You may know Jose Mojica Marins better via his signature a black cape, top hat, excessively long fingernails (which measured three feet at one stage), or perhaps from his moniker Coffin Joe. He’s one of the most unique and provocative filmmakers Brazil has ever produced. In fact he’s responsible for Brazil’s first ever horror film, 1964’s At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul, in which Coffin Joe (Marins himself) searches for a women worthy to bear his child. It’s unbelievably excessive. It actually begins by warning the viewer to go home, then admonishes them for not and warns them they will now suffer. As an undertaker, Joe openly flouts the religious beliefs of the day, eating meat on holy Friday, and steals wine from gravesites. He also bullies and torments townspeople who are all terrified of him. During the making of this film Marins apparently split the crew into two, working in 12-hour shifts, swallowed 20 amphetamine pills he bought over the counter and worked for 96 hours straight. He eventually had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalised and reports that after this experience ‘life became a little strange.’
It’s all included in the 4 disc Coffin Joe Collection (Umbrella), which also contains 1967’s even more excessive This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. Again Joe is out to further his bloodline, which he does by kidnapping a bevy of beauties and putting them through sadistic tests to determine who is worthy. Whilst Joe cuts off people’s fingers, pokes them in the eyes, stabs them with Jesus’ crown of thorns and enacts all manner of antisocial behaviour, his treatment of his harem is something special. Waiting till they’re sleeping he sends an army of tarantulas and studies their reactions. Apparently the actresses weren’t particularly thrilled with the spiders crawling over their near naked flesh so Marins got them drunk It was at this point he began his infamous screen tests which usually involved spiders, snakes, scorpians, or being buried alive He wanted his women brave, or at the very least not wanting to quit everytime he brought in a box of spiders or waved a gun around.
1969’s Awakening of the Beast is truly something else, a tome to be whispered about in tones usually reserved for the likes of Arrabel or Jodorowsky. It’s very much a product of the 60’s focussing on the drug problems in Brazil, but it is incredibly surreal and highly sexual. It was banned in Brazil for 20 years. You can see why in the first 3 minutes. It’s amazing, self indulgent and demented.
Of course the Coffin Joe character would continue to appear in subsequent film and TV projects, as mentioned in the doco The strange world of Mojica Marins. Yet Marins never really capitalised on the phenomenon, living a frugal existence in Sao Paulo. In fact during the 80’s he was reduced to making porn, creating a sensation for some coital action with an actress and a German shepherd. Participants, including Marins seem to view this experience with an almost whimsical nostalgia, but then that’s the world he exists in, defying and challenging social conventions, disturbing and unsettling his audience with gleeful abandon. And though he has something like 14 unfinished projects, in 2008, some 29 years after he had completed a previous film, he made Embodiment of Evil, the official third part of the Coffin Joe trilogy. It’s not in this collection but the stills look, well, wrong.