A meia noite levarei sua alma
Aka AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL
D: Jose Mojica Marins
As the subject of a BATHOS review, JOSE MOJICA MARINS certainly qualifies, one of those directors, who, although veering close to amateurism, through sheer enthusiasm and persistence actually make it to the not-so-big screen. At 27, largely financed by his parents (who also appear) he made this, his first movie.
Not only did the father own a cinema, the family practically lived in it, so how could it have turned out otherwise for little Jose? Like Romero he rounded up a few friends for what he had originally planned as a film about juvenile delinquents.
The figure of ZE DO CAIXO – literally “Joe of the Grave” – came to him in a dream (yeah, sure) thus joining the ranks of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. Serial killers with the personality of wrestlers are of course a dime a dozen.
As HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS discovered, you can always keep the audience watching, if there’s a killing every few minutes, as long as there is a certain variation as to the manner of death. The “star” backed out, however, and MARINS decided to play the role himself, which was probably just as well.
Hamming it up like a two-bit ORSON WELLES, with plenty of pseudo-philosophical asides, he is definitely the greatest asset (not saying much) to what was later to become a series. Not without its own style, the first instalment – which, incidentally, was also the first horror movie to me made in Brazil – has a fortune-teller or “witch” (and MARINS himself) deliver the prologue, warning the audience to leave the theatre.
Actually, ZE didn’t start out as the apocalyptic figure he became in later chapters – aside from the superstitious dread surrounding the local undertaker, he is almost a character that TOD SLAUGHTER (vide BATHOS #11) might have played. Still, his atheism seems a bit more calculated, being more of an ideology that he preaches to his housekeeper and friends, and, it would almost seem, that MARINS preaches to the audience.
Some of these sermons seem almost adlibbed, like any good MP can, at the drop of a hat, deliver a political speech. To the audience of a non-Catholic country this mixture of high-school scepticism and Nietzsche seems rather naïve, a particularly shocking scene showing MARINS eating a lamb-chop on Good Friday!
At the same time, he seems to share the most popular prejudices of these regions, seeing woman as a mere means to getting an heir. In one scene he admonishes a father for being too hard on his progeny, while at the same time calmly slapping uncooperative sexual partners silly.
This, of course, is where women, when bedded out of wedlock – whether seduced or raped – obligingly commit suicide. Finding that his housekeeper is barren, he ties her up and feeds her to a spider (in the movies the bite of the tarantula is invariably fatal).
He then drowns his rival for the affections of a more fertile woman in a bathtub, leading to even more grisly deaths. In spite of being sort of an antihero, he finally gets his comeuppance at Halloween, when the dead walk the earth.
It’s all reasonably well done, even literate, with a somewhat contrived touch of the surreal and some unpleasantness, but also an occasional air of perverse eroticism. The Brazilians certainly had never seen anything like it, and although it was heavily cut, the seemingly moralistic ending probably made it acceptable for the moviegoers of that country to revel in the villainy of the main character as in that of any Victorian heavy.
In any case, the figure of ZE became extremely popular and spawned another six movies. Not content to repeat the success of the first one, the follow-ups became increasingly didactic and artistic without ever belying the modest talent and somewhat primitive WELTANSCHAUUNG of their originator.
A certain identification was of course inevitable between director and character, ZE perhaps being to a degree autobiographical, or – more likely – the director trying to emulate his creation. Even stooping to stealing shrubbery for his set from a nearby park, he was duly arrested, another story relating how in an altercation with a cameraman he pulled a gun on him – most likely a prop.
It has become almost a tradition among critics to consider MARINS to be mentally ill. This, predictably, has done nothing to detract from his popularity, although he is still largely unknown outside of South America.
Variously blasted as sick exploitation and hailed as the works of the new BUNUEL, MARINS is simply another independent, certainly more intelligent and with more flair than most, but no genius either. Readers of BATHOS should have great fun making his acquaintance.
PS: ZE DO CAIXO has been branded COFFIN JOE for American consumption. This should make it a bit easier for the interested reader to track down the series.
PLEASE NOTICE: THIS REVIEW DOES NOT APPEAR IN ANY ISSUE OF BATHOS, AS IT ONLY FEATURES MATERIAL EXCLUSIVELY WRITTEN FOR THE MAGAZINE! STILL, IF YOU LIKE IT, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER A SUBSCRIPTION?