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The Brainiac

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Mexican Horror film, "The Brainiac" was released to theatres in Mexico in 1961 under the title, "El Baron del Terror". "The Brainiac", which stars Abel Salazar as the brain-sucking baron, did not make an appearance in the United States until April of 1969, when it premiered on television in Trenton, New Jersey. The film is directed by celebrated Mexican director, Chano Urueta, who shot the extremely low-budgeted film in only fourteen days.

Born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1895, Urueta released his first film, "Profanacion" in 1933. Urueta, who is considered a prolific director of the Mexican cinema, made a name for himself in 1941 when he popularized the Mexican cinema in all of Latin America with the release of the "The Count of Monte Cristo". The celebrated director made over eighty films during the course of his twenty year career, and because of his diverse interests, made films in a variety of genres.

Chano Urueta cast Abel Salazar as the lead role for the seventy seven minute film. Salazar plays the mysterious Baron Vitelius who was convicted of heresy during the Holy Inquisition, and vows to come back 300 years later to wreak havoc on the descendants of those who execute him. Salazar was a celebrated figure within Mexican cinema. An actor, producer, and director, Salazar specialized in low-budget Mexican horror movies of the 50s and 60s. The B-movie enthusiast began his career in acting in 1941 by playing both comedic and dramatic roles. Salazar launched his directional career in 1945 with the release of "Satan's Five Warnings" and acted in films until 1965 when he was admitted to the Director's Union. Salazar directed his last film in 1989 and died of Alzheimer's disease in 1995.

Though "The Brainiac" is far-fetched in many ways, there are some elements of the film that are accurate. The opening scene of the film features Vitelius on trial for heresy during the Holy Inquisition. During the Inquisition in Spain, evidence and testimony had to be gathered before an arrest was made. Once arrested, the accused was given several opportunities to admit to any heretical behavior before the charges were identified. In "The Brainiac", the hooded men who put Vitelius on trial read the evidence that they had gathered along with testimony from various witnesses. These men describe acts of witchcraft and satanic rituals. This particular element of the trial in the film is based off of popular myth rather than historical fact. The tales of witches' Sabbaths and baby roastings were investigated by trained inquisitors in Spain and Italy, who found these stories to be baseless. Thus, the charges against Vitelius sprung from the screenwriter's imagination rather than any foundational fact.

During the trial, it is soon revealed that Vitelius was arrested some time ago, and was tortured because of his acts of heresy. The torture took place in the hopes that Vitelius would admit to his crimes. Though the details of Vitelius' torturing are a bit unsettling, the sequence in which these events occurred, fall in line with the history of the Inquisition as understood today.

Torture in Spain during the Inquisition was very rare. However, it was permitted to take place in cases of heresy, and was only used for exacting confessions during a trial, not as punishment after sentencing. The torture that is described in the film occurred prior to the final sentencing, thus serving as a somewhat accurate representation of the court systems in Spain during the Inquisition.

The scene featuring the burning of Vitelius agrees with popular myth that heretics were burned during the Inquisition. However, research shows that heretics were not ordered by the Church in Spain, to be burned. Capital punishment was in fact an order put out by secular authorities who held heresy to be a capital offense.

In 1998, the Vatican opened the archives of the Holy Office to a team of thirty scholars from around the world. The scholars were brought in to research the records taken by the Catholic church during the period that was the Holy Inquisition. The research project was commissioned by Pope John Paul II, who wanted to prepare for the 2000 Jubilee. The research conducted by the various scholars resulted in an 800 page report. The most startling conclusion of the scholars' report indicated that torture was in fact rare, and only about 1% of those individuals brought before the Spanish Inquisition were actually executed.

Though "The Brainiac" is poorly dubbed in English, and an obviously low-budgeted film, it is interesting to watch. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to watch this film is the fact that the both Abel Salazar, and director, Chano Urueta, were widely celebrated figures during their time. When watching the film, it becomes obvious that different cultures share the same love for the campy low-budget flick.

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Lynn Webster

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