Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Coffin Joe Collection

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region: Region 0 PAL, NTSC
Video: 1.33:1 / 1.66:1
Audio: Portuguese 2.0 Mono with English subtitles
Rating: R
Duration: 349 mins

Prepare to descend into a world of depravity and horror with the ultimate tour guide of terror Coffin Joe. With his trademark top hat, black cape and talon-like fingernails he is a horror icon amongst gore fans. A recognised inspiration to the likes of horror maestros Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and George A. Romero (Dawn Of The Dead) Jose Mojica Marins' creation remains a frightening icon in a most sepulchral and terrifying world.

Video: Full Frame 1.33:1 
Audio: Portuguese 2.0 Mono with English subtitles
Duration: 81 mins
Director: Jose Mojica Marins
Starring: Jose Mojica Marins, Magda Mei, Nivaldo de Lima, Valeria Vasquez

SYNOPSIS: At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul s the first true horror film ever made in Brazil. In search of the perfect woman to bear him a child Coffin Joe, unholy undertaker and evil philosopher, terrorizes a small religious community and will go to great and gory lengths to ensure that his bloodline is carried on for all eternity.

FILM: This is it, the film that introduced the world to the very first Brazilian horror icon - Ze do Caixao aka Coffin Joe, a fiendish undertaker in a small Brazilian village. He is single mindedly obsessed with the continuation of his bloodline through procreation and stands alone as an outspoken atheist in his village. Marins cuts an imposing bearded figure in a black cape, top hat, eerily long fingernails and a diabolical laugh and he is feared by the villagers.  The film begins with a spook-a-delic montage of macabre imagery and a  gypsy who warns theatre goers to leave before it's too late, it's creepy stuff that actually raised a few hairs on my neck. Ze is married to Lenita, a kind woman but she is infertile and unable to bare children which means she is less than nothing to Ze who murders her with the assistance of a poisonous tarantula, making it look like an accident. He then turns his attentions towards his best friend's wife Terezinha. Antonio (Terezinha's fiance)  invites Ze to visit a gypsy fortune teller who predicts that Antonio is doomed and will never marry Terezinha. Furthermore she tells Ze that he'll suffer the torments of Hell. Outraged by their so-called fortunes they call the gypsy a fraud but that same night Antonio is murdered by none other than Ze who wants Terezinha for himself.  With no evidence against him Coffin Joe is free to pursue to  Terezinha whom he beats into submission before raping her, whatta guy, right? The violence must have been shocking to theatre goers at the time no doubt. The woman curses Ze for ruining her and swears the she'll will kill herself and return to take Ze's soul to Hell. The next day she is found hanging in her home. It's about this time that the local coroner Dr. Rudolpho begins to suspect Joe is the perpetrator in the recent spate of violent deaths and he is dispatched by Joe who gouges out the physicians eyes with his extra long fingernails, it's pretty gruesome stuff and again must have been outrageous at the time, this was several years before George A. Romero shocked audiences with Night of the Living Dead (1968). Not long after Joe meets a young woman named Marta and while escorting her home runs into the gypsy who foretold of Antonio's demise. She warns hims that at midnight the souls of those he murdered will come for him. Shaken by the gypsy Ze encounters an apparition and a trippy funeral procession of souls who are carrying his body to Hell. While trying to escape the ghastly spirits Ze winds up at the mausoleum where both Terezinha and Antonio are buried. Out of his mind and on the edge of insanity Ze opens the coffin lids and see's that the eyes of his victims staring at him,  their faces riddled with maggots and decomposition. Moments later the villagers discover Ze's corpse in the mausoleum after hearing his chilling scream. The film ends as the local church bells announce the stroke of midnight while Ze's corpse lies on the ground staring upwards, his eyes hideously bulging in a macabre death stare. Wow, this is a very creepy and dark story filled with brutal violence that might seem a bit tame by today's standards but is effective nonetheless. Mojica as Ze is over-the-top and quite theatrical, almost Shakespearean in his intensity and it totally works. Verdict: 3.5 outta 5

DVD: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is presented in it's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Portuguese 2.0 mono audio with optional English subtitles. The print not what I would call pristine with scratches and dirt but it is quite watchable. 

- The Making of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul: Interview with Director (10:00) - a  great 10mins interview with Jose Mojica Marins intercut with scenes from the film covering the origins of the films, filming the scenes in his own studio, the extreme low budget nature of the film and it's divisive reception. Brief but very interesting. Conducted in Portuguese with English subtitles.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:49)

Video: Widescreen 1.66:1 (non-anamorphic)
Audio: Portugese 2.0 Mono with English subtitles
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Jose Mojica Marins
Starring: José Mojica Marins, Nadia Freitas, Tina Wohlers

SYNOPSIS: This Night I Will Posses Your Corpse (1967) is the no holds barred sequel to At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. Once again Coffin Joe wreaks havoc on the living and continues his agonising odyssey for the perfect bride. Aided by a hideous assistant, he embarks on a spine tingling campaign of terror that will lead him straight to hell.

FILM: The direct sequel to At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul takes place a short  time after those events. Somehow Ze has improbably not only survived the events of that film but has escaped imprisonment for those crime due to a lack of evidence. Note to self; commit crime in 1960's Brazil or 1970's Italy. Returning to the village he immediately continues his quest for the "continuity of the blood" on a larger scale with the assistance of a newly introduced "igor" type character named Bruno.  They kidnap six sexy ladies from the village and proceed to test their worth as a suitable mate by submitting them to a horde of tarantulas in their sleep. Of the six a woman named Marcia is the only one to display courage during the initiation and is chosen to give birth to Ze's supreme son. However, when Marcia witnesses the remaining five women being subjected to a deadly snake pit she is unwilling to submit to Ze's sexual advances which occur in full sight of the others deaths, not the most romantic setting Ze. In a scene that recalls of the death of Terezinha and the fateful gypsy from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul the last surviving victim of the snake pit curses Ze with words that will continue to haunt him. Strangely Ze chooses to let Marcia leave and does not seem to fear her going to the authorities. Ze and Bruno dispose of the women's bodies in a nearby swamp. It's not long before another young beauty catches his attention, this time it's Laura, the daughter of a Colonel who also falls for Ze and a romantic relationship ensues which puts him at odds with the Colonel's muscle-bound thug named Truncador. Later when Ze discovers that one of his victim's had been pregnant with child he is shattered. While he's alright with rape, torture, murder and kidnapping he has a real soft spot for the kids. That night still broken-up over the death the unborn child Ze envisions a strange black figure who bleats like a wounded goat. The gaunt figure drags Ze kicking and screaming from his bed to the cemetery where hands erupt from the graves and pull Ze underground to Hell. This is the only color sequence in the film and Marins vision of Hell is a technicolor nightmare bathed in green, blue and red lighting. It's a cavernous place where souls are embedded in stone and tormented by Satan's minions and the air is filled with hysterical screaming and what sounds like a shrieking monkey. Ze is shocked when Satan appears in his own image and awakens seemingly even more sure of his convictions despite his nightmarish vision. He is ecstatic to discover than Laura is pregnant with his child but the excitement is short lived for Truncador and a trio of henchmen attack and beat the snot out of Ze who then escapes into the swamps and takes revenge upon the men that includes a sweet axe to the skull. While Ze escapes more or less unscathed Laura and the baby die from birthing complications shortly after. Ze is devastated and takes her body to a mausoleum where he angrily taunts the Lord and the Devil to show themselves, to prove that they do exist. Almost on on cue a bolt of lightning strikes a tree which falls onto Ze. After pulling himself free of the tree he decries the incident an act of nature not of divine intervention. At this time in the village Marcia still grieving the deaths of the other five women, drinks an arsenic cocktail and confesses the Ze's crimes to a physician while on her death bed. A lynch mob is formed whom persue Ze. A priest discovers the injured Ze in the swamp and offers salvation but Ze refuses and flees only to be shot in the back by the husband of one of his victims. Wounded he tumbles down an embankment into the pond where he again screams to the Lord to prove his existence when suddenly the skeletons of the victims previously dumped in the lake rise to the surface. Relenting Ze begs the Priest for salvation and sinks below the surface while accepting the Lord into his heart in an unforgettable finale. Wow, this is just a great watch. Perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be but a powerful film that firmly cements Marins as a true film auteur. Verdict: 4 outta 5

DVD: This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse is presented in it's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio (non-anamorphic). The print is far from pristine with scratches and grit but looks slightly better than At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964). The black levels are quite good and the technicolor nightmare vision of Hell looks pretty great. The only audio option is Portuguese 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles.

- The Making of This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse - Interview with Director (8:11) 
Another brief but informative interview with Marins intercut with footage from the film. He discusses the trilogy of films which at that point had yet to be fully realized, this was prior to the filming of Embodiment of Evil (2008). He also discussed converting an old synagogue into his studio for the film, working with amateurs, spiders and snakes and his concept of Hell as seen in the film.
- Theatrical Trailer  (2:12)

Video: Widescreen 1.66:1 (non-anamorphic)
Audio: Portuguese 2.0 Mono with English subtitles
Duration: 93 mins
Director: Jose Mojica Marins
Starring: Jose Mojica Marins, Mario Lima, Lurdes Vanucchi Ribas

SYNOPSIS: Awakening of the Beast is an abject journey into fear and paranoia. Told in a series of mind-bending tales of abuse and depravity it is the closest thing to a real acid trip ever put on film - featuring four drug addicts in the throes of a sinister LSD experiment. Are they simply under the influence of drugs or is it more likely they are under Coffin Joe's malevolent spell?

FILM: Awakening of the Beast is a film by Jose Mojica Marins that was banned for over 20 years by the Brazilian Censorship Board for it's outlandish sex and drug use. Despite efforts to trim the contentious materials Marins refused to acquiesce to the censors demands that so much be cut from the film that according to Marins it would be little more than a title sequence. So the film was banned and sat on a shelf until 2001. While the film does feature Jose Mojica Marins and his alter-ego Coffin Joe it is not considered to be party of Marins Coffin Joe trilogy and is more a tripped out anthology of fucked-up vignettes intercut with scientist discussing the woes of society and the effects of drug use on young people of the time. The film begins as a young woman is sgooting heroin into her foot in a sleazy looking room. She is encircled by 5 men who star at her hungrily as she undresses and proceeds revlieve herself into a chamber pot, huh? Then a young woman is invited back to an apartment full of counter culture hippe types. She's smokes some grass jumps up onto a desk and lets  the group of men perform oral sex on her, it's all very odd but it gets weirder still when  she allows all the men to give her the stink-finger while they comically whistle the theme from Bridger on the River Kwai until none other than Moses arrives and fucks the poor girl to death with his mighty staff. What the fuck, right? Wanna know more? Alright then. How about a woman who observes her daughter making out with a servant while she sexually strokes a pony or how about a weird People's Court type TV program wherein Jose Mojica Marins as himself must defend his films against a jury of critics. That may have been the strongest sequence in the film as story goes. The film is also self-referential as one of the scientist takes a study-group of drugged-up volunteers to see a screening of This Night I Will Posses Your Corpse and we see the scene of Ze being dragged to Hell which leads to a trippy colorized sequence that recalls This Night... but is more confusing and less interesting in my opinion, though it does feature some butt-ugly martians, so there's that going for it. Awakening of the Beast contains some fleeting social commentary on violence and the ills of drug use but it's unfocused and little more than a  series of disturbing encounters designed to shock which is occasionally intriguing but not nearly as entertaining as At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I Will Posses Your Corpse. Verdict:  2.5 outta 5

DVD: The film is presented in it's original non-anamorphic 1.66:1 aspect ratio with Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio and optional English subtitles. Having been shelved for some over 20 years and never shown theatrically it's no surprise that there's so little print wear here but the image does appear soft at times but not to the point of distraction.

- The Making of Awakening Of The Beast - Interview with Director  (8:23)
Marins claims this is his personal favorite of all his films which surprises me quite a bit, of the handful I've seen this is easily my least favorite. He speaks about the censorship of the films and that the inspiration for the film came from him observing the Brazilian police beating-up a pregnant drug addict who the "disappeared".
- Theatrical Trailer (3:15)

Video: Widescreen 1.66:1 (non-anamorphic)
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Portuguese
Duration: 65mins
Director: André Barcinski, Ivan Finotti

Starring: Jose Mojica Marins

SYNOPSIS: The Strange World Of Mojica Marins reveals the man behind the macabre, who is often referred to as a cross between Russ Meyer and Luis Bunuel and raises complex questions about his bizarre yet captivating approach to filmmaking. Incorporating footage from his films, in-depth interviews with the director, key collaborators and close associates the film explores Marin's often surreal yet always frightening world of darkness and decay.

Film: The Strange World of Mojica Marins is a documentary about the life and times of Jose Mojica Marins whom we know as Coffin Joe. The film opens in a great way as Marins in full Coffin Joe regalia speaking to a large crowd at a public appearance, it's great stuff as the crowd is worked into a frenzy at hearing his words and is a testament to Marins popularity. The film is intercut with footage from many of Marins films (most I have not seen ...yet) and interviews with Marins and his many collaborators, actors and family members. It's good stuff as he recalls the inspiration for the film (a dream), his falling out with the Church as his loss of faith, the difficulty shooting a shoe-string production and the divisive reception his film received in his native Brazil and abroad. He walks the streets of his youth and reflects upon actually living in a cinema for the better part of his young life, you really get a feel for Marins complete love of film here. At the time of this documentary Marins had yet to to direct
Embodiment of Evil (2008) and there are several references to his then incomplete trilogy. The film's brief run time left me wanting more though it was a complimentary viewing after taking in the three previous films in this collection and completely whetted my appetite to seek out more Joe Marins films. Verdict: 3 outta 5

DVD: The films is presented in it's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in Portuguese 2.0 mono audio with optional English subtitles. It's a recent production with a  good looking transfer and sound. Unfortunately no special features accompany this disc.

OVERALL VERDICT: I had just recently watched Synapse's Blu-ray of the 3rd Coffin Joe film  Embodiment of Evil (2008) when this showed up in the mailbox. Great timing, no? That film was my introduction to Marins and it was a true pleasure to go back and watch the the first and second installments of the trilogy here. Umbrella Entertainment have put together a nice collection of  Coffin Joe films here. I'll be nit picky and say a booklet would have been nice and a 16x9 enhancement for both This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse and Awakening of the Beast would have been appreciated but this is a great introduction to the films of Marins nonetheless. Jose Mojica Marins is a true auteur who doesn't often get his due and I highly recommend this set to any fan of fright flicks. 4 outta 5