Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Monster Late Show

My revamp vs. the original 1960's Spookshow ad (below)

My version, posterized.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Brainiac

Consider the significance of the act of eating brains. Almost invariably the the brain-sucking creature in a sci-fi/horror movie craves the potent endorphins produced by the brain- an idea exploited in movies like I Come In Peace and Return Of The Living Dead. Oh yeah. "Brains make the pain go away" as it's been said, and it's not unusual for the typical freaky endorphin-fiend from space to develop a six-brain-a-day habit by the time the coppers take him down in a hail of gunfire. And it's a cautionary tale not confined to potential brain-sucking gargoyle invaders. You the viewer should also take heed! We must all watch the skies, and be ready to fight this cosmic commie-pinko menace (e.g.: The Brainiac) with all of the flame-throwers at our disposal, for God and Country! 
This, perhaps, is the underlying message made to Cold War audiences in 1961 by the makers of The Brainiac. Alternately, I suppose, it could be that there is some obscure Aztec folk legend, of which I am completely unaware, involving a brain-sucking warlock who soars across the heavens via comet and comes down to earth to reign terror upon Mexico every three centuries, morphing into a bizarre, bulbous-headed monstrosity with clawed hands, a dragon-size tongue, the power to hypnotize with a glance (and is a sex machine to all the chicks. Shut yo' mouth!!! I'm just talking about The Brainiac...), but just thinking of that possibility fills me with the sensation of pinwheeling down into a deep, dark pit of existential despair. Well, from whatever disordered mind the inspiration for this steaming Mexican horror dish sprang forth, he, she or it has brought joy and fits of uncontrollable giggling to generations of stoned people, while keeping us mindful of the nightmarish alien horrors that await us outside the warm comforting cocoon of human rationality, one day to spring on us as we sit in front of the Cartoon Network in our footy pajamas, hopelessly lost in a gravity-bong induced stupefaction. 
Before becoming a star-trekking, brain-draining scoundrel of the title, though, our feature character was an odd sort of fellow by the name of Baron Vitelius who, as our movie opens, is the special guest in the dungeon of the Inquisition receiving his umpteenth holy tongue-lashing from the extreme wind-bag Head Prosecutor. Vitelius, played by Mr. Producer Abel Salazar, is in irons and seated before the assembled group of black-shrouded inquisitors, listening with bemusement at the reading of his glorious history of malfeasance, debauchery and general misbehavior to date, along with the more colorful moments of his interrogation.
"And therefore, he was conducted to the torture chamber, and his arms thrust behind his back. The rope was then tightened by being twisted thirty times in a row. The accused merely laughed with disdain at these acts of justice! Because of this bold defiance, he was then laid upon the rack, and with his arms and legs nearly torn from his body, he continued to make jest of our holy authority!"
In spite of all the adversity he's faced in gaol, Vitelius is not only holding up well but he's downright gleeful. The High Inquisitor keeps getting distracted by the boorish baron's defiant tittering. He may be a thoroughly contemptible bastard who daily, and with great relish, engages in activities that would make Gilles de Rais blush, but here, for a moment, one is reminded of a certain John "Bluto" Blutarski and his endearing hiinks in Dean Wormer's office as the Delta House boys were being put on Double Secret Probation in the movie Animal House. Except that Vitelius doesn't actually stick a couple of #2 pencils up his nose. 
After this opening tirade, which clocks in at a hair shorter than Inna Gadda Da Vida live, the Baron's one character witness is brought in-- some shmoe from Portugal named Marcus Miranda (played by an actor who bears an eerie resemblance to Eddie Albert Jr)-- who, in spite of the sprawling rap-sheet of hardcore iniquities which had just been read aloud to the court, and seemingly acknowledged by the defendant, insists that Vitelius is some kind of haloed pillar of the community and national treasure second only to Jose Cuervo. This daft poofter is sentenced to a merciless flogging for his flagrant buffoonery (what about his "Miranda" rights?) and led away, never to be seen again. Or at least never for the next couple of minutes. Vitelius, in turn, is sentenced to be guest of honor at his own barbecue and, to add insult to injury, has to wear a funny hat while the flames sear away his flesh (ouch. why don't we make our condemned wear funny hats?). 
Unmoved by his imminent execution, Vitelius announces that if he's going to burn at the stake, it will be without unsightly chafing (or something to that effect) and his manacles magically vanish, and reappear on the guards directed to lead him off. And it's at this point that we the audience chortle stupidly and do another bong.
Wow, a witch-burning, only with a dude witch! These are always fun. You can bank on a good witch-burning to brighten up a dismally bad horror movie a little. This one is a tad on the chintzy side but it makes the grade for being offbeat. The funny hat is based on the actual attire forced on condemned heretics of the Inquisition being led to the Auto-da-fé. For all it's historical accuracy, though, I suspect it would be hard to keep a straight face while watching a guy get burned to death wearing a clownish get-up like that. 
Surprisingly, Floggingboy from the previous scene is good enough to be present for his buddy's immolation, figuring that since he couldn't acquit this guy then the least he can do is watch his skin blister and turn black as he writhes around shrieking in unspeakable agony (it was the thing to do in those days) The stake-igniter lights up the kindling, and WOOSH! Vitelius is instantly incinerated. The End. Brother, that was one weird movie... 
But wait! Vitelius still lives, and he doesn't have a mark on him, even though he is engulfed in a raging forced-perspective matte effect. The man is too cool to burn! The tribunal, rather than being perplexed by this apparent miracle, are pleasantly conversing about which one of the altar-boys they enjoy raping the most; or whether to go Chinese for lunch or finally try than little Greek place; or something else Middle Ages related. Perhaps the baron's incorruptible state has something to do with the the huge comet up in the sky which he regards with such great interest. The time has come to quickly establish the premise for the movie through the dreaded Witch's Curse. He turns to the masked tribunal, and, one by one, speaks their names out loud. As he does, each inquisitor's true face is superimposed over his hood. This peculiar effect is to reveal to us who the witch will be out to cap after he/she rises from their sooty grave. And as for what fate will befall the hapless Inquisitors? Let's hear it in his own terrifying words:
"I shall return to your world within 300 years- when that comet completes it's cycle and is once again in these latitudes. When that happens, I will take my revenge upon you! I will kill each and every one of your descendents, and I shall expunge your foul lineage from this earth!"
Uh-oh. Astrophysics. Should we take notes? Say! Why didn't he just use his powers to make it rain and put out the fire? And have lightning strike the inquisitors right there and then? No. Instead he vows to exterminate total strangers after hurtling through the void for 300 hellish years aboard a speeding glacier. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, you can only be so protective of your kin 275 YEARS AFTER YOU'RE DEAD. Why waste his breath on these inhuman bastards, anyway? They burn people for God, they aren't going to lose sleep over a bunch of philistines in the heathenly 20th Century. And why a comet? Why, man? What's the score here? 
As our producer is reduced to ashes, a bleeding-font caption rises up announcing that it is 1661. Successive captions hurl us forward in time in 100 year increments until we get to 1961--the very year that Vitelius vowed to open a big can of whoopass on certain lineages. But the local Inquisition has long since closed up shop and we find the swinging young hepcats of 1961 twisting the night away in a nightclub, comets of doom all forgotten. One pleasant-looking couple, Ronnie and Vicki, decide to blow this scene for the local observatory and excuse themselves, explaining that they are going to see "the professor", that Ronnie "works in the dark", that they are "looking for a real star", and it's a cloudless night. In spite of how tawdry this might sound, it doesn't involve getting naked, oiled-up and bouncy-bouncy with Vicki, unfortunately. Remember, this is the dreaded Night of the Comet, and our crazy kids are, by remarkable coincidence, astronomers. 
Oh, and "Ronnie" is played by the same actor that played Vitelius's punk-ass pal Marcus Miranda, by the way. The implication should be clear: This is an astronomically dumb movie. Imagine, the physically identical great, great, great, great, great, great, etcetera grandson of Marcus Miranda is doing the cha-cha with some bouffanted bimbo on the very spot that his great, great, great, great, great, etcetera grandfather's chum swore to return and wreak bloody vengeance on that very date. And he's an astronomer. And would you believe that Vicki's great, great, great, great, great, etcetera grandfather was one of the Inquisitors? No? Well, let's move along...
When Ronnie and Vicki get to the observatory, the professor starts to pump them (and, by extension, us) for answers to his mundane astronomical trivia. I guess the director was worried that the audience wouldn't buy that Ronnie and Vicki were bonafide astronomers unless they first passed a grade school astronomy drill. That out of the way, the professor reveals that he has found references in old books about a comet that flew over in 1661, and through the use of a lot of disjointed scientific jargon, blandly convinces us that we might as well not bother trying to figure out how he'd reached, or possibly could reach, the conclusion that the same comet will be back that very night. I mean, let's get on with it, man! 
Luckily, our astute student Ronnie has a watch and realizes that the mysterious comet should be presently be making an appearance. Using the nearby telescope, Ronnie manages to locate several dazzling astronomy photographs out of the 1954 Encyclopedia Britannica, (Boy, did they get a lot of use out of that encyclopedia in this movie) but that pesky comet is just nowhere in sight. Our devastating debutante Vicki, not content to look for the comet where it's supposed to be, finds it in a random sweep of the heavens. The easily excited kids find a private telescope on the terrace and Ronnie witnesses the fairy-tale comet giving off "a very strange light". So Ronnie grabs star-strumpet Vicki and tears after it before it can fly away (because those suckers are fast, you know--especially the ones like this that look like a little kid's Fourth Of July sparkler).
Regardless, Ronnie and Vicki aren't able to get to the comet before it splashes down. Yes, the comet they were talking about two minutes earlier enters the earth's atmosphere and plops right down there on the outskirts of Brainiac Junction. But this awesome display of astronomy in action is at least witnessed by one wormy motorist, who gets out of his car to investigate. The comet, it turns out, is about the size and shape of a port-o-potty covered with a zillion crusted globs of spit. This celestial ice-nugget quickly evaporates to reveal a creature that is equal parts hideous, hilarious and preposterous. And hairy. 
This is that whack, wicked-mad Baron Vitelius in his front-yard Halloween-prop mode. Herr Baron's prison duds are charred and unsightly and so, as is the first order of business for any visiting aristocrat, he kills the first native he sees and steals his clothes. He wastes no time sucking the fellow's skull dry and then sort of magically absorbs his clothing (leaving him at least the modesty provided by boxer shorts and a white tee, socks, and those things guys used to wear to hold up their socks.) and transforms back into his human form. Fortunately, supernaturally-chic Vitelius can make even this clod's unemployment-line special look like an an Armani. 
Our lovebirds appears about then and both seem incredibly confused to find this dapper gentleman standing around in the middle of the woods near where the comet disappeared. Vitelius explains that he always goes for walks this time of night and imparts that he too is interested in astronomy after the couple identify themselves as aspiring astronomers. The enterprising Ronnie offers Vitelius his card, in case he needs some comets chased in the future or whatever. 
This stilted exchange out of the way, Vitelius materializes at the nearest lounge at closing time and immediately catches a barfly in his deadly web of charm. Of course she's slutty and drunk and she thinks Vitelius is pretty odd just the same, with his lurking-outside-the-bedroom eyes and his stubborn refusal to make any utterance or facial expression whatsoever. But she doesn't know like we do what a masher he really is. And also that he's a brain-sucking troll from hell. Vitelius's eyes are lit by a strobe to mark his quick-change into BRAINIAC. He throttles the lady lush in his suction-cupped pincers and lewdly jabs his great big crazy-straw-like tongue in the back of her neck, inhaling her gray matter like a plastic cup of free Cinco de Mayo margarita. POW! 
Alright, dawg, time to kick out the Brainiac theme song...
(cue Isaac Hayes)
He's the BRAINIAC! He don't take no smack.
He'll blow your mind, with his super-charged brain-vac.
He's the ultimate French-kisser, burnt alive by the Spanish Inquisition
He's got a score to settle with the Man. Baby, try to understand....
Brainiac's back, and he'll eat your brain for a snack!
He's the BRAINIAC! Get BACK, sister!
Woooooo! Yeah!
Now that we've been shown how the Braniac works, in principle, we cut forward to the coroner and a pair of fedora-wearing local dicks as they examine the Brainiac's horrific handiwork in the cooling room. The coroner indicates the distinctive puncture wounds on the two corpses as evidence that there is a killer at large. And noting that the subject's brains were sucked out, implies that they may be dealing with something beyond the run-of-the-mill hickey-pervert. Upon hearing the coroner's theory that the killer must be an expert in anatomy, the chief detective is moved to echo the creed of determined crime-fighters throughout the ages:
"I wish they'd find a way to control the subjects a man studies. A maniac with a lot of knowledge is a threat."
The head dick deducts that these murders are related to the recent bank robberies. And yet the murders were too far apart in too short a time to be related (unless you can become incorporeal like our man the cosmic phantom.) The trail of the brain-bandit seems to have gone cold. 
Meanwhile, having secured a stash of loot suitable for an aristocratic grifter, Vitelius starts snooping through the public records for dirt on the Inquisition's offspring. But this cat just can't fight the women back for very long. Soon he's harvesting the brains of some aggressively available street hussy, who slips Abel the tongue and gets more than she bargained for. But with the names of the inquisitor's descendants Vitelius can now afford to have more discriminating taste in brains. He invites all of his unwitting adversaries to a party so he can case them out. Somehow, all of the descendants look like their 300 year dead relatives, except the women who Vitelius can somehow identify, anyway. During the party, Vitelius must excuse himself to satisfy his special dietary need. He goes to the corner of the room and takes out a huge goblet full of brains and discreetly nibbles at it. At least I hope he's discreet, since he seems to still be well within the full view of his guests.
Not long after the lovely soirée, Vitelius starts to drop in on his new friends and sort of pick their brains concerning this burning stake-burning issue. He starts with a a deliciously brainy scholar and his deliciously attractive yet also brainy daughter, and reveals that he is the bloke who their distant ancestor was so unpleasant to (and rightfully so). He puts the whammy on them with his Svengali stare, groping the guy's daughter while he watches helplessly, hastily gobbles their brains, and then ransacks and burns down their house. Next he whacks some science magnate and his wife in a similar fashion, forcing the man to immolate himself in his own furnace. Always he reveals his victim's astronomically tenuous connection to his murder, which I imagine would only serve to deepen their already profound bewilderment. 
The police, as well as our amazing stargazing whiz-kids, naturally start to associate outsider Vitelius with these grisly goings-on. The police come snooping around his manor, but they are unable to crack through the baron's blast-barrier of sheer smugness. Undaunted by the growing scrutiny, Vitellius stalks another one of the party guests down, drowning the husband in the shower before going Nosferatu on her. Having pretty effectively ripped through the region's Inquisition-descendant elite, the baron invites the last of the chosen over for dinner--that being scorching-hot lassie Vicki, for whom Sir Brainiac seems to have a throbbing fondness. 
Vitelius keeps them detained with some idle chatter, inevitably excusing himself to indulge in another sinful spoonful of brain pudding before offering to present Vicki with a bunch of gift jewelry, to be delivered in private (presumably, a pearl necklace is involved. While grandfatherly Vitelius makes a rather awkward pass at Vicki, Ronnie decides to jimmy into the Baron's private pantry, discovering the goblet of brains (which must reek something fierce by now). The baron ultimately spoils the mood after harping on about Vicki's foul lineage and Vicki screams and runs in terror following his premature Brainiac-ulation. The baron advises the would-be hero Ronnie to step aside while he fulfills his revenge, informing Ronnie of his ancestor's feeble gesture to acquit the obviously guilty Vitelius three centuries before. Radical Ronnie refuses to balk so Vitelius turns ethereal and charges through him like a bad double-exposure effect. It looks the Brainiacal Mystery Tour is going to take Vicki away, and undoubtedly deal a catastrophic blow to the future of astrosciency stuff in the process.
Just then, the detectives (who are now hip to Vitelius's Medieval shit-list), burst onto the scene with flamethrowers blazing; in keeping with the department's new cremate-first, ask-questions-later policy. FWOOOOOSH!
And so the Brainiac, once again reduced to a smoldering char, dies.

The End.
This review written by Steve Ring © 2004

Monday, May 4, 2009