Directed by Jose Mojica Marins
Synapse Films, Blu Ray, DVD combo
Who is Coffin Joe? This dark figure has been shrouded in rumor and myth since the late sixties. He is the perfect cult horror movie star. Back then all anyone had ever seen were a few stills in magazines and books. People talked about him in reverence all through the seventies. Did you see the Coffin Joe movie? Have you seen both of them? There’s more? He fit the cult hero mold so perfectly because so few people had actually ever seen one of his films. You had to be in the know and then some. Jose Mojica Marins made At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul in 1963 and the sequel This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse in 1967. These were made in Brazil, South America and had no releases I’d heard of in the US like many Italian and foreign made contemporary horror films. They weren’t shown on late night TV and did not populate all those regional weekly horror host shows. Had they even been available I would imagine most local programmers would keep a safe distance from them. Coffin Joe takes no prisoners and he crosses taboo lines with delightful abandon. It wasn’t until sometime in the mid eighties that these film began to show up on VHS here. Now over forty years later, Coffin Joe is back.
The film begins with a nice slow build up reminescent of many Hammer and Universal horror films. Coffin Joe has been locked up in prison for many years for unspeakable crimes. About a dozen guards fill the narrow hallway and hesitently make their way to his cell. They are afraid. The first you seen of him is his long fingernails curling out from the narrow slit in the steel reinforced door. Then we get a close up of his face. This guy has a real commanding presence. His acting style is over the top and then some. He seems equal parts Bela Lugosi and some low life sideshow magician. In no time Coffin Joe is back out on the streets. He dresses in a top hat, cape and the kind of suit that Mr. Hyde would wear to terrorize the turn of the centruy London streets. He is clearly an anachronism. A creature from another time. Bruno, his faithful hunchback servent helps set him up in town and has four recruits more eager than freshman pledges at Delta House ready to do his bidding. Director Jose Marins blends so many classic horror movie genre staples that its almost funny. Almost, that is until you hear and see his plan. Coffin Joe needs women. He needs to test them to see if they are worthy to bear his children that he may achive immortality. He spouts a line of bizarre philosophy with a fire and brimstone intensity. Before he even begins his quest we meet the whacko priest who has to send Coffin Joe to eternal damnation for killing his father. He prepares for this by hooking cables from a car battery to his body and giving himself a good jolt now and then. Electric Flagelation? When the local sheriff finds out his lawyer wife helped him get out of prison he and his deputies beat her senseless with clubs. These are the good guys?
We’re not ready for Coffin Joe to get started yet. First he has to have a few visitations from the ghosts of past victims. In a twisted page from Charles Dickens’ Chirstimas Carol, Joe is haunted by a woman he raped seen hanging from a tree in the middle of a destered forest at night. She is suspended by her neck high above him. She is rendered in deep contrasted shades of black and white. She gazes down and admonishes him. He cowers. After so much poverty row style filmmaking this sequence is simply beautiful to behold. The way the apparition sways in the air, her presence literaly piercing through the night is wonderfully frightening. Coffin Joe’s second vision has literaly clawled her way up through the earth and spews live crawling spiders from inside her.
Now Coffin Joe is ready to begin.After a quick montage of Joe’s devotees grabbing local women from cars and dance floors he assembles everyone in his well equipped basement that would be the envy of the Tower of London gang The level of depravity that Coffin Joe heaps upon his victims is truly appaling. The gore score is off the charts. Most of the actsare done with practical effects. There are inscets, worms, grubs, cockroaches and snakes liberally distributed. He uses knives, long meat hooks, whips and thumb screws. There is a scene with a woman and a pig that reportedly had much of the crew fleeing the set. That sounds like publicty but you hear about it almost casually in one of the extras. When you see the sequence you’ll wonder just who in the hell cold conceive of such a thing, much less get actors and a crew to actually film it. The level of realism and intensity in this section of the film is staggering and will leave many people slack jawed and wide eyed. Coffin Joe has waited forty years to show you how he can get it on and man has this guy learned a few new moves since we’ve seen him. There is an extended psychedelic dream sequence that rivals the one in Billy Jack for out and out loonacy. It even looks like one of those artful Japanese film versions of Hell. However I don’t think Marins is influenced by either. He seems driven by his own vision. Toward the end there is a nicely shot bit in an amusement park and that the final scene is very clever indeed.
VIDEO – Synapse’s treatment of the film elements and 1:85.1 transfer have resutled in one spectacular looking Blu Ray. Black levels are deep and sumpteous. Colors saturate with a very pleasing resonance. Detail is strong. Many of the nightime exteriors have theatrical looking landscapes in the distance that are clearly visable and appreciated. Colors are exagerated and the tansfer does them justice. This is a visual treat and an exceptionally good looking Blu Ray.
AUDIO - The disc offers both a 5.1 and a stereo mix in the original Portugese languagewith English subtitles. There is no dubbed version. Some of the interiors’ creepy sound effects take advantage of the multiple speaker’s soundstage, but by and large this is a very front heavy show. Dailogue while sometimes threatening to distort is always clear and understandable. Not being able to understand a word of the language I was none the less enthralled to hear Jose Mojica Marins’ voice booming the Coffin Joe lines. He really did remind me of the way Bela Lugosi got into his over dramatic line readings. His accent and booming voice suit the character so well.
EXTRAS – There is a theatrical trailer and some footage taken from The Fantasia Film Festival Premiere. Neither is any great shakes. However the making of featurette is terrific and filled with some great stuff. All dialogue is subtitled. We get to see the first ghost hanging from a tree calmly smoking a cigarettte as the crew preps the shot. We see that these black and white apparitions were painted green and orange then shot for black and white. An old school trick. We hear Marins complaining that he has to get his lines right since they ae shooting in sync sound and not dubbing like he used to do. He makes the great comment that some cockroaches are more difficult to work with than stuck up actors. The whole crew calls him Moijica and shows him a reverence relfecting his true cult status in Brazil. He even has a TV show there.What a character. And he says those Fu Manchu nails are real, too! The DVD carries the same features.
OVERALL - I was unexpectedly captivated by this film. While the filmmaking bounces around from poverty row simplicity to art house flourishes, Jose Mojica Marins’ devotion to his character is really to be commended. The old school style build up worked wonderfully and while that middle section was hard to take I finished the film a bonafide Coffin Joe fan. The Blu Ray looks gorgeous. Make no mistake, this film is misogynistic, very violent and will be offensive to those used to mainstream fare. If you want a taste of exploitation fare with a real different twist, say hello to Coffin Joe. Cautiously recommended for most, but highly recommended for Maniacs.
Film – 8
Blu Ray – 9