Brainiac (Chano Urueta / Mexico, 1962):
(El Barón del Terror; The Baron of Terror)

The candid, papier-mâché surrealism of Chano Urueta's aesthetics is informed by the Baron's (Abel Salazar) avowed fondness for "pre-Hispanic culture," from the start grounded in the medieval. Heretic, necromancer and maiden-defiler, he faces the Holy Tribunal of Inquisition in a thrifty evocation of 17th-century Mexico and stifles a laugh as the list of debaucheries is read by hooded accusers; an out-of-focus cutout of a comet lights the sky over his punishment, from the pyre the Baron curses his tormentors and promises revenge on their descendants. From 1661 to 1961 is a matter of simple dissolves in Urueta's wacky neighborhood, and the postponed vendetta is promptly picked up as Salazar is parachuted into modern-day La Capital in full Corman-beast mode, simultaneously a nightmarish mass of hairy, pointy snout, ears and tentacles and a rubber mask swelling and contracting with the actor's noisy breathing. A two-foot forked tongue darts into a passerby's cerebellum, the monster shifts into a dapper don in a three-piece suit once the brain-draining is done; a doctor declares it "undoubtedly a case of schizophrenia," with "a great deal of knowledge about anatomy." The spawn of the inquisitors is invited to a party at his castle, one of three or four sets reused and revisited as if in a dream, where Salazar adds a dash of Bela Lugosi by turning down liquor in favor of the brain pudding kept in a cupboard, scooped into a chalice and savored with a spoon -- an offscreen flashlight is directed to his brow to announce the bestial transformation, freezing the men mid-double take, arousing the women and capping the sequence with a shadowy Nosferatu lift. Even more than the lovingly hand-crafted carnivalesques, the faux-photographic backdrops against which characters pose reveal the film as less a failed horror piece than an elaborately chintzy mural, the stability of a "colonial monument" purposefully demolished with protruding eyeballs, flamethrowers, and the blunt poesy of Urueta's nuttiness. With Rubén Rojo, Rosa María Gallardo, David Silva, Germán Robles, Carlos Nieto, René Cardona, and Ofelia Guilmáin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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