Brazil’s first horror film also introduces the character Ze do Caixao. Ze do Caixao or Coffin Joe as he is often referred to, is a small villages local mortician, and a very evil man. Just how evil you might ask? For starters he has no respect for religion, he attacks and murders those that would stand in his way and he claims that all that he wants is to find the perfect woman to bring him a son into the world.
Director: Jose Mojica Marins
Starring: Jose Mojica Marins, Magda Mei, Nivaldo Lima
“A woman who can’t bear a child needs no care!”
Long before people had nightmares about Freddy and were scared to go into the woods lest they run into Jason Vorhees there was Ze do Caixao. Ze do Caixao is the main character in Jose Mojica Marins 1964 film At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, a dream like film that spawned a couple of actual sequels and then sent the character of Ze do Caixao into a cult status in his native home of Brazil.
Ze do Caixao made his appearance here in the states after the company Something Weird began to release some of his films; there are a lot of films that contain the character. When Something Weird released the films though they changed the characters name from Ze o Caixao which roughly translates to “Joe of the coffin” to simply Coffin Joe and soon people began to take notice, so much in fact that almost forty years later Jose Mojica Marins finally released the third part of his planned “Coffin Joe trilogy”.
There are a lot of stories surrounding the film one of the most infamous is an incident in which Jose Mojica Marins actually pointed a gun at his crew and told them to continue to work; later Marins would say that the gun was actually a prop. Other stories surrounding the film are that Marins sold his house and car to finance the film and that the entire movie was filmed inside of a small studio space, this leads to another story about the crew being arrested for cutting down trees so that they could make a forest inside of the small studio. This wouldn’t be Marins first run in with the police, although later on his career the police began to recognize him and actually played roles in some of his later films. One of the most infamous stories however is that Marins originally wasn’t supposed to play the part of Coffin Joe, it was only after the original actor quit that Marins put on his best suit and dawned the infamous top hat that would become part of Brazil’s pop culture for the last forty plus years. When asked what inspired the character Marins usually will relate a story about a nightmare that he had in which he was being dragged through a cemetery by a man who looked resembled what would become the character of Coffin Joe.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul starts off in a very dated and “spook show” fashion, complete with an introduction by a gypsy who warns the viewer not to watch the film. The gypsy in the introduction also plays a key part in the film as it progresses, becoming quite the annoyance to the character of Coffin Joe.
The film simply follows Joe around and lets the viewer see just what kind of man he is. His appearance is quite strange since he wears all black complete with a cape and a top hat. Coffin Joe’s finger nails are also very long and his eyes change whenever he becomes enraged. The film was made on a very tight budget so a lot of the special effects like when Joe’s eyes change were actually done by hand. When At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul starts to get going the first thing a viewer will notice is the level of violence and gore that the film brings to the table, keep in mind this was 1964 it would be another five years before George Romero infected the world with Night of the Living Dead. The level of violence the issues that were touched in the film of course had the Brazilian government concerned and Marins has had to fight with the censorship boards for most of his career.
Coffin Joe is the mortician of a small village and the townsfolk really don’t care too much for him. Joe isn’t just strange looking he is also very vocal about the things he believes in, or should I say doesn’t believe in. Joe has no respect for religion and in a brilliantly filmed scene he eats lamb during the holy day when one isn’t supposed to eat meat. I say brilliantly filmed because once again keep in mind the film was made inside of a small cramped studio and the scene portrays Joe sitting at his window watching as everyone walks by and laughing, even when the priest stops to say a prayer by the window.
Coffin Joe is married at the beginning of the film to a woman named Lenita. Lenita and Joe do not get along quite well and there is a reason for it, Lenita can’t bear Joe a child which is the one thing he truly wants in the world. Since Lenita cannot give Joe the child he wants he decides to kill her by having a spider bite her, in the later movies featuring the character of Coffin Joe spiders and snakes play a huge part in Joe’s tortures. With Lenita out of the picture, and the authorities having no clue that Joe was involved, he begins to make passes at his friend Antonio’s wife Terezinha. Terezinha doesn’t welcome such advances and informs Joe that Antonio is the only man for her.
Joe is invited by Antonio to visit a fortune teller so that he can see what the future holds for him and Terezinha. The fortune teller is the gypsy from the introduction of the film and she tells Antonio that a tragedy is going to occur and that the two will never be married. Joe once again starts to speak his mind about how the supernatural is just as silly as Christianity to him; he goes on a lot of rants. The gypsy warns Joe that the supernatural is nothing to take so lightly. True enough to the gypsies words however Antonio is murdered by Joe in a rather violent bludgeoning and drowning sequence, again this was made in 1964!
After Antonio is murdered Joe decides to buy a gift for Terezinha in the form of a small bird. After giving her the gift Joe begins to once again try to seduce Terezinha, but she will have no part of it. After Terezinha resists Joe begins to beat her so that she is literally helpless while he rapes her, again do I have to state this was in 1964! Joe isn’t above just beating and raping women either, in another scene when a bar patron loses a gamble Joe chops off a good chunk of the man’s hand with a broken bottle in order to get the money owed to him.
The movie goes on its natural course until the Day of the Dead when Joe meets a woman named Marta. While walking with Marta they once again run into the strange gypsy woman. The gypsy tells Joe that she had warned him and on the night of the Day of the Dead all of the ghosts of those he has wronged will come back to get their revenge. Joe once again laughs in the face of needless superstition and once again goes on his way, at the strike of midnight however Joe will find out exactly just what kind of trouble he has gotten himself into.
Jose Mojica Marins would of course follow up At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul with the equally as disturbing This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. It would be several years, around forty to be exact, before Marins would once again return playing the character of Coffin Joe with the recently released Embodiment of Evil. Each of the films simply seems to follow Joe on his quest to find the perfect woman to bear him a son, with some pretty torturous results.
The character of Coffin Joe went way beyond the trilogy of films however. In Brazil the character has almost taken on a Crypt Keeper kind of likeness with its own line of comic books and films that feature “the strange world of Coffin Joe”. Even today Marins struggles to complete the series of films he has always had envisioned in his head because of funding, yes his movies are becoming popular but studios would rather make a quick buck releasing some of his older films than funding a new one. This really is a shame because even though Marins has no formal training in film making his movies are respected by other Brazilian directors.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is only the tip of the ice burg when it comes to the strange world of Coffin Joe. The film is really a work of art; the ghosts who attack Joe near the end of the film have to be seen to be believed. The effect was achieved by Marins actually gluing glitter down on the actual print of the movie. The gore effects are also very top notch for a film that was made during the 1960’s. Marins definitely had a vision that was well before its time and he has been chastened by critics because of it for years. The budget of the film also made for a lot of shots that had to be done in just one take, in particular a scene in which Joe yells out challenging the spirits of those he has wronged, one wouldn’t be able to tell however while watching such a piece of surrealism.
Coffin Joe deserves to be a name that every horror fan should know and every true fan of the genre should have a copy of At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul on their shelf, if you haven’t seen it yet why are you still reading this?