(O Estranho Mundo de Ze do Caixao)
Director/Story – Jose Mojica Marins, Screenplay – Rubens Francisco Luchetti, Producers – Jose Mojica Marins & George Mishel, Photography (b&w) – Giorgio Attili, Art Direction – Brutus. Production Company – Iberia Filmes
Jose Mojica Marins (Professor Oaxiac Odez)
The Dollmaker:– Four men learn about an aging dollmaker who is rumoured to keep all his money in his house. They burst into his house looking for it but when they do not, they decided to force their way with the dollmaker’s four beautiful daughters. However, a far worse fate awaits them. Perversion:– A socially backward balloon-seller pines after a beautiful woman. She is then stabbed by a jealous rival on her wedding day. The balloon-seller sneaks into the chapel to be with the woman’s corpse. Ideology:– Professor Oaxiac Odez appears on a tv discussion panel to contemptuously denounce the idea of love. He invites one of his questioners to his place to observe an experiment. When the man and his wife arrive, the professor shows them the subjects he keeps prisoner where they have been reduced to orgies, sadomasochism and cannibalism. The professor now locks the couple up in cages in an experiment to demonstrate his point.
The Strange World of Coffin Joe was the fourth film as director for Jose Mojica Marins. Marins became a cult figure with his second directorial outing At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964) in which he premiered his trademark character of Ze do Caixao (which translates into English as Coffin Joe) – a demoniac undertaker who despises morality and religion, celebrates cruelty and nihilism, and takes great relish in murdering anyone in the way of his plans. This was of such popularity that Marins made a sequel Tonight I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967). After this, Marins went his own way making a variety of ventures into horror and pornography (see below). These include occasional other films with cameos from Coffin Joe, although Marins did not fully return to the role for 41 years with Embodiment of Evil (2008).
Nestled in between At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and Tonight I’ll Possess Your Corpse, Marins directed one segment of the horror anthology Trilogy of Terror (1968). Taking apparent inspiration from this, Marins next made a full anthology of his own with The Strange World of Coffin Joe. Despite the title, The Strange World of Coffin Joe is not one of Marins’s trademark Coffin Joe films – indeed, there is no Ze in the film, even as narrator (although there are a couple of minutes with an aging Marins that have been edited in to the modern dvd versions but these were not there in the original cinematic release). Rather what we have is an anthology of three unrelated tales that have been sold under the Coffin Joe banner.
The first two episodes, The Dollmaker and Perversion, are negligible. The Dollmaker starts in one direction and ends up with a mildly nasty twist in the tale. Perversion is a dialogueless piece about a poor balloon seller’s obsession with a beautiful woman and how he sneaks into the church to molest her corpse and put a pair of shoes on her as she lies in the coffin. This has a mildly perverse spin – necrophilia and foot fetishism combined – but is not nearly as twisted as it sounds. A theme of sexual desire and perversion is a common thread that runs throughout the film. The first episode, for instance, takes a great delight in showing the four men raping the four daughters before the tables are turned on them.
The main problem with these first two stories is that they lack the demoniac presence of Jose Mojica Marins. The Coffin Joe films are driven by his piercing malevolence, his rantings about the futility of morality and religion while devising a series of cruel fates for his victims. Without the sheer virulence of Coffin Joe in them, either story collapses into crudely directed and not terribly interesting pieces where the only thing that seems to drive them is a lingering on sexual perversions and lusts.
This however is remedied by the third episode Ideology, which features Marins and back on form. He is not playing Ze do Caixao/Coffin Joe but someone called Professor Oaxiac Odez, an academic of undefined discipline who is Coffin Joe in all but name – he has Ze’s trademark beard and long fingernails and still raves about morality and nihilism while celebrating cruelty and sadism. The episode is extraordinary for when we finally arrive at the professor’s home where we see a series of tableaux with Marins’ prisoners engaging in orgies, being tortured on racks, a matronly figure wandering through wielding a whip, unfaked scenes of needles being poked through skin, cannibalism, acid thrown in a beautiful woman’s face, and the couple locked up in cages and starved while Marins stands around reciting Bible verses. This was all quite strong stuff for 1968 when Western cinema was only just getting used to seeing nudity on the screen.
Ze do Caixao/Coffin Joe has made appearances in several other films including Awakening of the Beast (1970), a pseudo-documentary on sexual perversion in which Marins appears as himself and as Coffin Joe during drug hallucinations; Black Exorcism (1974), a meta-fiction in which Marins appears as himself and finds family and friends haunted by his Coffin Joe alter ego; and Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978) made up out of leftover scenes from the other films in which Marins plays both Coffin Joe and himself. Jose Mojica Marins’ other genre films include:- an episode of the anthology Trilogy of Terror (1968); the surreal The End of Man (1971) about an enigmatic stranger and its sequel When the Gods Fall Asleep (1972); The Strange Hotel of Naked Pleasures (1976), Hellish Flesh (1977) and The Plague (1980).