Saturday, June 11, 2011


Directed by André Barcinski & Ivan Finott

Though somewhat short on length (an extra 15 minutes could have been devoted to some uncovered/glossed-over periods) and rather cheaply shot on video, this documentary provides an excellent overview on the life and career of Jose Mojica Marins, with a heavy emphasis of course on the films of his most famous creation, the charismatic and primal undertaker Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe, the onscreen alter-ego of Marins himself, who went on to become an icon of Brazillian horror cinema and something of a folk hero to the people of Brazil itself.

Via interviews with regular early collaborators such as actor Mario Lima, screenwriter Rubens Lucchetti (whose house resembles a library, with its labyrinth of shelves harbouring neatly stacked movie and pulp magazines), editor Nilcemar Leyart and cameramen Virgilio Roveda and Isaac Floor – as well as input from his aunt Conceircao and son Crounel – The Strange World of Jose Mojia Marins traces Marins’ life as a poor youth growing up in an old movie theatre in Vila Anastacio, an environment which naturally helped develop an intense love of – nay, obsession for - cinema, through to his early filmmaking efforts like the 1958 western The Adventurer’s Fate and 1961’s My Destiny in Your Hands, to the creation and popularity of Coffin Joe. After finding himself under heavy fire from police, politicians and censors in the late-sixties, Marins subsequently struggled to fund projects throught the 1970s, eventually turning to alcohol for solace and hardcore pornography to pay the bills, in a decline which eerily mirrored that of American filmmaker Ed Wood. However, unlike Wood, Marins was able to pull himself through his tough times to enjoy the rennaisance and cult status which his early films received when they were finally released in the US by Something Weird Video in the early 1990s

Of course, Marins himself is also interviewed at length, wandering around his small apartment cramped with videos and 16mm film cans, showing off his bound collection of Marvel comic books (and dismissing Batman because of the perceived homosexual connotations he had with Robin), and visiting the studios and cinemas of his youth (all of which have been sadly turned into decaying parking lots or garages). Laconic and enthusiastic, and often clutching a cigarette between his long-nailed fingers, Marins reflects back on a career that was creatively rewarding but financially disastrous, discussing his filmmaking techniques (which often involved ingesting substantial amounts of amphetamines to make it through long shooting sessions, and ‘testing’ the resolve of his actresses by having poisonous snakes and spiders crawl over their often naked bodies), and the aura of superstition that often hung over his productions (highlighted by the sudden deaths or serious illnesses of several of his actors and crew members).

Some of the most revealing moments in The Strange World of Jose Mojia Marins are provided by the rare archival footage which the filmmakers have uncovered, including his visit to a Spanish horror film festival in the early- seventies (accompanied by his big, black and bald bodyguard Satan) and an amazing sequence from 1980 where Marins – in full Coffin Joe regalia – conducts an acting class to a large auditorium full of students. Whipping his students into a frenzy as he commands them to imagine that they are aboard an airliner that is about to crash, Marins directs the crowd with the fervour of a revival tent preacher, sweat dripping down his face as his pupils convulse wildly as if in the grip of an exorcism. Incredible stuff, which goes a long way in helping to cement the Coffin Joe myth.

The Strange World of Jose Mojia Marins is available as part of Umbrella Entertainment's 4 disc Coffin Joe box-set.

Review Copyright John Harrison 2011


Note: The above review was originaly written for the New Zealand website DVD Holocaust. Check out more of my reviews (posted under the name 'The Graveyard Tramp') on their website at: