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You Don't Know Coffin Joe; a Dark Tale of a Horror Movie Icon by Mykki Newton

Updated: Jan 30





He is an intense blasphemer, a Nietzschean-style philosopher, and a homicidal maniac looking for the perfect woman. That almost sounds like a Kris Kristofferson song except for that homicidal last part.


“He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction Takin' ev'ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home…”


-Pilgrim by Kris Kristofferson



Coffin Joe is the demented low-budget creation and alter-ego of legendary Brazilian director and actor José Mojica Marins.



José Mojica Marins


As s child, Marins and his family lived above a movie theater operated by his father in São Paulo, Brazil. That’s how José developed an interest in cinema at an early age. Using an 8mm camera, he made his first film in 1948 at age 12. It was called Judgement Day (O Juízo Final ). He made Crossroads to Perdition (Encruzilhada da Perdição) at age 16 in 1952. By 1964 he reached icon status in Brazil with At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (AMeia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma) which introduced the character with whom Marins would forever be linked…Coffin Joe.



At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)


The Coffin Joe Trilogy is less of a horror tale and more of a cautionary tell about pooh-poohing religion and the supernatural. Coffin Joe learns the hard way at the end of each movie that he cannot dismiss God and diss on the Devil and expect to get away with it. Fortunately for the audience, Coffin Joe always forgets that lesson by the start of the next movie.


“What is life? It is the beginning of death. What is death? It is the end of life! What is existence? It is the continuity of blood. What is blood? It is the reason to exist!”

-Coffin Joe


At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul establishes Joe’s modus operandi. He is an undertaker by trade in a small village comprised mainly of devoted Catholics who cower at Joe’s constant blasphemous rants. Joe believes he will become immortal if he only has a son "to continue his bloodline", so he kills his wife who is infertile. Next, he kills his best friend because he wants that guy’s wife. He beats and rapes her which drives her to commit suicide by hanging.



At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

The inept police aren’t able to pin the crimes on Joe, so he continues to go about his merry way, even after a gypsy witch told him Satan would claim his soul at midnight. Ah…that movie title is making sense now.



At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

In the end, the spirits of Joe’s victims drive him insane. Joe lets out a blood-curdling scream and his eyes bulge out at midnight. The villagers gather around what appears to be his lifeless body now lying on the floor of the mausoleum containing the corpses of his best friend and his best friend’s wife. The villagers think to themselves, “He should have listened to that damn gypsy witch, because now he is dead and Satan has his soul…AT MIDNIGHT!!!!!” The villagers are wrong.




At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

José Mojica Marins’second part of the Collin Joe Trilogy, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver-1967) picks up right where the first one left off. Joe is not quite dead, which is a lot like not quite being pregnant. He simply shakes off his bulging eyes and moves on along, still searching for the perfect woman to bare his male child…much to the dismay of the villagers.




This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

This film was different from the other one, because it was more sophisticated. I used hundreds of spiders and snakes. We were shooting and this big snake started choking the actress, but everyone thought she was only acting. When we noticed that the situation was indeed very serious, we had to jump into the pit and rescue the actress.”


-José Mojica Marins




This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)


For this low-budget sequel, Marins rented an abandoned synagogue and turned it into a studio. He did indeed up his game on this one. Instead of going after one unwilling baby momma, Joe and his disfigured servant kidnap six hot chicks and puts them through a series of sadistic tests to determine which woman would be best suited to bare the fruit of his loins.




This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)


“The actresses became quite used to the spiders and even took care of them and put them in their boxes after shooting wrapped. It was very hard working with snakes and spiders and I remember that some of them escaped and started showing up in the houses close to the synagogue. Our neighbors were very frightened, some even called the police and asked that we be expelled from the neighborhood, but we said we were working hard in the name of Brazilian cinema. Apparently they understood and gave us a break.“

-José Mojica Marins


Of the six kidnapped women being force to take part in Joe’s deadly “America’s Got Talent and Will Have My Baby” competition, one is unfazed by the torment and is declared the winner. She carries Coffin Joe, Jr. in her belly which doesn't end well. Meanwhile, Coffin, Sr. is continuing his murder spree unfazed by the local cops. A kidnapped woman chocked to death by a snake (played by the actress who was almost chocked to death by a snake in real-life) turns out to be pregnant and curses Joe before finally succumbing to the serpent’s kung fu grip. This causes Joe to wig out and dream about going to Hell…a Hell that is in sharp contrast to his black and white print world. This Hell is a vivid cheap color film stock snowy Zombieland of Oz.



This Night I'll Posses Your Corpse (1967)

“After all, who knows what color Hell is anyway? Why can’t I make a Hell of snow? No one has ever come back from Hell to tell us how it is, right? It’s my own private hell. A place I’m sure a lot of people would love to visit."


-José Mojica Marins




This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)


“The Hell sequence was very hard to shoot. We had a lot of problems with the set. We had a lot of dry ice to make fog, and we also had electric wires running beneath the floor to cause small explosions, and people were suffering small electric shocks, especially those crawling on the floor, so when you see me walking on the set, you can notice I’m jumping up and down.


-José Mojica Marins



By the end of this movie the villagers have finally caught up with Coffin Joe and make him pay for his blasphemies and homicides, but in his final moments he turns the tables on them and becomes a born-again Christian before he dies…we think.



This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

“It was the first time we had men and women naked all together on a movie set. We had separate bathrooms and showers, but everybody started taking showers together. It was wonderful. That was a big thing for the time.”


-José Mojica Marins




Embodiment of Evil (2008)

40 years later in 2008, we find out a much older Collin Joe didn't really die and has just been released from a mental hospital. He immediately goes right back to his old ways in the final part of the trilogy titled Embodiment of Evil. He’s still searching for the perfect woman to “continue his bloodline” and make him immortal. This time he has additional help with his quest. Four Coffin Joe fanatics have been waiting for his return so they can serve him and his sadistic obsession.




Embodiment of Evil (2008)

The rest of the story you already know. Joe kidnaps women, blah, blah, blah and yada, yada, yada, but this 21st Century Coffin Joe is far more sexually explicit and quite frankly…gross. Joe cuts off a woman’s buttock and feeds it to her, and that’s enough about that and probably enough about Embodiment of Evil.


Most of the actors in my films are amateurs. I have a problem working with professional actors, because most of them are used to working in only one way and won’t change. With amateurs, I could do things that a professional would never accept. If I wanted some girl to scream in pain, I would twist her finger with a pair of pliers off screen. Sometimes I would shout or explode a small bomb on the set to cause a reaction. Professional actors didn’t like that.


-José Mojica Marins




José Mojica Marins (2019)


José Mojica Marins has produced documentaries, exploitation films, even Westerns, but it was horror that made him famous and his unique creation Coffin Joe a pop culture icon. Coffin Joe has been a supporting character in many other films and music videos. He even has his own series of comic books. It appears his bloody obsession for immortality has finally been satisfied.





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