Bright Lights Film Journal

José Mojica Marins Meets the Spirit of Ed Wood in the World of Coffin Joe

Thank you, Spirit of Ed Wood Blogathon, for giving me an excuse to write about José Mojica Marins, the Brazilian screenwriter, director, and star of films every bit as quirky and original as those of the incomparable Wood.

To be fair, Marins combines Wood with equal parts William Castle and Luis Bu̱uel, even Рin the color clip above Рa bit of Mario Bava.

Like Wood in Glen or Glenda, Marins plays his own lead. Just as Maila Nurmi, one of the stars of Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, created a performing alter ego, the goth horror hostess known as Vampira, Marins created a performing avatar, the mad undertaker, Coffin Joe (Zé do Caixão in the original Brazilian Portuguese). Marins’ films, like Wood’s, are steeped in the atmosphere of the American horror movie – everything from the Universal Studios classics to the Monogram cheapies – but with a distinctly Latin American flavor.

However, Marins does not just make horror movies. As Wood combined documentary with wild experimentation in Glen or Glenda, Marins combines documentary with outrageous experimental filmmaking in the LSD-inspired Awakening of the Beast (1970). Marin’s characters often address the camera directly, just as Lugosi did in Glen or Glenda, or Criswell in Plan 9 and Night of the Ghouls. In his role as Coffin Joe, Marins spouts a blasphemous Nietzschean philosophy with so much conviction that it’s hard to tell where Marins leaves off and Coffin Joe begins.

The two clips above are from This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967), the second film in what has come to be known as “The Coffin Joe Trilogy.” The first clip with its cardboard walls, fake props, and phony-looking makeup, falls squarely into Wood territory – Coffin Joe and his mute assistant are like scientist Lugosi and assistant Tor Johnson in Wood’s Bride of the Monster. To the extent it works, it’s because Marins, like Wood, takes this stuff seriously.

The second clip from the same film – at a point when black and white suddenly bursts into lurid color – is something else entirely. Marins as Coffin Joe is dragged to Hell where the Devil, not surprisingly, is also played by Marins. Joe, the murderous undertaker, wanders in terror until he is confronted by the damned souls of the women he has wronged. There are no subtitles. None are needed. This is eight and half minutes of pure visionary filmmaking.