Directors: Marcelo Motta and José Mojica Marins
Screenplay: Rubens Francisco Luchetti and José Mojica Marins
Cast: José Mojica Marins (as Zé do Caixão)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #32
Coffin Joe, aka. José Mojica Marins, is very much a "psychotronic" film figure. The term defines a certain type of cinema that can be found in the mainstream but is much more a term of for the outskirts of movie making. Admittedly the term comes from an English speaking origin, which could easily label a legendary Brazilian film maker and cult figure as inherently psychotronic, the bogeyman that went to become a pop culture figure with his elongated fingernails, top hat and cape, and Marins' tremendous fire-and-brimstone voice, if the term was used as an anthropological one meant to explore and celebrate other cultures. However if you define the term as its meant to regardless of the country of origin of the films, usually low budget genre films which have a distinct uniqueness to them, Marins work is a perfect example of it because of how he became a legendary figure in his home country only to find himself a transgressive figure against a dictatorship in the later sixties and seventies, how he'd made the films on very low budgets with inventive methods to create them, and how frankly bizarre and lurid quite a few of them are.
Also once you leave the key Coffin Joe trilogy - At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1963), This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967) and Embodiment of Evil (2008) - which are already distinct and likely to surprise and awe new viewers to them, the other films that can be found from his filmography easily manage to raise the bar higher in terms of their strangeness but with acquired taste a necessity. A combination of even more lower budgets, the effects of censorship of his work by the dictatorship that took over Brazil at the time, and his potpourri of sexploitation and horror into the late seventies leads to some very peculiar work that won't appeal to everyone. Admittedly part of this includes a willingness to repeat footage and combine shots into collages that takes on an extreme in some of his films, exemplified by a film like The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasure's near ten minute prologue, before the narrative proper starts, of Coffin Joe appearing out of a coffin to introduce the story. Back in the day I hated the film for this type of elongation of scenes, but there's a delirium clearly Marins' own, despite the fact this is technically directed by Marcelo Motta too, with the prolonged and repeated shots of a mass ritualistic dance by scantily clad women to summon him from the coffin, what can only be called troglodytes (actors in black clocks, fake plastic masks and breasts, one with a literal plastic front bottom) squeal on in horror at the dancing taking place.
The film proper is more of a prolonged mood piece, an obvious plot signposting its twist at the beginning and far more concerned with being a strange cacophony of sex and chills with religious undertones. Marins is a mysterious owner of an inn, sinister with cryptic monologues which he tells to guests as he selectively chooses who gets what room - a giant clan of hippies, a gigolo and his older female lover, four gamblers planning to play cards, a homeless man who gets brought in as Marins snubs a rich man and is given bikini wearing women to fed him fruit and wine amongst those introduced. The inn is immediately in another realm at night, a faceless clock on the wall in the entrance area with oppressive colour lighting everywhere. Clear warning is to be found when one of the employees, an older woman, sees a wallet on the floor only for it to turn, by jump cut, into a spider as she stares at it crawling with bafflement. It's blatantly clear what the twist is but you'll be more concerned with the concoction of images that take place onscreen instead.
The result is a barrage of raggedly edited moments of characters in various activates that last for most of the film, including a lot of the same shots of the hippies dancing in a room and getting naked that'll bring out an entirely new perspective of the female form for viewers, juxtaposed with Marins' eyes glaring in extreme close-up. He constantly repeats moments until a new piece is added each time, either depending on your mood padding at its most ridiculous to be feature length or a hypnotic loop. By the end the religious and ominous undertones become more intense as the music blares at unsuspecting viewers, the supernatural nature of the inn already known and getting more macabre as it goes. Barring one sequence which is problematic depending on how it was actually done - when animals like mice and crabs suddenly flinch and spasm on their backs whenever Marins passes them through the corridors - it becomes a slow, absurdly soporific experience which can be utterly frustrating at points but madly compelling, more so as the extremely damaged print the UK DVD release used adds to this with its scratches and pops, an eclectic blend of choir chorus, psychedelic and exotica in the score exceptionally diverse and keeping you on your toes.
The really interesting aspect of the film beyond this, alongside the rest of Marins' career, is how he was a purveyor of lurid horror and sex films yet he has an obsession with morality and religion that borders on incomprehensible at times with some of the monologues in The Strange Hostel... but sound utterly sincere and are fascinating to hear and read in the subtitles. Before the story of the inn even starts, you get a diorama of the cosmos, with asteroids on strings, as Marins narrates about the infinite nature of the universe, a bizarre tangent in a film that'd get even more bizarre later on in its short eighty or less minutes length, its existence still compelling in the oddly mystical weight it adds despite how vague his proclamations can be. The Coffin Joe trilogy is the best example of Marins' philosophising as he has a fascinating character he plays in Joe - a nihilistic atheist influenced by the creator's issues with the hypocritical nature of religion but also an extreme parody of masculinity in Joe's obsession with continuing his bloodline by having a child in any way he can - but the scraggier films in his career like The Strange Hostel... are just as curious in their attempts at profoundness. Especially as the ending of this film manages to be incredibly macabre and eerie, from the scene of a naked woman wandering out the inn through the gates to salvation to its final shot, his obsession is still as compelling to see here as with the more successful attempts.
Abstract Spectrum: Mindbender; Psychotronic; Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
This will not be the last time Marins will be on this site - ever since he created the mind-blowing hell sequence in colour in his black and white sequel This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse he decided to try to top that sequence and did so many times after. His tendency later on to almost stitch his films together from what materials were available, as far as create a film (Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978)) from censored scenes with a new narrative around them the most extreme example, added to this habit of creating mad moments of cinema alongside the repetition and juxtapositions. His fingerprints and vision are smothered on this particular film even if others created and wrote it with him in the centre. To paraphrase Carlo Carrà's The Painting of Sounds, Noises, and Smells (1913), you won't find " the rrrrrreddest rrrrrrreds that shouuuuuuut" like you find here in Marins' films, from a woman's lips let alone the coloured lighting in his films, anywhere else barring animation or Kenneth Anger. The music is as unpredictable as the visuals as Marins' personal mythology is vague and yet compelling at the same time, able to get away with the same shot of actors rolling around naked on a bed because on how it feels like you've just taken a narcotic and are feeling the effects as the scenes play out. It's an extremity of genre cinema that's absolutely not for everyone, scratched to shit in the version available to me with burnt on subtitles and muffled sound, but is unique in how it whittles down sex and horror to its basics, a wallet left on the floor suddenly turning into a spider turning out to be the sanest moment in the entire film.
Abstract Tropes: Repeated Footage; Monologues about the Cosmos and Fate; Sexploitation; Wanton Nudity; Excessive Coloured Lighting; Supernatural; Eclectic Music Cues
An acquired taste of the most extreme but utterly compelling.