Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Strange World of Coffin Joe

1968, Brazil, Directed by José Mojica Marins
B&W, Running Time: 82 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Anchor Bay; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono

Adopting a portmanteou style The Strange World... (AKA O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão) is not really a sequel to This Night I'll Possess... but it does feature 'Coffin Joe' opening the narration in a familiar pseudo philosophical fashion, and when he does finally appear within the film itself (in the final chapter) he's not really playing the same character. That's not to say that this film is without the sadistic edge that we've come to expect... The first chapter - The Dollmaker - sort of apes The Twilight Zone in tone. Three deadbeats listen in on a conversation down the pub where an ageing dollmaker is muttering about having a fortune in the house. Later on they follow him back to where he and his four nubile young daughters manufacture dolls (rather crap looking ones, but dolls nonetheless) for a living. They break in and, threatening the old artist, cause him to collapse clutching his heart. Then the young criminals spot the four daughters in bed in the next room; needless to say, in conjunction with a certain degree of salivation, they decide to head in there and have a bit more fun... The next story, Obsession or Perversion depending on where you get your translation, is pretty much a silent movie. A hunchbacked balloon-seller develops an infatuation with a woman who gets murdered at her own wedding by another, presumably jealous, knife-wielding female (talk about a big-day spoiler). Not letting a little thing like death get in the way of his desires he later breaks into her tomb, strips her off, and molests the body, probably acknowledging that this is the only way he's ever gonna get a hot (or cold in this case) babe. The final tale, Ideology, stars Marins as a professor who speaks about the godless world he believes in, and his theories on the reality of human existence. To make his point he captures a young couple where he subjects them first to horrors experienced by others, and then to horrors experienced by themselves (presumably this now having some context for them...), pushing the girl to a point where she reaches such a level of desperation she is driven by her own instincts to drink the blood of her dying partner.
As with the preceding films by Marins, there is an undeniable air of maliciousness and venom surrounding this film. Each tale becomes more uncompromising than the last, the first being the most - if one can use this word speaking about Joe - commercial of the three. Quite a creepy little tale with an atmosphere of doom as the soundtrack vibrates with constant thunderous noises of the winds and skies outside the morbid little house where most of the action takes place. The second tale must have been the most explicit suggestion of necrophilia ever seen in cinema at that point. It had been touched on before, the most enticing example being The Terror of Dr Hichcock (which I'd dearly love a Blu-ray of), but not quite as obviously as here in Strange World. Very slow and too long for its content (the 'seduction' scene goes on for a hell of a sleep-inducing time), the tale again has an unusual tone that compensates for its shortcomings, which is generally in the acting department. The third story brings us into more familar Coffin Joe territory, although his performance here is much more controlled and sedate. That doesn't mean to say it's much less horrific - the things the young couple, and we the viewers, witness are graphic and downright nasty (one scene had me in a state of surprise that it even got past the BBFC). A man is stretched on the rack before having his flesh devoured whilst still alive by a horde of lepers followed by a caged girl rejecting the advances of men before being burned with acid, the traumatic event causing her to kiss the feet of one of them. The torture of the couple concludes with such profundity it must have been on a Martyrs type plane of its day. Marins does raise some interesting ideas amidst his conquests to shock.

Like the film, the DVD (part of a Coffin Joe boxed set) is grimy and not nice to look at! It's arguably perversely satisfying to watch these oddities in this condition and, let's face it, who's going to spend thousands remastering them? The subtitles are again burned in, though not of great grammatical quality - the errors are, however, moderately amusing (think of watching Hong Kong films). Again, we can be thankful that this sort of thought-lost and buried weirdness can be exhumed and brought to us at all.

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