Brazil’s national boogeyman, José Mojica Marins, better known as Coffin Joe (Zé do Caixão) has been making cult horror movies for decades. Scaring generation after generation with his portrayal of an evil undertaker, Coffin Joe began his career in 1963 with the low-budget success At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, followed by This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. We quickly spoke to Joe’s son Crounel Marins, who has closely followed his father’s career for 40 years and was able to shed some light on the mastermind behind the horror.
FilmLinc.com: The film This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse was made during the military dictatorship in Brazil. Were there problems with censorship? What was it like making a horror movie at that time?
Crounel Marins: Yes, we were at the beginning of the dictatorship, which was not the culmination of the persecution of Brazilian artists. At this point the film had to be edited, so there were cut scenes, but that’s it. My father would receive his big blow from censorship at the end of the 1960s, with Ritual dos Sádicos (“Awakening of the Beast”), which was totally banned. It had a very large impact on my father’s life and career. The main reason for the cuts was the film’s subject, which spoke about the effect of drugs on the human being. At Brazil at the time, with the group of military rulers, we did not have this problem. With This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse the situation was different – there was no politically “threatening” subject. Doing horror at the time in Brazil was very unusual, but his first film, À meia-noite levarei sua alma (“At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul”) was a big success. People wanted more, and he immersed himself more deeply in horror, going through hell itself, seen in a very picturesque and original way. Note that the film is in black and white and hell is in color. In addition to the problem of cost (given that he worked with a very low budget), reserving color negatives for hell has many implications!
FilmLinc.com: This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is the second part of a trilogy. What were the principal aesthetic influences?
Crounel Marins: My father is a fan of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Hitchcock and Orson Welles. He was raised watching films in the ‘40s and ‘50s, as my grandparents managed and lived in a movie theater. He always had a soft spot for the fantastic, but he avoids talking about a preferred aesthetic. He talks often about Charlie Chaplin and his sad vagabond, saying he admired the expression in his eyes. Note that in my father’s films there are many details of eyes.
FilmLinc.com: Almost 40 years later, how does Coffin Joe see his work from this time? As an active filmmaker, does he think his work has evolved? Have his interests stayed the same?
Crounel Marins: My father believes that old classics (not just his own films) have merits over more modern films, which often exclusively bolster themselves with special effects. The mood is not the priority and the director’s work suffers. My father is proud of what he calls “handmade cinema,” and that’s how he describes his films. Regarding the “horror” genre, he says it will always exist, since man fears the unknown – especially death. In this sense, his interests, the principal focus of the best screenplays and films, have not changed.