Saturday, November 19, 2016

Season of Horror: El barón del terror (1962)

The problem with having way too many movies, aside from not having the time to watch them all, is that it's sometimes difficult to decide what to watch. That's not the reason for my absence, and while the Season of Horror hit a bit of a lull, it is not over yet. I'm back this evening with something completely different.

On this day in 1966, Bob Wilkins was showing Invasion of the Saucer Men and Return of the Fly. I am watching neither tonight, but would like to think tonight's selection would fit in well on Creature Features. I hesitated before picking up El barón del terror aka The Brainiac. The plot sounds utterly ridiculous, but the reviews I read about it were so enthusiastic, I was convinced I should watch it. Producer and star, Abel Salazar, who played Enrique in El Vampiro, is tonight's brain sucking Barón, so it can't be all bad. I am watching the Spanish version with English subtitles tonight from CasaNegra Entertainment. An English dubbed version is also available on a separate audio track if you have a disdain for reading subtitles.

The opening titles are shown over bizarre images recycled from the opening of El espejo de la bruja, which also shares director Chano Urueta. The action begins with the handsome Barón Vitelius Destera being tried by the Inquisition in 1661 for using witchcraft, necromancy and for generally being naughty and seducing married women and maidens. He had been sentenced to torture, but as he laughed and joked his way through it, the inquisitors decided to stop the torture and are now deciding what they should do with him.


"I want to love you and adore you above all else. But I can't. My hatred is stronger than my love."

Marcos Miranda comes to defend the Barón and tells the tribunal that the accused is honest and respectable. The inquisitors think him an insolent liar and sentence Marcos to 200 lashes. The Barón is sentenced to be burned in an open field after undergoing some shaming procedures. He agrees to the burning, but not while in chains, and his chains magically disappear from him and appear on the inquisitors. He appears to be a wicked man with great power and a sense of humor, which sets the tone for this film.


Out in the open field, Marcos stands by, none the worse for wear from the lashing, as the Barón Vitelius is in chains, despite having just removed them, while fathers of maidens and matronly women in the crowd have opposing reactions. He does not seem very flammable as he is surrounded by flames and doesn't even break a sweat, let alone burn. He alternates looking up at a blurry white streak of a comet overhead and then at Marcos several times.



He calls out each of the inquisitors, seeing their faces behind their masks, and then promises to return in 300 years when the comet passes again so that he may carry out his revenge by eliminating all their descendants. If this guy has the power to remove chains, one has to wonder why he's allowing himself to be burned and then waiting for 300 years to exact his revenge on the descendants, rather than the guys sitting before him who are responsible for roasting him. This is in keeping with films like Black Sunday, where powerful sorcerers can't seem to get it together to use their talents to save themselves, but have access to it generations later to take revenge on the folks who had nothing to do with their demise.


We flash forward to 1961 where couples are swaying to some hip music in a dining establishment. A dashing young astronomer, who looks a lot like Marcos Miranda, checks his watch and says he has to get to the observatory to see the professor. The handsome couple arrives at the observatory where Professor Millán is looking through his telescope. We find out the couple is Reynaldo and Victoria, and the professor quizzes them both on their knowledge of comets as soon as they arrive. He directs them to some 300 year old texts that describe a comet in 1661, and relates that his calculations tell him that the comet should appear to them that evening. Fortunately, it's only minutes away so we don't have to wait long to see it.



They all take turns peering into the telescope to try and locate the comet, but Victoria finally finds it. When the professor hogs the telescope, she leads Reynaldo outside to see it through a smaller telescope, commenting on its beauty, while he notes there is a strange light around the comet. A driver pulls over as he sees the comet, now burning like the tip of a sparkler, and an object that looks like a poor representation of Devil's Tower drops straight out of the sky and lands on the ground with a thud.



The driver goes to check out the meteor, which dissipates, and in its place is a hideous creature with a pulsating head, torn clothing, and tubular pincher-like appendages. A bright light flashes on the driver's face and he seems to be frozen in place. The creature grabs him by the throat and sticks its forked tongue into the back of his head, leaving him dead on the ground. The suit disappears off the driver, leaving the corpse clad in a T-shirt tucked into boxers, and appears on the monster as it transforms into the Barón, who may not be wearing any chonies underneath that stolen suit.







Reynaldo and Victoria drive up to the site where the comet may have fallen and encounter el barón. They stare awkwardly at each other for a bit before Reynaldo asks if he's seen a meteorite fall. He claims he hasn't and tells them he likes to go for walks late at night. Reynaldo tells him they're astronomers observing a meteor and when the Barón shares his interest in astronomy, Reynaldo offers him his card and invites him to visit.


The Barón heads to a bar where some sultry music is playing and a lonely femme fatale is lounging at the bar, nursing a brandy. After he enters, he disappears and then reappears next to the pretty lady, who happens to be Abel's costar from El Vampiro, which makes it amusing when she says she feels like they've met before. They share a drink while he remains silent and she does all the talking. The bartender heads home and the owner is locking up money in the safe. The Barón gets the flashing light on his face as they stare intently at each other. She tries kissing him, but when she gets no response from him she starts to leave, not seeing his flashing face turn to the hairy hook nosed monster behind her. He grabs her and gets his forked tongue into her head to suck out her brain matter.




A doctor examines the orifices in the base of the skulls of the two victims, and describes to two police officers that the entire encephalic masses were removed, which is somehow worse than saying their brains were sucked out. The police try to determine who could be responsible, and discuss whether there may be a connection to a local robbery, but give up and leave.



Victoria brings Reynaldo coffee while he reads the paper and shares the news of the two corpses found with perforations in their heads and lacking any brain matter. Reynaldo reflects back on the guy they met last night, thinking he may have been one of the victims, but realizes it's not him. He tells Victoria he feels like he's seen him somewhere before and she responds that it may have been another incarnation. How right she is.


The Barón is visiting monuments at the site of the Inquisition and goes to investigates some files. When the clerk tells him it's almost closing time, the Barón gets the flashy face and the clerk sits back down and says nothing. The Barón looks up trials of the Inquisition from 1661, but puts it back. He then goes to see the tombs of the Inquisitors who burned him: Don Baltesar de Meneses, Don Álvaro de Contreras, Don Sebastián de Pantoja, and Don Herlindo del Vivar.



Later, as he's walking down the street, a lady of the evening solicits him for a light. He lights her cigarette and she thanks him by embracing and kissing him passionately. He begins to leave but stops and reveals his hairy pulsating face, letting his forked brain straw loll out.





The police chief is sitting down at a restaurant with his officer and reading a report from the doctor. He describes the same conditions as the other victims with two orifices in the base of their skulls and an absence of brain tissue. The waitress brings the officer the brain tacos he ordered. He looks like he wishes he ordered the lengua tacos instead.


Professor Milán is talking with Reynaldo about the mystery of the missing comet, relating that a comet doesn't fall or go out of orbit for no reason. Reynaldo acknowledges that they've been working on trying to locate it for two weeks. While the Prof. reads mail from scientists who've seen nothing of the comet, Reynaldo reads an invitation from the Barón Vitelius Destera who's having a party at his place. Reynaldo is excited for a party and the chance to forget about the comet for a night. The police are also invited to the party in a professional capacity.


The descendants of the Inquisitors that he vowed to eliminate arrive at the fancy party and he sees the faces of their ancestors superimposed on them. He welcomes each of them to his home graciously. When the Prof. and the kids are announced, we learn that Victoria is related to the Inquisitor Contreras and that Reynaldo's last name is Miranda, which explains his resemblance to Marcos Miranda. The Barón gives them all drinks but claims he cannot drink liquor himself. He says he's not feeling well and excuses himself. He goes to a room and unlocks a cabinet that contains an ornate tureen full of gelatinous brains. He scoops a modest amount into a cocktail glass that he slurps from as though he's enjoying a delightful shrimp cocktail.




The guests share pleasantries with the Barón as they depart. The police also leave, feeling unneeded. While the Barón visits Pantoja and explores his Inquisition documents, the man's daughter, María comes downstairs, causing the Barón to get the flashing lights in the face. It appears to be a sign that  he likes her and he can hardly take his eyes away from her. As he reads from the Inquisition minutes, María asks if he is a descendant of Vitelius Destera, but he tells them he is Vitelius who was burned alive by their ancestor. They don't believe it, but then his face lights up and María goes to him and starts kissing him while her dad appears wide-eyed and frozen. The Barón lets his hairy pulsating head appear and embraces María from behind and sucks out her brains. Her dad is forced to watch, unable to move, and then gets his brains sucked out as well. The Barón tosses newspapers around the room and sets the place on fire.





The police investigate the scene, realizing the murderer is more dangerous than they thought, since he not only sucks brains out, but burns bodies to cover up his tracks. Back at the observatory, Victoria hands Reynaldo the newspaper with the account of the deaths and he reads it aloud. The Professor is going through letters from other astronomers who claim they haven't seen the comet, which frustrates him since he knows they all saw it.


The Barón is visiting the descendant of Meneses and his wife, claiming he can make a metal to withstand high temperatures. Sr. Meneses is delighted that the process would make him rich, while the Sra. makes meaningful eye contact with the Barón. He flashes his face and the husband freezes with eyes wide, while the Barón makes kissy face with his wife until he gets bored and displays his hook-nosed hairy face. She screams and he goes to suck on her sweet encephalic mass while her hubby remains frozen in place. When he's finished eating, he identifies himself and makes Meneses open the oven, causing an explosion. I guess he was full.



Reynaldo is reading the newspaper report of their deaths to Victoria and comments on how the Barón brings bad luck, since the victims were at his party. The chief of police goes to visit the Barón and informs him of the murders and requests information on the victims, but he can't give them any as he claims he's only been in the country a few weeks. He goes to his cabinet to get his bowl of brains and locks it in a trunk.



The Barón is attending a wedding, wishing the couple well as he makes eyes at the bride. After they depart, Victoria and Reynaldo enter and tell the Barón they've been working hard on the missing comet. They note that it appeared the night they met and Reynaldo asks if he heard what happened to the Pantojas and Meneses. He tells him he did and Reynaldo goes on to say it was a coincidence that they had both been at his home a few hours earlier. The Barón asks if he's superstitious, but Reynaldo says he's just curious.


Some sexy music is playing as one of the Inquisitor's descendants, Ana Luisa del Vivar, sits in her nightie at her dressing table. The Barón enters and startles her. She tells him Francisco is in the bathroom and he flashes his face at her. She asks what's happening to him and runs to the bathroom to get Francisco. She pounds on the door but there's no answer. She goes in to find him hanging upside down in a bathtub full of water. The Barón informs her of her ancestor's role in his burning and tells her she will be held responsible. He shows his ugly face and she passes out on the bed as we see his gruesome shadow approach.





The cops have decided to check out the tombs at the Inquisition site after reading and taking notes from the library texts. They leave and visit the doctor, who is examining the burned bodies and relating that they have the same holes in the skull and no brain matter. The Chief goes over the names of the Inquisitors, comparing them to the names of the victims. They go to the observatory to try and find Victoria and the professor informs them that they were invited for dinner at the Barón Destera's house. They rush off in hopes of reaching them on time, though the Chief decides they should stop off at headquarters first.



Reynaldo and Victoria are having drinks at the Barón's house and inquire about his ailments. Reynaldo asks about the data to locate the comet the Baron promised to give them, but he is put off. The Barón excuses himself to take his medicine and skulks off to sneak a bite from his bowl of brains in the trunk. He takes a spoonful of delicious, nutritious, chewy brain matter and is in the pink again. He rejoins the couple and tells Reynaldo that he'd like to present Victoria with a jewel as a wedding present, but that he wants her to choose it herself alone in his office, without influence from others.




Victoria goes off with the Barón while Reynaldo investigates the trunk. The Barón shows off his jewels and then tries to offer his other jewels, but claims his hatred is stronger than his love. She breaks away from him and he tells her she is the last descendant of the Inquisitors. Reynaldo has found a tool to break open the chest and discovers the bowl of brains as the Barón reveals his true face to Victoria. She runs screaming to Reynaldo. The Barón enters, telling him that he should get away so he can fulfill his revenge, and that his ancestor defended him 300 years ago. Reynaldo tells her to run away and the Barón approaches him. He disappears as he runs through him and goes after Victoria.




As she struggles with him, the police enter with flame throwers and turn him into barbecued Barón. His form changes from burnt ugly monster to handsome smoking Barón and then to smoking skeleton.









Thoughts:

I think I love Abel Salazar more every time I see him. I can understand why this movie is so endearing to fans. El barón is like a big, lovable muppet monster. He sucks brains out of skulls and we don't know why, but it doesn't really matter. Apparently riding around on a comet for 300 years takes its toll, though he apparently didn't lose his talent for having his way with the ladies. As with the other Mexican horror titles I've seen, there is a lot of atmosphere in this film that makes it enjoyable to watch. The story is nonsensical and some of the special effects are pretty weak, but the brains in the fancy tureen make up for it. Get out your brain gelatin mold, invite your friends over, and make it a party night with the Barón. You're in for a good time.


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