detectives have done their jobs – stopping the killer after he's grotesquely slain all but one of his targets. It should be fun for the detectives to explain to their superiors why they flame-broiled a guy in his own house.

“It's like this, sirs,” they might explain, “he was burned alive 300 years ago for witchcraft during the Spanish Inquisition. Seeking revenge, he hopped a ride on a passing comet, crashed here in 1961, turned himself into a furry-clawed monster and sucked out his victims brains through his tongue.”

Their superiors might reply, "Right. I want your badges and your flamethrowers on my desk by the end of the day.”

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