The Coffin Joe Collection
The horror genre is so wide and varied that it is easy to discover new films and directors simply by buying a DVD and seeing another filmmaker credited as a reference or, in this case, coming across a director and series of films of which you were previously unaware. José Mojica Marins was a prolific director in Brazil during the 1960s and '70s under the pseudonym/nickname Coffin Joe, appearing in all his films as the character Zé do Caixão.
In the first two films his character is an undertaker (hence the nickname) with a demonic streak a mile wide who terrorises the villagers and doesn't care how many enemies he makes. In the strict Catholic environment his abandonment of religion and insistence that all that exists is on this plane with nothing in the afterlife doesn't go down well but he is desperate for a woman of suitable stature to carry his seed and ensure his bloodline carries on.
The nine films in this collection bring together the best of Mojica Marins' work during the late 1960s and '70s plus a documentary made in 2001 about his life and career. The films vary from dark and demonic to very obscure portmanteau movies featuring cannibalism and orgies. He's obviously not a man bound by convention and was frequently in trouble with the Brazilian Government for producing material that they deemed harmful, demanding swingeing cuts and even banning his pictures. It was only in America and Europe that Coffin Joe found an appreciative audience for his work which developed a cult following. His appearance helped as much as it hindered, sporting a top hat, black cloak, caterpillar-like mono-brow and incredible long, curved nails which ensured he was nothing, if not distinctive.
His appearance as the lead in each film (one, Finis Hominis (End Of Man), rather narcissistically as he plays a Messianic figure) where he also had writing, production and direction credits, ensured his status as an auteur in a career that has carried on to the 21st Century with Embodiment of Evil (a follow up to the first two films in this set) released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc at the same time as this collection. This box set contains the following films:
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)
This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)
The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968)
Awakening of the Beast (1970)
End of Man (1971)
Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976)
Hellish Flesh (1977)
Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978)
The Strange World of Mojica Marins (2001)
I watched these films over three days and was bemused, bored and amazed by what I saw. The content is quite advanced for the time with some extremely innovative scenes and themes where Mojica Marin explores the more complex elements of the human psyche - one film sees Zé do Caixão imprison a scientist and his wife to test out whether love or instinct truly exists and the climax is as shocking and horrifying as it is puzzling. Several films begin with Mojica Marin/Coffin Joe introducing the themes with some extremely ambitious existential philosophising and I got the impression that Marin was introducing themes that he couldn't possibly investigate and expand on fully in less than ninety minutes. If I was being harsh, I'd call him pretentious but he doesn't seem to care in the Strange World of Mojica Marins documentary where it appears he makes the films for himself and if you don't like them then fine as there are others that do.
These aren't for the easily offended as there are scenes of sexual violence and cannibalism so I imagine this set is aimed squarely at those who are already fans and, if a few more followers are picked up along the way, so much the better.
The films appear to be VHS to DVD transfers as the picture quality isn't great and you get occasional wobble and distortion at the top and sides of the image. The early films look like they were shot on 16mm so it's unsurprising that they don't have the most pristine of pictures. Some of the effects are very good as Marin mixes special make-up effects with real mutilation so one scene will have characters really injecting themselves and a scene where real body piercings take place are followed by a group of cannibals biting off and eating someone's skin so Marin carefully blurs the line between real and fake to make the fabricated scenes all the more effective.
The soundtracks are quite frankly horrible with frequent dropouts and wild fluctuations in volume. All films appear to have been entirely dubbed which is sadly far from clear. As I don't speak Portuguese, this isn't too much of an issue as all the films are subtitled but this is where another problem arises. I'm used to the odd typo in subtitled films but haven't come across many where the accuracy level is between 75 to 90 per cent. Words are frequently spelled wrong, sentences are incorrectly structured and it seems that no care or attention has gone into typing the subtitles - maybe they were done by a Brazilian with English as the second language but there is really no excuse for howlers like this:
"Both our live"
"Did you heard that?"
"Until them. Good night"
"Why did you brought us here?"
"He's oficially dead"
Mojica Marin has a strange taste in music as, accompanying the score, he uses familiar tunes, particularly the Hallelujah Chorus which, in one film, comes at the end when the beginning had Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head as the score!
If you're a fan of José Mojica Marins' work then you'll no doubt welcome this release but I can't see it making too many new fans - it's really preaching to the converted. If you like Marins' films then this will be a set that you'll snap up straight away but if you're only mildly interested then I'd rent or borrow before committing to handing over cash for eight films, some of which you might never watch. I found them interesting, curious, intriguing and occasionally very dull but the AV quality and subtitling at times made for infuriating watching and I imagine hardcore fans would feel the same.