Like with all art forms, it’s difficult to find a great “bad movie”. For every transcendently awful Plan 9 or Troll 2 you have to sift through a hundred mind-numbingly dull Hobgoblins. A lot of old school schlock was made with the intention of getting butts in seats. As long as a trailer hoodwinked audiences into buying tickets the job was considered done and no effort had to be made on delivering the goods. Every now and then, though, everything clicks. When a B movie is firing on all cylinders, enthusiastically exploring every weird idea it has to their full potential, there’s really nothing like it. A lot of the sarcastic mockery associated with people who binge on bad movies is really just a front. Shlock fans put up with a lot of abuse from the movies they watch. A lot of times they abuse the movies back, but the truth is that they love the trash, even when verbally protesting. The dedication it takes to find the gems among the garbage has to come from a place of patient love, but it’s a love that can really pay off from time to time.
That being said, I loved The Braniac (or, as it was known in its native Mexico, The Baron of Terror). It’s such a bizarre little horror cheapie that didn’t need to try nearly as hard as it did. Check out this plot: It opens with hooded executioners of the Spanish Inquisition expressing their frustration that a specific victim, a philandering Mexican baron, was surviving all of their torture methods by bending the laws of physics like an omnipotent god. When they sentence the baron to a death-by-burning execution, he escapes by hitching a ride on a passing comet and promises to return in 300 years to murder the descendants of the Inquisitors. He delivers on this promise in the form of a forked-tongued space alien beast. All of this transpires in the opening 20 minutes.
After that incredible beginning, the film levels out a bit and hits all the usual beats you’d expect from a black & white creature feature on MST3K or late night basic cable. The baron alternates between human & beastly forms, cordially schmoozing his intended victims before exacting his revenge on them one at a time. His preferred murder tactic? He sucks their brains directly out of their skulls with the aforementioned demon tongue and then stores them for casual snacking. Although it opened with its most outlandish segment, The Braniac maintains a consistent cruelty that’s pretty remarkable for its schlocky parameters. The baron strangles, drowns, commits acts of cannibalism and seduces women before their fathers & husbands. He’s a monster. A lot of B pictures in this genre would drag the monster out for a couple killings now & then and try to limit its effect on the budget, but The Braniac consistently delivers.
I’m not saying the movie’s not cheap; it’s cheap. The baron’s space monster form is essentially an unsettlingly hairy, pulsating rubber mask paired with the baron’s business suit and some gloves. The sets & special effects are also laughably artificial, the pacing can be clunky, and despite a couple lines like “My hate is much stronger than my love, like a master no one can control,” the dialogue is mostly featureless. All of this is forgivable to me, considering the movie’s scope & budget. It’s the kind of ragtag production that feels like ordinary people trying to put on a good show. Like the best of bad movies, you can see the sticky fingerprints of the people who made it all over the picture. Instead of losing yourself in the film, you’re constantly aware that you’re watching something another human being tried their best to make entertaining. The Braniac’s been mocked before by the likes of Rifftrax and (according to a Dangerous Minds article that clued me in on its existence) Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart, but it doesn’t really deserve the abuse. If you approach the movie with a little love & patience, it’s a pretty badass horror cheapie. If you’re a sucker for small budget creature features & outer space mysticism, it’s a genuine treat.