One of the most entertaining essays in the below-mentioned collection Exile Cinema is Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin's ecstatic appreciation of Brazilian horror auteur Jose Mojica Marins and his cinematic alter-ego Ze de Caixao (Coffin Joe). (Maddin, incidentally, has the unique distinction of being both a contributor to the book and one of its subjects.) Good cinematic fetishist that he is, he gets himself into a right tizzy over Mojica's, or maybe Ze's, lower lip (before comparing it to a liver): "...resting easy as it does on those coarse black chin whiskers, fat and satisfied like a satiated cutworm or like the vulva of a woman who's been quite willingly stuffed into a hyper-realistic cow costume and rolled into a busy bullpen."
And as you can see from the screen grab above, from 1964's seminal, and how, At Midnight I'll Take Your Corpse, that lip is a formidable sneer instrument.
So imagine my slight shock when, around 1994, on encountering Mojica/Ze in the flesh, I found him an almost ...avuncular figure.
This was a very big deal among the horror movie droolers of the tri-state area. ("Drooler" being the preferred term in my circle for "geek" or "fanboy." We still prefer it, in fact. And, yes, we do include ourselves.) The legendary Coffin Joe, whose intense horror films had been much discussed but little-seen, was to make an appearance at the Chiller Theatre Expo in Secaucus, to coincide with Something Weird's VHS releases of some of the early films.
Of course, Mojica was only about 28 when he made the first Coffin Joe film; now, he was now pushing 60. Short of stature and walking in a not-quite menacing shuffle, he looked a little silly, decked out in his black cape, stovepipe hat (Maddin mentions its probably-inadvertent Lincolnesque quality), occult-inflected silver jewelry, and some long, curlicuing fingernails. (Some friends were toying with writing a film comedy centered on one of these horror-fan conventions, and after this one they included a sequence in which a Mojica-esque icon of horror, who, like Mojica, speaks no English, gets lost in transit between the airport and the con, and winds up in a children's playground unsuccesfully trying to scare the kids.) And yet one was kind of impressed—if you'd seen any of his genuinely sadistic films you'd kind of have to be. He really is one of the handful of filmmakers to whom the phrase "pulp subversiveness" genuinely applies.
During a Q&A session with the man, I took a long shot. Mojica was based in Sao Paolo, the cynosure of a lot of political and aesthetic restlessness in Brazil in the '60s; it's where the "Tropicalia" school of Brazilian pop came out of. So I asked whether his artistic underground had any kind of contact with the Tropicalistas.
Well, yes, as it turned out. In fact, Mojica averred, Caetano Veloso had proposed marriage to his wife Dede at the Sao Paolo premiere of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. How romantic!
A few years back, Veloso published a memoir/history of himself and tropicalismo, the superb, knotty Tropical Truth. The book is more high-minded than most such reminiscences, as its passage on Mojica attests:
In 1967, people were talking about a Brazilian B movie [director and Cinema Novo pioneer] Glauber Rocha had liked, [At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul], directed by the Paulista Jose Mojica Marins. In him Glauber sensed a primitive Nietzsche, although the production was a horror movie made on the sort of precarious budget typical of a small-town Brazilian circus. The director went around wearing the same black cape and long nails of the character he had created in the film (and in others afterwards). Marins was—in every sense—popular. In the film, he both exposed our poverty and attacked the religious conventions that were inimical to a bold individual will. The Catholic imagination appeared mixed with the pornography of terror, laughable visual effects, and dialogues on the edge of street language. [Another friend] insisted it was pure charm on Glauber's (and my) part to show aesthetic interest in such a pile of trash. He did not believe I could see in the film a radical version of what Glauber had tried to do in Land of Anguish. But it was truly difficult, at the time, to admit to a critical posture that, soon after, would become commonplace.
If this moves you to explore more Mojica, I gotta tell you, you might as well get the three-film Coffin Joe Trilogy box. Seeing just one of the pictures will not quite quell your disposition to not believe the stuff actually exists. Also, according to the imdb, Mojica's just completed a new Coffin Joe picture, The Devil's Reincarnation.