Thursday 23 November 2023

Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe (1964 - 2008)

"Excellent Box Set That's a Fine Tribute to a Unique Film-Maker"

You can't help but admire José Mojica Marins, the one-man Brazilian horror film industry who started off by making more mainstream fare, but when he was criticised for being too violent he decided to just go even further in that direction. With nothing to live up (or down) to, Marins created a body of work that thoroughly deserves the description 'extreme'. Arrow has put together a box set of ten of his films, many of them from new 4K transfers. These films are all low budget, most are over the top, and a couple may threaten to drive you insane. Overall, though, I came away from these films not just admiring but actually having some degree of affection for Mr Marins, who, as well as starring in all the films on here, gets to appear as his 'real' self in a couple of the extras on these discs. So let's take a look at what's in Arrow's set:

Disc One: 

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

This is where it all took off - both the iconic Brazilian horror character of Ze do Caixao aka Coffin Joe and the career of charismatic / visionary / raving mad writer-director-star José Mojica Marins. Coffin Joe is the local undertaker in a small Brazilian town. He deliberately flouts religious convention, believes himself to be superior to most men, and his one over-riding obsession is to continue his bloodline. Unfortunately his wife is unable to bear children so he kills her (kudos to actress Valeria Vasquez who allows a massive spider to crawl all over her) and pursues the girlfriend of his best friend Antonio, bashing Antonio's head in in the process. Joe gets his comeuppance for being such a complete and utter bastard but not before he's done in more victims, delivered a few raving monologues to camera, and gurned for Brazil as he beats people senseless.

There's no denying the vigour of Marins' film, which is professionally shot and edited, features some horrible murders, and an impressive, fully-formed 'villain you love to hate' in Coffin Joe with his top hat and murderous pointed fingernails. The film only runs 84 minutes but there's so much in it that's intense and delirious that it's actually quite enough, and that final shot is a winner in the annals of horror cinema.

Arrow's transfer is a 4K restoration and looks fantastic, and there's an archival commentary track from Marins in Portuguese with English subtitles. Extras kick off with Lindsay Hallam's 12 minute piece on Coffin Joe's Sadean Underworld in which she discusses the character in terms of being both Sadean libertine and Nietzschean superman. 'Damned - The Strange World of Coffin Joe' is a 65 minute documentary in which Marins himself discusses his life and career. As such it's a fascinating insight into the man himself and his career. Other members of his cast and crew join in as we go on and eventually the whole thing goes in a rather strange direction. Animal lovers be warned that this film contains both bullfighting and dog bestiality and yes, I was wondering quite why this stuff was in there too.

Otherwise we get some fragments of movies - BLODDY KINGDOM (1958) for which the sound has been lost but with a Marins commentary, ADVENTURERS' FATE (1958) a virtually unwatchable (in terms of print quality) Western and MY DESTINY IS IN YOUR HANDS (1963) which again is really rough in terms of print quality. There are also two trailers for AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL. 

Disc Two: 

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

A direct sequel to AT MIDNIGHT which kicks off showing us that Coffin Joe actually survived the climax of that film, although he did need a prolonged stay in hospital, over which the distorted and frankly weird opening credits play. Once out he is now very much a figure of fear in the small Brazilian town where he lives, and Marins parades along the main street like the horror star he had very much become by this stage. Joe still wants the perfect son and kidnaps six women to torture with spiders and snakes, the plan being that the one who can withstand all this abuse is best suited to sire his offspring. However, one of his victims is already pregnant and before she dies she curses him with the title of the film.

The highlight of THIS NIGHT is undoubtedly Joe's kidnapping by a stick-thin Dr Freudstein-like figure that drags him down to hell. While most of the film is shot in black and white the hell sequences are in colour and, as if we were in any doubt, feel very much like that creation of a lunatic Bosch-inspired imagination. Like AT MIDNIGHT it's a bit old and bit creaky but if you can suspend your disbelief this is weird, disturbing stuff from a unique talent who deserved his horror star status, both as actor and writer-director.

The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968)

Coffin Joe doesn't actually appear in this one, unless you include the opening title sequence that's accompanied by the 'Coffin Joe Song', a piece of music that sounds more like a communist party marching anthem. Instead STRANGE WORLD is an anthology picture consisting of three very good short stories. The Dollmaker tells the tale of four men who attempt to rob the title character and get up to no good with his four daughters, with horrific results, Obsession is about a balloon seller whose obsession with a young woman goes beyond her death, and finally there's Ideology which stars Marins himself and is a piece of nasty conte-cruele-style horror that could have been taken from the most lurid of the shudder pulps. In other words it's excellent. Marins plays a professor with some daft theories that result in his taking a couple on a tour of his own personal cannibal sex orgy torture dungeon. Frequently eye-opening, it would be shame to spoil the horrors Marins presents to the audience here.

Extras on disc two include archival commentaries by the director on the two films, as well as trailers for both. You also get an alternate ending for STRANGE WORLD. Miranda Corcoran provides a 17 minute video essay that attempts to link the character of Coffin Joe to both Freddy Krueger and US TV horror hosts of the 1950s. But by far the highlight of the disc, and indeed one of the highlights of the entire set, is Stephen Thrower's 88 minute 'Eccentric of Cinema', the main body of which looks at the life and career of Jose Mojica Marins up to and including THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE, with his subsequent work added as a footnote. It's fascinating stuff, well presented as always, and a must watch. 

Disc Three:

Awakening of the Beast (1969)

Four drug addicts are given LSD as part of an experiment and experience a journey into the very strange world of Coffin Joe. That's about it for plot with this one. There's a lengthy black and white build up to the colour hallucinatory sequence which features things never seen before (and possibly afterwards) in cinema. The buildup itself features the addicts, involved in a number of bizarre situations. Because AWAKENING is essentially a series of whacked-out vignettes some may find it hard going and you may want to have another, more 'normal' film lined up for afterwards to bend your brain back into shape. But if you fancy watching it again there's an archival director's commentary to keep you company.

Finis Hominis / The End of Man (1971)

Jose Mojica Marins plays the title character (of course he does) in yet another  oddity. A naked man emerges from the sea and, once someone has given him a trippy costume complete with turban, begins to perform magnanimous acts. A priest dubs him 'Finis Hominis' (though I'm still not quite sure why) and soon his acts of benevolence are known nationwide and are inspiring a cult. There are some asides into the lives of people who are up to no good, which Mr Finis then sorts out, and the by now familiar ranting monologues from Mr Marins. As with AWAKENING there's an archival commentary to go along with this one, too.

Other extras include the irrepressible Guy Adams discussing the work of Marins from a neurodivergent point of view (18 minutes), Alexander Heller-Nicholas discussing the gender politics of Marins' work (18 minutes), trailers, and alternate opening titles for AWAKENING that includes a different song. 

Disc Four:

When the Gods Fall Asleep (1972)

Or, Finis Hominis Rides Again! Did anyone really need a sequel to FINIS HOMINIS? Well here it is anyway, as our messiah-like figure escapes from his mental institution (admittedly they don't seem to be trying to hard to keep him there) and wanders Sao Paulo bringing harmony to gang warfare, resolving gypsy fights, and doing what Marins does, if not best, then certainly an awful lot, delivering long pontifications on the nature of life and death. No commentary this time, but if you manage to get through this one without using the fast forward button give yourself a pat on the back.

The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976)

The best thing about this one is the title (and it really is a great title). Otherwise this is a supremely disappointing affair given the plot and the fact it's from the same man who gave us THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE. People turn up at Coffin Joe's boarding house and indulge in acts of decadence that are considerably duller than in Marins' previous films. If you can stick with the film you'll soon guess where it's going, which is fun but it's really lacking the distinct oomph of those earlier movies.

Extras-wise run, don't walk, to Raymond Castile's short film THE BLIND DATE OF COFFIN JOE. It only lasts eight minutes but if you've watched the set in order so far this is very funny, with a spot-on performance of the title character by Castile. Otherwise you bet Virginie Sélavy on Marins and the surrealist movement (25 minutes), Jack Sargeant on Marins' filmography, talking about eyeball violence and more (13 minutes), Brazilian film-maker Dennison Ramahlo on his olife with Coffin Joe (11 minutes) and finally, a warm and touching portrayal of Marins at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, with special guest appearance by Michael Stipe of REM.

Disc Five:

Hellish Flesh (1977)

One of my personal favourite Marins films, INFERNO CARNAL eschews rambling philosophising and random happenings for a tightly plotted conte cruele in the Pan Books of Horror style. I covered the plot of this one in much greater detail eleven years ago here. Suffice to say Arrow's transfer is sparkling and the subtitle translation is rather better this time around. 

Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978)

There are a lot of clips from previous Coffin Joe movies in this one, which serve not so much as padding as a lunatic odyssey through the hell dimension of the mind of Jose Mojica Marins. The minimal but fun plot has a man believing the character of Coffin Joe is real and is after his wife. Marins, playing himself, is called in by psychiatrists to help, which he does. Or does he? 

Because of the amount of repetition from previous movies this is either the film to watch last (and possibly on fast forward) or first but with something psychologically therapeutic on hand for after. It's actually a lot of fun and the final shot had me smiling, but I've watched this box set through in just a few days so perhaps the spirit of Coffin Joe was affecting me a bit by this time.

Extras include an archival commentary track. Film-maker Andrew Leavoid on Marins' filmography (31 minutes), and a 15 minute piece from Kat Ellinger linking Marins' films to both Nietzsche and the gothic.

Disc Six:

Embodiment of Evil (2008)

The Coffin Joe trilogy concludes with this final entry, made 40 years after part 2. It's best watched after the first two films and has call backs to them. Coffin Joe is released from prison after forty years (we get a flashback to see how he survived the end of part 2) and sets about his usual business, looking for a woman to sire his child and proving in the process (as if it were needed) that Jose Mojica Marins was still the reigning king of torture porn in 2008. If you can stand the extremity of some of this (and why are you here if you can't?) then EMBODIMENT OF EVIL is actually a pretty good film and provides a very satisfactory end to the saga, and to the box set.

Extras include a commentary track with co-writer Dennison Ramalho and producer Paula Sacramento. Ramalho also features on two interviews, one recorded especially for this disc and which is about the film (37 minutes) and another from the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, conducted by Zoom, which runs to a whopping 85 minutes and discusses his career relationship with Marins.

There's also a 32 minute 'official' making of and a 13 minute sanity-wrecking 'experimental' making of - you have been warned. Add to that 12 minutes of deleted scenes (with commentary), VFX and storyboard footage and footage of the premiere at Fantasia and this disc is a fitting tribute to Marins' final Coffin Joe movie.

INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE is a six-disc Blu-ray box set that has now had its release date pushed back to Monday 15th January 2024

Friday 17 November 2023

Ghost Stories For Christmas Volume 2 (1974 - 2006)

Just under a year following their release of Volume One of the BBC's GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS which I reviewed here, the BFI are bringing out Volume Two, which completes the annual series of stories that went out under that title, and includes some worthwhile extras as well.

Before I get into the detail of what's on the discs, it's worth saying upfront that if you're a fan of the BBC Ghost Stories then this set is going to be a must have. The picture quality of each episode is a major step up from previous DVD releases and each of the original series stories comes with an excellent new commentary. If that's all you need to know then you can order this with confidence, but if you need a bit more, then read on. 

The set consists of three Blu-rays, the contents of which are as follows:

Disc One: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974) and The Ash Tree (1975)

The set kicks off with a personal favourite M R James story, filmed in and around Wells Cathedral and featuring the attempts of Michael Bryant's crusty academic (aided by Paul Lavers as his assistant) to locate a hidden treasure by decoding Latin clues (one of the most delicious elements for us classics students back in the day). Needless to say his efforts are rewarded with something horrible that comes to get him.

The Ash Tree is David Rudkin's adaptation of M R James' tale of the witch Mrs Mothersole (Barbara Ewing) who takes a terrible revenge on the family of the witchfinder who executed her using spiders that live in the tree of the title. Previous DVD transfers have always been too dark but the BFI's new version finally allows us to see the special effects spiders very nicely and they're a perfectly creditable TV screen monster of the period. 

Abbot Thomas comes with a commentary track from Simon Farquar which is full of facts about the episode, including cast, crew, locations, and even the music score. The Ash Tree's commentary is by Jon Dear working from notes by Johnny Mains and is also excellent.

Other extras include director Lawrence Gordon Clark introductions to both stories (20 minutes in all) and a 16 minute video essay from Nic Wassell that points  out all kinds of interesting details about all the Christmas Ghost Stories. 

Disc Two: The Signalman (1976) and Stigma (1977)

Time to switch from M R James to Charles Dickens and Clive Exton. The Signalman stars Denholm Elliott at his twitchiest as the title character with a terrible sense of foreboding, while Stigma is an original story filmed in Avebury (location of the previous year's Children of the Stones) about the unleashing of a vengeful witch's spirit.

The commentary on The Signalman is from Jon Dear with special guest Mark Gatiss, while Kim Newman and Sean Hogan provide commentary duties on Stigma, with kudos to Mr Hogan for managing to get a PSYCHOMANIA reference in there.

Extras on disc two are limited to two Lawrence Gordon Clark introductions (19 minutes in all)

Disc Three: The Ice House (1978), A View From A Hill (2005), Number 13 (2006)

The main feature on disc three is The Ice House, John Bowen's weird Aickmanesque story of the strange events that befall a man (John Stride) when he attends a health spa. It's very different from the way the series started off in 1971, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact both The Ice House and Stigma are superb examples of the television horror short story form for the late 1970s and it's a shame that there weren't more like them.

Kim Newman and Sean Hogan are on hand for another excellent commentary, and this time the special features consist of two of the more recent Ghost Stories For Christmas - A View From a Hill and Number 13, and you also get the 2000 version of Christopher Lee reading Number 13 as well. The set also comes with a booklet that includes new essays on all of the classic original series episodes on the set. All top quality stuff

GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS VOLUME TWO is out in a three disc Blu-ray set from the BFI on Monday 20th November 2023

Monday 13 November 2023

Feed Me (2022)

After winning the Best Film award at 2022's Grimmfest, Richard Oakes and Adam Leader's FEED ME is getting a digital release from Bingo Films.

When the wife of Jed Freeman (Christopher Mulvin) is found dead following a long battle with bulimia nervosa, Jed plunges into deep depression. He meets the bizarre Lionel Flack (Neal Ward) who has an even more bizarre proposition for him - that Jed be freed from his grief by allowing Lionel to eat him. 

Allegedly based on a true story that took place in Germany in 2002 (one that was spoofed in an episode of Channel 4's The IT Crowd several years ago), FEED ME is being advertised as a 'cannibal comedy horror', but don't come to this one expecting it to be an easy laugh a minute endeavour. The character of Flack is so broadly drawn and portrayed that he comes across like a sitcom version of Jeffrey Dahmer, which would be fine if the rest of the film's tone was in keeping with that, but it isn't.

Flack lives in unbelievable squalor and his house is decorated with pictures of his naked mother, giving it a John Waters by way of Pete Walker feel. His proposed victim has undergone severe emotional trauma such that the tone of the opening act is grim indeed. Grimmfest's programme notes compare FEED ME to DELICATESSEN and HOTEL POSEIDON, while the directors were previously responsible for HOSTS. All of those are rather better (or perhaps better judged) than what's on offer here. However, if you do fancy something that's going to leave you confused as to just how you should respond to it, or if you like movies that make you wonder what on earth you just saw, then FEED ME should be added to your watch list. Here's the trailer:

FEED ME is out on Digital from Bingo Films on Monday 13th November 2023