"You must always be appearing. If you are not appearing, you are disappearing" -- José Mojica Marins, "the murderer of Brazilian cinema"
October 28, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

In October 1963, the Brazilian movie writer, director, and actor José Mojica Marins was having trouble with a movie he was working on, and fell asleep at the dinner table. He dreamed of being dragged to a cemetery by a creature in black, who showed Marins his own tomb stone, with the dates of his birth and death (YT: 9 min). That dream lead to the creation of Zé do Caixão (anglicized as Coffin Joe), the main character in Brazil's first horror movie, and Marins' first big movie success: À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma (YT: 1hr 22min w/English subs) (At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul). This was one of the up-ticks in a life of some ups and lots of downs for the South American Roger Corman or Ed Wood (NYT), and the birth of a character who would become Marins public persona.

Born on March 13, 1936 (Friday the 13th), he grew up above the theater his father managed, so he was inundated with film from a young age. Marins shot his first film at age 10, and first made money with films as a teenager, making silent 16mm films with friends and distributing the films to small local venues. His first full-length film was released in 1958, and was possibly the first Brazilian Western: A Sina do Aventureiro (low quality YT clip) (Adventurer's Fate), in which he wrote, directed, and played a character.

Marins struggled with the strict Catholic state that was Brazil in the 1950s and 60s, along with the fact that the film industry relied heavily on government funding, and censorship was stricter following the 1964 military coup, leaving him to work with small budgets and limited creative options. Even his attempt at making a film that depicted the Catholic Priests in a positive light (Meu Destino em Tuas Mãos (low quality YT clip) - My Fate/Destiny Is In Your Hands, 1961) was rejected, and Marins was told not to make films.

Marins also wrote and directed his fifth film, but he had not intended to play the lead role of Zé do Caixão until he had trouble finding someone to play the role, due to the controversial nature of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. Marins became , a role he would return to in six of his 38 movies made to date: Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver (YT in parts w/Spanish subs) (This Night I'll Posses Your Corpse, 1967) (YT: trailer with subtitles), featuring a day-glo frozen hell with snow made of popcorn (YT: 8min interview on the making of the movie); O Ritual dos Sádicos/O Despertar da Besta (YT: in 11 parts, missing parts 2 & 3) (Awakening of the Beast, 1969/70); O Exorcismo Negro (YT: in 10 parts) (The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe, 1974); Delírios de um Anormal (YT: in 9 parts) (Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind, 1978, including clips of what was previously too risque for censors); and finally
Encarnação do Demônio (YT trailer) (Embodiment of Evil, 2008), which was the official end-piece of the trilogy that started with At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, then followed up by This Night I'll Posses Your Corpse. Warning: it's really vivid/ violent/ gory/ gross at points.

The new movie features a young Zé, played by Raymond Castile, a Coffin Joe fan in the suburbs of Missouri. In 2004, he posted a gallery of Coffin Joe pictures, where he played Coffin Joe. The gallery was seen by someone involved with Embodiment of Evil, and Castile was asked to play Zé in some flashbacks. Of course he said yes, and he wrote about his experience in Diary do Demonio. Castile also made a short fan film: The Blind Date of Coffin Joe (Zé do Caixão).

For a man considered to be Coffin Joe, you might think that's not a lot of Coffin Joe movies, considering there are 32 other films by Marins. If you're looking for samples (or in some cases, complete movies) online, YT user DeleriosoAnormal has you covered, and all with English subtitles. If you're looking for more, YT user Luckfinger has a playlist with 29 clips, all in Portuguese, and a few clips have English subtitles. But if you're looking for more Coffin Joe in English, turn to the Coffin Joe Wiki, covering everything from his fingernails to the comics and album covers, and of course the films (adult, horror, drama, western, shorts and early years, as well as documentaries on Coffin Joe / José Mojica Marins).

Documentaries? Yes! Along with the three "making of" interview clips, there are a few more documentaries online: The Universe of Mojica Marins (1978, in 3 parts; wiki), and Demons and Wonders (1987, in 6 parts; wiki) are both short(ish) Brazilian documentaries without subtitles. There is also the newer, subtitled docu: Damned: The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins (YT: pt 1 of 7; wiki). In 2009, following Marins' newest film, VBS.tv made a 30 minute, two-part interview/documentary (warning: graphic at times). Also in 2009: Marins was invited to Montreal's Fant-Asia Fest for a screening of his latest film, and his appearance was filmed and put online (part 1 of 4).

Zé do Caixão also had a new TV show in 2008: O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão (The Strange World of Coffin Joe), a monthly interview program on the Brazilian TV.

Bonus: Jon Spencer, Heavy Trash, and Coffin Joe, performing You Can't Win
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
DUDE. I love Coffin Joe. What a treasure trove! Thank you!
posted by Occula at 12:32 PM on October 28, 2011

Wow, great post. Congrats.

Let me preface that by saying I'm Brazilian. So I've basically grew up watching his movies. I've seen a bunch of them, and you would probably find them good if you're the sort of person that finds "Plan 9 from Outer Space" good. Which is a polite way of saying that his movies are shit. It's bad camp. And he's not even an interesting character like John Waters, who makes shitty movies but at least is an funny, charismatic dude. He's just plain bizarre and grumpy and I've never saw an interview with him where he had, I don't know, a funny or curious anecdote to share (if there are any on the interviews above please point them out to me, because I'd like to see them).

So, summarizing: not a big fan.
posted by falameufilho at 2:07 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fascinating post. I don't think Roger Corman and Ed Wood are very similar at all, though. Wood was an incompetent, unintentionally hilarious train wreck (btw, the book Nightmare of Ecstasy is much better than the cute-ified movie.)

Corman is a genius of commercial cinema, pretty much the only person outside of Pixar who can has figured out how to make successful movies day in and day out. Many classic sequences of film, not to mention major talents on both sides of the camera, have come out of his studio.
posted by msalt at 2:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

falameufilho - interesting, I've only heard of him in the past month, so my knowledge gathering has been short and intense. Thanks for sharing some Brazilian perspective. By the way, what has he tried to do beyond movies (and related music, comics, and TV)? I thought I read that he attempted to get involved in politics somehow.

In regards to the Corman and Woods comment, that's a reference to the linked New York Times article, which says
"admirers see Mr. Mojica ... as a kind of South American Roger Corman, a B-movie auteur whose films contain references to Nietzsche and Dante. Others view his work as pure camp — more in the tradition of Ed Wood"
The crazy low-budget style is interesting, especially paired with his newest film, which had a (comparably) huge budget. (Corman also worked on really low budgets, even shooting two movies on the same set to stretch his dollars -- I think his biggest budget and riskiest film was The Intruder, on which he lost money).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:38 PM on October 28, 2011

I believe The Intruder was, in fact, the only Corman film that didn't turn a profit.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:45 PM on October 28, 2011

According to Wikipedia, it recently went into the black because of money paid in the making of a recent documentary. But I understand how it'd be a money-loser, vs his other films. Serious movie about a race-baiter trying to instigate riots with a charismatic monolog vs creature features, sci-fi flicks, westerns, gangster films and a few scares? Fluff films every time.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:57 PM on October 28, 2011

Russ Meyer's The Seven Minutes was a similar story; known sleaze merchant tackles a Big Issue and everybody stays home.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:37 PM on October 28, 2011

Corman also worked on really low budgets, even shooting two movies on the same set to stretch his dollars

He did that during the one month when I worked at his studio in 1990. They built an expensive castle set for some movie, which really aggravated him, so he asked the receptionist (an aspiring filmmaker, we all were) if she could write a script for a castle over the weekend, and she did, and he filmed it.

I took over as receptionist, then after a week or two got a set PA job on "Watchers 2: The Outsider." The original "Watchers," a major studio toxic-waste-monster movie starring Corey Haim, had died a horrible death at the box office ($940,000) despite a big advertising campaign. Corman called them up the Monday after opening and said, "How much do you want for the sequel rights?" "Are you kidding? It bombed. I dunno, $50." or whatever.

So he slapped together a cheap sequel with all new "talent" and rushed it out to ride the paid media. Not only did he make money, but the few reviews I've been able to find say it's better than the original.

Better yet, I was the same size as the guy who played the monster (in a used monster suit), so I was the B-unit title monster (in the back-up rubber suit). When we shot the climactic showdown on a rooftop set, the fancier suit (with the piped in oxygen and moving jaw) wasn't working right. Corman was going crazy over the delays, so he said "Put the kid in the rubber suit and let's go!" So I ended up playing the monster in half of the final scene, until they got the good suit working, waving my arms like the Creature From the Black Lagoon and going "Rarrr!" until they told me to stop vocalizing because people were cracking up, and they were going to dub it anyway. I even got a bit of a review -- "Arrow In the Head" said the guy in the monster suit "overdid the 'acting' bit to a ridiculous degree. The man lumbered around and waved his arms as if he was on stage playing for the back row or something. Pipe down, Junior!"

I got paid a half-case of Michelob for extra acting work. Corman did so well he put out Watchers III and Watchers Reborn later on.
posted by msalt at 10:27 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

epic post, thanks! I'm brazilian too and i love coffin joe!

his movies are not campy at all, they are brilliant. crude and bizarre, yeah, incoherent, yeah, but dude's beyond all that, a mad genius freak of the highest caliber.

in the 70s working-class people were genuinely scared of him, not of his movies but of him, as the entity "zé do caixão". there was mad censorship, he took shit to the next level

also who's the heathen from vice who's calling his fingernails "fake", hipster credentials revoked effective immediately.
posted by Tom-B at 1:35 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

what i'm trying to say, mojica used horror, incoherence and surrealism to push the boundaries of what could be said under brutally repressive censorship, his work is heavily political
posted by Tom-B at 1:36 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

It never occurred to me that incoherence could be a smart strategy against censorship. We're spoiled in the US.
posted by msalt at 5:57 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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