Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Brainiac (1962)


All commentary below by Dustin Acton (2006).

Witch powers: shapeshifting, invisibility, hypnotism, brain sucking.

The film opens in a witch trial in 1661, where Baron Vitelius is being tried for heresy, dogmatism, witchcraft, conjuration for depraved ends, necromancy, fortune telling and seducing married women. As the inquisitors reads off a list of the torture performed on the nonplussed warlock the Baron merely laughs maniacally. As he is subsequently burned at the stake, Vitelius names off the hooded inquisitors and vows that he will return 300 years later to kill their descendants when the mysterious comet above him returns. The film flashes forward to 1961, where a couple of amateur astronomers (Vickie, the descendant of the judge who sentenced Vitelius to death and Ronnie, the descendant of a man who tried to save him) discover the same comet floating overhead. The comet crashes nearby, and a monstrous Vitelius emerges with fangs and claw-like fingers. The cheesy awesomeness of this monster can’t be overstated, as he sports not only a tongue that would put Gene Simmons to shame but also a face mask that visible convulses whenever the actor inside breathes. Vitelius chases a nearby witness by slowly walking after him and sucks out his brain through his abnormally large tongue. Vitelius then steals the man’s clothes and changes into his human form. He then runs into Vickie and Ronnie, who give him their card. Vitelius then sucks the brains of random beautiful women, which causes the cops to come after him.

After setting himself up as a wealthy baron, Vitelius invites the descendants of the inquisitors who tortured him to a lavish dinner party. After successfully winning his victims trust, he begins to stalk them one by one, using his hypnotic gaze to stun them and then sucking out their brains in his monster form. Meanwhile, both the cops and Vickie and Ronnie begin to suspect him. After killing off all of the descendants except for Vickie, he invites her and Ronnie to his mansion by telling him he has information regarding the comet they are interested in. Once at his place, he excuses himself and goes off into a room where he eats a spoonful of the brains he has collected (just cause). He then offers Vickie jewels and takes her into a separate room where he reveals his true form to her and attempts to suck out her brains. Meanwhile, Ronnie discovers the baron’s jar of brains and comes to Vickie’s rescue by shoving her aside and doing nothing. The police then conveniently arrive armed with flame throwers and dispose of the monstrous baron, who turns into a skeleton.

This movie rocks. It’s a delirious mix of witch film, cop drama, vampire movie and blatantly steals scenes from everything from Black Sunday to The Blob. However, what cements it as a memorable witch movie is the monster which Baron Vitelius transforms into, perhaps the most unique looking character ever created for a witch movie. However, the monster also is of bizarre historical interest. It has been theorized that many of society’s historical monsters, such as vampires and werewolves, may have merely been people with genetic disorders which led to physical deformities like Porphyria (a disease which causes sensitivity to light and facial deformation). Is it possible that this bizarrely deformed monster could be based on similar genetic disorders? In particular, the Baron-monsters hands are divided into two opposing claws, which can be caused by a disorder known as Ectrodactyly, or Lobster claw syndrome. Although I know of no similar disorder to explain the elongated tongue, the Baron-monster’s facial deformities could perhaps be similarly construed as a reconstruction of several physical disorders. The fact that this bizarre monster could be based on real genetic disorders and still frighten people suggests that much of the superstition and stigma surrounding physical deformity may still remain in our society. Although this is a genuinely entertaining movie, it’s sad that people with genetic disorders can still be seen as “monsters.”

Witch Films