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Brainiac: The Strange Mexican Movie That Inspired Frank Zappa's First Song


A Mexican horror film and an incident in his youth gave Frank Zappa the material for his first song.

Mexican horror films are a long way removed from being a reference in the history of the genre. Although there are movies from the so-called ‘golden age’ (during the 1940s and 1950s) and later, in many of them it would appear that their desire to scare is in direct proportion to the naivety of the productions, in which the scripts, the scenes and other details lean more toward involuntary comedy than the sinister or fearful.

Despite all that, and for rather enigmatic reasons, some of these films were seen with admiration abroad. A strange cult, without a doubt, attributed in large part to a kind of intellectual avant-garde that, by seeing them with different eyes, also found other qualities in these films.

Among them is one specific film that has a peculiar link to the eccentric Frank Zappa: Brainiac, directed by “Chano” Urueta as El baron del terror in 1962. The film tells the story of a baron accused of witchcraft and condemned to death by the Inquisition. He then resuscitates as a monster that devours the brains of his victims.

Zappa had seen the film in his adolescence in Lancaster with his great friend Captain Beefheart (the pseudonym of Don Van Vliet). The two friends experienced a strange incident when Beefheart suffered an allergic skin reaction to some cosmetics that his mother sold.

“His face looked like an alligator,” Zappa recalled, who, together with Beefheart, composed his first song, “Debra Kadabra,” in which the conversion of his friend into a monster is fused with explicit references to Brainiac. The music includes trumpet chords that are taken from the film’s score.

Cover my entire body with Avon co-log-nuh
And drive me to some relative’s house in East L.A.
Turn it to Channel 13
And make me watch the rubber tongue
When it comes out
From the puffed and flabulent Mexican rubber-goods mask

Thus are the roads of creativity: random, circumstantial, unpredictable in the relationship between a stimulus and the reaction it provokes. From a kitsch Mexican horror film, via Zappa and Beefheart, to the bottomless Pandora’s box that is fed by human creativity.

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