It is perhaps apt that the accuracy of the title is the only thing which is comforting or reassuring about writer / producer / performer / director / composer Jose Mojica Marins’ 1968 horror anthology The Strange World of Coffin Joe (O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão) which comprises three standalone tales of debauchery, desire and disfigurement, exploring death and its associated rituals and how they are invoked and circumvented, a world in which only Coffin Joe could be at home.
Marins having played the role of Zé do Caixão (“Coffin Joe”) in 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma) and 1967’s This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver), here the character serves only as a host in the introductory sequence, still questioning life, death and existence, but more dismissive than he was at the start of his quest four years previously.
Coffin Joe apparently discouraged in his search for answers, the focus is instead on stories which parallel and illuminate the lives and deaths of others who have transgressed boundaries in their quests, a trilogy of excess and extreme behaviour of people seeking riches of the body and mind, opening with The Dollmaker (O Fabricante de Bonecas), an elderly craftsman targeted by four thugs who seek to rob him of his money and the four beautiful daughters he lives with of their purity.
Next is the tale of Tara, a beautiful woman who is the object of sinister obsession of a poor balloon seller and also the jealousy of another woman who murders her on her wedding day, stabbing her on the steps of the church, the funeral offering the balloon seller his only chance to be near her, and finally Ideology (Ideologia), where Professor Oãxiac Odéz (Marins) invites the academic rivals with whom he has publicly sparred on intellectual matters to his home where he subjects them to a demonstration of his theories.
The opening monologue giving Jim Morrison a run for his money on bad performance poetry before the titles move to celestial imagery, moons and comets and the phases of Saturn, The Strange World of Coffin Joe could in some tangential way be considered more commercial purely in the technical aspects of the increasingly professional filmmaking and also in the introduction of “quick win” elements of exploitation cinema with an increasing focus on flesh, women disrobed and manhandled throughout, though with Marins’ own macabre obsessions magnified at the expense of story it remains a niche work.
The dollmaker using his daughters as bait in a trap, the voyeuristic balloon seller moving from stalking to necrophilia, and Professor Odéz holding his guests hostage in his torture dungeon to delight in their pain, distress and humiliation before concluding with cannibalism, it is a feast of flesh which may have been shocking on original release but which at this remove is just unpleasant, indulgences which seem to speak more of Marins than his aspirations to art.