Screen Reviews
Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe

Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe

directed by José Mojica Marins

starring José Mojica Marins, Nadia Freitas

Arrow Video

For fans of the macabre, few names are as revered as Zé do Caixão, known in the English speaking world as Coffin Joe, the creation of Brazilian low-budget filmmaker José Mojica Marins. Marins wrote, directed, and starred in a series of films throughout the 1960s featuring this character. Appearing in myriad films, TV, and comics, it became difficult to differentiate the creator and his creation, as Coffin Joe became a counter-culture folk anti-hero in the military governed world of 1960s Brazil. Although often featured in books, until the 1990s the actual films were difficult to see in the US. Once released, Coffin Joe became an essential part of any fan of weird cinema. In recent years, the films had begun to fade, but have been drug back into the light with a lavish new box set from Arrow Video.

Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe, Arrow Video
courtesy of MVD Entertainment
Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe, Arrow Video

Coffin Joe as a conventional film character exists mainly in two films: At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964) and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967). In both of these films, José Mojica Marins plays Coffin Joe, the undertaker in a small Brazilian town, who terrorizes the community with his sadistic cruelty and hunts for the perfect woman to bear him a son. The bearded Coffin Joe is a striking if somewhat old fashioned villain decked out in a black suit with a cape and top hat. Joe also sports long, curling fingernails. The whole package suggests a being who has existed for far longer than 28 years — the age Marins was when Coffin Joe first appeared. You sense that in some form Coffin Joe has always been the undertaker in this town.

The plots of these two films are basically just a loose framework for Marins to unleash scenes of violence, torture, and monochromatic gore. Some of the highlights include women having hordes of live tarantulas crawling all over their negligee-clad bodies, a man getting his fingers chopped off in a poker game, floggings, and in the highlight of the entire Marins canon, Coffin Joe literally gets dragged to hell, in This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. When Joe enters hell, the screen explodes into garish color, and despite (or because of) the film’s poverty-level production, the entire sequence is made more surreal and memorable than if they had budget for quality effects and production design.

After these films, Coffin Joe would continue to haunt movie screens but in a far more meta and less-conventional way. Throughout the next few years, Coffin Joe would appear as a host of omnibus horror film, The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968). Marins would appear in multiple roles as himself and Coffin Joe, an in-canon fictional character whose power was infecting the real world. It becomes easy to see that the line between Marins and his creation is a hazy one at best. It also should become clear that Wes Craven took more than a small bit of inspiration from Coffin Joe/Jose Mojica Marins in his Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises. As the films continue, it is increasingly difficult to know where the line between Coffin Joe and Jose Marina actually is. The character becomes increasingly less grounded and becomes more of a symbol of evil than an actual being. The films, which started as fairly conventional horror films, become less and less lucid as they go, until they devolve into garish but perversely delightful, filmed acid trips.

After years of sporadic and often dubious home video releases, Arrow Video has resurrected the specter of Coffin Joe with an impressive Blu-ray box set: Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe. The collection comprises 10 films, spanning six discs, all loaded with extras, including documentaries, interviews, and audio commentaries from Marins and cult film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Carlos Primati, and André Barcinski & Ivan Finotti. Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe is a wondrous tribute to a true maverick and indelible personality in weird cinema.

Arrow Video


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