Some tour-de-force filmmaking, deeply attuned to, and stimulating for, the senses, comes from a shoestring budget and the imagination of filmmaker and actor José Mojica Marins, whose onscreen altar ego Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe) terrorizes, torments, or haunts the "inferior" men and women with whom he shares the screen. Playing a crude Nietzschean Übermensch with some local color, Mojica's great feat here is that his altar ego seems to be both supernatural and (uh) human, all too human. But what makes the Coffin Joe films interesting is not primarily what they depict (which is interesting) but how they present it: Mojica's technique is a grab-bag of effects but all judiciously used, a good taste for severe and vulgar tricks, if you will.
À Meia-Noite Levarei Su Alma / At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1963) ... Zé looks for a bride who will provide him with the perfect son. He won't stop at maiming or murdering anyone to achieve his goal. This is, to me, the simplest and most basic of the four here, but it's taut and provocative. Probably also the funniest one mentioned here--Zé wants to eat meat on Holy Friday, and when his shocked wife says he might run into the Devil, he replies, "If I see the Devil, I'll invite him to dinner."
Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver / This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967) ... Coffin Joe continues his quest from At Midnight... and in true sequel fashion, it's "bigger and better," as well as more diffuse, looser. There's a fantastic vision of Hell--the more one would try to describe it on paper, the more ridiculous it would seem, and it is ridiculous, but it's such a fascinating, visionary collision of Id and Ego, as so much of Mojica seems to be ...
O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão / The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968) ... The first one that I saw, and I was taken quite by surprise. Three segments. A powerful episode in which some thugs try to violate a dollmaker's four beautiful daughters, a silent episode of love and obsession, and a final episode in which a professor tries to show the limits of love and reason to a horrified husband and wife. If you're not convinced of Mojica's artistry by the end of the first episode, with its distinctive and powerful design, then you probably will never be a convert.
O Exorcismo Negro / The Blood Exorcism of Coffin Joe (1974) ... This is probably my favorite of the four I've seen, though Filipe commented here not too long ago that its reputation in Brazil is not so favorable. 'Self-reflexive' is just the tip of the iceberg (take that Charlie Kaufman!), as Mojica plays himself, beginning the film with a press conference where he discusses his plans to make his next Coffin Joe movie. He'll work on it as he vacations at a friend's home in the country. So when he goes to his friend's country home, what happens but something quite unusual regarding 'fiction' and 'reality.' (Y'know, I've never seen Wes Craven's New Nightmare but I feel like I should now...)
This is, of course, not even attempting to get into the specifics of Mojica's barebones but sometimes brilliant mis-en-scène which would require repeat viewings and more careful attention on my part. This is just a new fan's reaction, and nothing more. But I'll add my voice to the chorus that praises this filmmaker!
I must see soon Finis Hominis / The End of Man (the NYPL's video is damaged!) and Awakening of the Beast. Brazilian friends and video cultists: I know Mojica did many more films than this, so what else is around and how can I see it? And is this box set worth getting? If you don't yet know Coffin Joe, happy viewing ...