The story of Coffin Joe - Part 2
Zé do Caixão continued to infiltrate Brazilian homes in newspaper articles, carefully orchestrated publicity stunts and in comics. Following a segment in the anthology film Trilogy of Terror (Trilogia de Terror) (1968) Marins made the aptly titled The Strange World of Coffin Joe (O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão (1968) - also the name of his hit TV series). Another trilogy of terror Zé do Caixão doesn't appear properly until the final tale. It's here that the boundaries between Marins' real and perceived persona become even more blurred as in this incarnation he is a television personality and doctor espousing the theory that instinct conquers love. By introducing a layer of verisimilitude with his accepted television persona the lines between fact and fiction become deliberately confused. Here Zé do Caixão proceeds over an atrocity exhibition of hitherto unimagined perversity and sadism; provoking his onscreen audience as to its entertainment value for them. The shocked onlookers are goaded as surrogates for the audience watching the film. This marks a shift in that previously Zé do Caixão addressed the cinema audience directly, here the protagonists (soon to be part of his demented experiments) are also representative of the audience. A catalogue of cuts were ordered to render the film releasable. However disappointed Marins must have been at the treatment of his film, nothing could prepare him for the reception that befell Awakening of the Beast (O Despertar da Besta) (1970).
If his previous films were horrors that implicitly challenged society, Awakening of the Beast was an explicit condemnation of society's decline in moral standards and the authorities' inability to confront pressing issues. This would be the film in which Zé do Caixão would grow up, where the dissection of the character's relation with the public, the media, the authorities and the film-maker himself was laid bare. Marins found himself pulled between popularist cinema and the acceptance of his work as primitivist art (and hence lauded under the left field agenda of the late 1960's art cinema movements). Marins' relationship to the world art cinema movement is expressed halfway through Awakening of the Beast as he watches himself and himself as Zé do Caixão on television discussing the art and subversion of cinema, validating his position as an artist, in particular invoking the endorsement of his cinema by respected directors Glauber Rocha and Anselmo Duarte. Awakening of the Beast is undoubtedly influenced by the art cinema movement (left wing ideals, segues from diegetic to non-diegetic sound, multiple jump cuts, image substitution) but it is undeniably Marins' work.
Society is crumbling as drugs and rampant promiscuity abound. It is not just young people; the authorities and the church are also to blame and are complicit in the problem. A young girl, high on drugs, gleefully offers herself to the hungry hands of orgiastic hippies before being penetrated by the wooden staff of a priest. Another girl dances naked and is forced to use a chamber pot in front of old, goggling, paying officials. Marins' camera shows the uncomfortable act of shooting up in unflinching detail. At times the effect on the viewer is as disorientating as the drugs taken by the denizens of the crumbling society. Marins/ Zé hypnotises his subjects and subjects them (or does he?) to massive doses of LSD. They descend into a Technicolor Hell - the ultimate bad trip. While stylistically this triggers some standard "druggy" film techniques such as swirling camera, changing colours and camera zoom (the film again is predominantly in black and white making the transition all the more jarring), the overall effect is quite astounding. Staircases whose steps comprise of human bodies, a man with disembodied heads on each arm, a bikini clad girl screaming uncontrollably while being drenched with blood, bulging-eyed dwarves and Boschean creatures (which are basically painted posteriors that are both grotesque and startling, one even smoking) are some of the manifold sights awaiting the subjects. Ultimately though, whatever visceral horrors are laid bare the revelation that basically Hell is the product of a weak will is more existential – society is responsible for its own downfall through corruption and weakness.
By the time Awakening of the Beast was ready to be released a second military coup had occurred in Brazil, known as the coup within the coup. While Brazil's more intellectually esteemed directors found some solidarity among the world art cinema fraternity to offer some international investment and a forum to show their works, Marins was not so fortunate. Awakening of the Beast was not only cut by the censors, it was banned outright. It would be a further twenty years before it would be legally seen in its country of origin. As Marins' film financing was based upon the success of his most recent output he was unable to continue making films his way. Awakening of the Beast was, until recently, Marins last project on which he had full control and final cut (censors permitting, of course). Although some of the unrestrained personal glee sneaked through in later projects such as The End of Man (Finis Hominis) (1971), The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe (O Exorcismo Negro) (1974) and Perversion (Perversão) (1979), they were more projects for hire. As with many directors of the time and since he found himself making porno films within the realms of São Paulo's Boca do Lixo underground film scene order to make ends meet as well as hiring himself as Zé do Caixão to appear at parties and social events - a far cry from the halcyon days of the 1960s when Zé do Caixão held Brazil in the tangled claws of his spiralling fingernails.
Interest in Marins has always existed outside of his home country– he was a popular figure in Europe during the 60's and 70's and his films a regular fixture at many genre festivals. In the 80s the video boom helped revive interest in the US and in recent years some of his films have been made available on DVD (as of yet only Awakening of the Beast has had a UK release). Articles on his rediscovery have led to a whole new audience for one of the horror genre's most arresting creations and the man who created him.
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