The horror genre is one dominated by a wide range of auteurs. Some of them can be a little, uh, eccentric. America produced Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Canada gave rise to David Cronenberg. Italy nurtured Dario Argento and Spain gave birth to Jes Franco. None of them, however, is quite like Brazil’s Jose Mojica Marins, better known to the masses as Coffin Joe.
There’s no one quite like him. Maybe Ed Wood if you replaced the angora sweaters with some actual talent. Otherwise he’s one of a kind. While still very much alive, Brazilian journalists Andre Barcinski and Ivan Finotti have created this loving, strangely moving, and often hilarious retrospective of the man’s life and career.
For those unfamiliar with his work, his extremely productive heyday lasted from around 1963 to around 1984. He wrote and directed extraordinary low-budget classics with titles like “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” and “Tonight I Will Eat Your Corpse”. He starred in them, too. Lamenting Brazil’s lack of its own horror icon to compete with the Frankensteins and the Draculas of the world, Marins grew out his fingernails, put on black clothes with a top hat and a cape to torment his cast as the purveyor of evil known as Coffin Joe. He became a huge hit. So much so that he always dressed in character whenever appearing in public. Even at 70, despite hair loss and weight gain he still looks like that.
Marins’ films first gained cult status in the U.S. during the 1990’s. This film also document how the filmmaker became the most censored in Brazilian history, due as much his liberal quantities of gore and perceived depravity as to his occasional veiled political content. Brazil’s Military Censorship Board (among other things) took its toll on his career, leading to his gradual decline. This brings me back to the weird parallels between Marins and Ed Wood. Like Wood, Marins had his own company of actors and crew of, uh, varying degrees of talent. With both men, alcohol also contributed to the negative momentum that brought the filmmakers into porno. Marins one-ups Wood though, by resolutely destroying his career with a little number called “24 Hours of Explicit Sex” that featured a controversial scene involving a dog.
While Coffin Joe has made little impact on the big screen since, his ever-cantankerous presence can still be felt. Marins is a very important figure in world horror. Thankfully, before he died he got to see this documentary on himself that is every bit as strange and wonderful as he is.