Anchor Bay UK (briefly Starz, but no more it would seem) appeared to fall to the wayside a few years back. Their impressive output dried up save for the odd Pilates workout DVD, and their website began to exist as nothing more than a homepage for archive detail. Consequently, the hearts of many genre fans grew heavy.

But a much unexpected, extremely welcome announcement was made on 18th February 2009: Anchor Bay UK would be releasing a box-set consisting of nine - NINE! - Coffin Joe films later in the year. Could this unlikely news possibly be true? Surely not?

As the rumour mill continued to churn it became apparent that Anchor Bay were indeed releasing a collection of Brazilian auteur Jose Mojica Marins' curious work. Along with his long awaited return to the genre EMBODIMENT OF EVIL, no less.

Then came the inevitable cynicism from some corners: moans that EMBODIMENT was not to be included in the box and would only be available separately; speculation that Anchor Bay would not be acquiring the luscious extras afforded to six of these titles in the out-of-print Brazilian box-set from a few years back.

The former point is surely a shrewd business move that Anchor Bay should not be denied. As for the lack of the Brazilian box's extras ... this could be due to a number of reasons. Perhaps Anchor Bay were denied them? Maybe they couldn't afford them? It could be that they couldn't justify the costs: how many units of this box do they expect to shift (the guy's a National treasure in Brazil but is known only to a niche audience over here)? Including the extras (and preparing English subtitles for them, which the Brazilian box doesn't offer) would surely mean more discs and also a bigger budget required for Anchor Bay. Or ... maybe they just couldn't be arsed with pursuing the bonus material? The point is, we don't know - speculation feels prejudicial.

But, now that the box is finally here, what DO we actually get for our pennies?

Five discs, eight films from the formidable Marins canon and one excellent documentary, all of which are contained in a nice sturdy package boasting cover art lifted - with permission - from issue 85 of the recommended Rue Morgue magazine (artwork which actually relates to EMBODIMENT, but what the heck).

On disc 1 we get a double bill of Marins' first two Coffin Joe films, AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (a.k.a. A MEIA-NOITE LEVAREI SUA ALMA) and THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (a.k.a. ESTA NOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER).

1964's MIDNIGHT remains my favourite of all of Marins' films. It's a marvellous merging of Shakespearian ghouls, stunning Gothic monochrome visuals and amusingly trashy violence. It's also spectacularly theatrical, as exemplified in the opening moments in which find Ze do Caixao/Joe (Marins) berating God, followed closely by an equally hyperbolic witch warning of the terrors to come.

As much as undertaker Joe's enjoyably excessive tirades against the Almighty make the film, it's his physical presence that impresses more. Draped in a long black cloak, sporting talon-like nails and a top hat: he's at once camp, classic, retro and iconic ... not to mention, surprisingly handsome.

We first meet Joe proper as he oversees the funeral of a fellow villager. Immediately, we understand that the locals fear him - and with good reason. This angry, God-hating young man respects nothing and no-one ... only the notion that siring a child will bring him immortality by continuing his bloodline into a new generation.

After terrorising the villagers with his blasphemous outrages and a spot of gory bother at the local inn, Joe sets about finding a suitable female to bear his child. Unfortunately for his wife Lenita (Valeria Vasquez), she's not up to the job - and so, her funeral follows in due course.

Joe continues his search in near-comical fashion, which is a great cue for more nasty deaths - he certainly makes fine use of those bizarre fingernails (had Wes Craven seen this prior to penning A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET?) - and some wonderfully surreal scenes including one woman being subjected to a tarantula crawling over her quivering body.

As with all good old horror films, the finale leads to a village revolt that harks back to the horror films of the 30s and 40s - no doubt, the films that fuelled Marins' own nightmares as a junior.

CORPSE (1967) continues with the plot from MIDNIGHT (as does EMBODIMENT OF EVIL, the overdue conclusion to this particular trilogy - reviewed elsewhere on the SGM site). This time around, Joe is abetted by a bigger budget, a cheesy mad scientist laboratory and even a hunchbacked assistant - the comical Bruno (Jose Lobo).

The film kicks off directly from MIDNIGHT, with Joe waking unrepentant in a hospital bed ... and resuming his plight to find himself a female capable of spawning his child.

The heavy-handed philosophy doesn't change, nor do the stunning black-and-white compositions or the go-for-broke aplomb with which a healthy succession of horror motifs (spiders; snakes; skulls, etc) are delivered. What's more, this time around we also get a wonderful colour segment (in glorious Eastmancolor!) depicting Hell as a wild and surreal trip. Imagine Kenneth Anger, Nick Zedd and Alexandro Jodorowsky all rolled into one ...

Perhaps a tad overlong, CORPSE is nevertheless a great film filled with visual ideas and atmosphere. Again, Marins makes the film work with his lead performance - which is remarkable, considering he only ever stepped into the role as Joe in the original film at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances.

Disc 2 opens with 1968's THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE (a.k.a. O ESTRANHO MUNDO DE ZE DO CAIXAO). This three-headed anthology reverts to black-and-white but maintains the decent production values of CORPSE. Despite it's title, you'll note that Coffin Joe has very little to do with the film. Not really, although a lengthy introductory rant from the cloaked one super-imposed above a thunderstorm is certainly Joe-like, despite Marins' opening gambit of "Who am I? It doesn't matter".

In the opening segment, a doll maker has his shop done over by four would-be robbers. To add insult to injury, the lags stay around to rape the shop owner's daughter. But he has other ideas, such as revealing to his tormentors how his dolls acquire such lifelike eyes ...

Stretched out thinly and unintentionally amusing at times, "O Fabricante de Bonecas" is nevertheless stylishly shot and undeniably contemporary in feel. It's surprisingly sleazy for it's time.

The second story, "Tara", is an unexpectedly restrained recounting of a shy balloon vendor's infatuation with a demure young lady. When she dies, the man sneaks into the morgue where her body's being held, hoping to return the shoes she'd lost. But when the opportunity presents itself, he decides to fulfil his desire of being more intimate with her ...

Without dialogue, this is a slow-moving and autumnal tale that is unlike anything else Marins has lensed. The subtlety applied to the potentially sickening subject matter of necrophilia may seem like a missed opportunity in Marins' hands, but all the more power to him for exhibiting a mature poetry that I hadn't anticipated. The ill-effect of this, however, is that "Tara" all but kills the pace of the film and is at loggerheads with its bookending stories.

Completing the anthology is "Ideologia", in which Marins plays Coffin Joe-like Doctor Odez who appears on a television show called 'The Men Who Make The News' to declare that humans are not capable of love - they are driven only by instincts. Berated on live TV by a sceptical scholar, the Doctor invites the pompous twat and his wife over to his house ... and tortures them for a week in his basement, reasoning that if one should sacrifice themself to save the other, then love truly will win the day.

What follows is essentially a blueprint for the torture porn of the current decade, complete with surprisingly decent FX and a rousingly OTT score from Herminio Gimenez. Not to mention another zealously bug-eyed performance from the main man.

Uneven as most anthologies tend to be, STRANGE WORLD is a frequently attractive and paradoxically brutal film regardless.

AWAKENING OF THE BEAST (a.k.a. O RITUAL DOS SADICOS) is next, which finds Marins starting to pile on the beef and exploiting the then-trendy subject of LSD, as he portrays Coffin Joe in mockumentary fashion.

A TV show hosts an academic debate led by Dr Sergio on the use of the drug, offering insights into the hippy dancing and open nudity that is/was naively associated with it. Oh, and people shitting for the benefit of a room full of more people - that common side effect of dropping acid (!). It's all pretty tame, uninspiring, episodic stuff (and not remotely what horror fans were expecting from Joe at the time, I'd wager). But then ...

Dr Sergio and his fellow scientists from the TV show determine to test the effects of LSD on four hapless volunteers, by loading them with the stuff ... and then introducing them to our cloaked fiend!

The film then shifts from a static black-and-white camera approach to roving colour sequences during the final 15 minutes. This offers arses with faces painted on them, garish psychedelic set designs and more lengthy monologues from Marins, furthering his mantra on life, God, the body as a channel to wider things ... the usual guff.

Disjointed and slow for the first hour, despite being peppered with previously censored scenes from other Marins works, AWAKENING has dated more than the director's other films. Having said that, the finale is still enjoyably insane. The twist is amusing too. Trippy, indeed - by the end of this, you'll wonder how many drugs Marins was guzzling behind the camera.

Over on disc 3, END OF MAN (a.k.a. FINIS HOMINIS) from 1971 continues Marins' agreeably egotistical philosophies on man as Christ incarnate, sex and immortality.

Again offered in a mix of monochrome and colour, END OF MAN presents Marins in the title role - Finis emerges from the sea stark-bollock-naked, and proceeds into the Brazilian streets where he takes on a Messiah-like persona by using his healing powers on strangers and acquiring a following of grubby-looking hippies. Along the way he's thrown in prison, manages to escape and becomes a local celebrity.

Despite clearly lacking in budget, the film is often nice to look at and features some startling images (though Marins in the buff is not the greatest of them). Like a poor man's Jodorowsky, the film attempts to overcome its financial restrictions with surreal visuals and atmospherics. Aside from that, the fact that Marins portrays a Christ-like figure - much like Jodorowsky did in the superior EL TOPO - also draws comparison to the Chilean genius.

But Marins is hindered by lack of resources and a lack of focus in his storytelling. His pacing falters throughout, and the ending is unsatisfactory. Despite that, the often accidentally rib-tickling END OF MAN is one of the most memorable films on offer here, simply because it's ... so fucking strange.

1976's THE STRANGE HOSTEL OF NAKED PLEASURES (a.k.a. FRACASSO DE UM HOMEM NAS DUAS NOITES DE NUPCIAS) at least wins the award for the best title (in a box-set including MIDNIGHT and CORPSE, that's no mean feat).

Filmed entirely in well-used colour, PLEASURES opens with another metaphysical rant from Joe, while scantily clad fillies dance on screen. Then we home in on the titular motel, where we spend the next hour being introduced to the various occupants who rush to it one stormy night- who, invariably, are up to no good (orgies, illicit affairs etc). They must be desperate ... most people approaching a hostel only to be met by the leering Coffin Joe would take a U-turn sharpish!

Episodic and virtually plotless up to this point, PLEASURES seems to have little to offer other than it's keen colour schemes - until the ante is upped in the final frames and the guests start to meet violent ends.

Blending poetry, the theme of voodoo and much psychobabble musing upon our rightful places in the universe, this finds Marins in typically indulgent form ... albeit, this film is even less coherent than usual. Even so, it remains oddly watchable - thanks largely to the welcome return of Marins' heavy-handed horror motifs (thunder, lightning etc). And, being a product of the mid-70s, splatter fans will enjoy the latter moments.

1977's HELLISH FLESH (a.k.a. INFERNO CARNAL) summons in disc 4, which sees Marins in a non-Joe role for this full colour thriller.

Here, he plays a scientist who discovers his young wife is cheating on him. When confronted in the shadowy opening, she throws acid in his face and clears off with her stud - only to learn that the lover is not all he first appeared to be.

Directed by Marins in an oddly flat manner, this feels almost TV movie-like at times. But it's thankfully lifted out of that level of mediocrity by canny use of sound effects adding a bizarre atmosphere to some otherwise drab scenes, and a decent twist towards the end.

More concerned with plot and character motivations, HELLISH FLESH is a relatively bloodless Marins horror, despite the startling image of a genuine eye operation being used at one point.


MIND centres on Dr Hamilton (Jorge Peres), who suffers from a recurring nightmare that Coffin Joe is attempting to kidnap his wife Tania (Magna Miller). This plot conceit ultimately serves as an excuse to fill much of the film's first half with clips from earlier Joe films.

Hamilton's psychiatrist colleagues eventually approach Marins (as himself), who vows to help the Dr overcome his fears. He begins by attempting to demystify his own lurid creation, promising to parody Joe in his next film.

A thin plot loosely filled with previously censored scenes from earlier films, MIND shouldn't work. But it does, chiefly due to the overwhelming torrents of hyperbolic horrors that Marins throws at his audience.

Elsewhere, Joe doesn't forget to bog the film down with more speeches about his dreams of creating a superman. Throw in the customary female nudity and outlandish scenes of gory violence, and what MIND lacks in sense it at least makes up for in fan-pleasing gusto.

As a result of the patchwork theme of the film, it is presented in a mix of black-and-white and colour.

Last but not least, disc 5 is home to the acclaimed 2001 documentary THE STRANGE WORLD OF JOSE MOJICA MARINS (a.k.a. MALDITO - O ESTRANHO MUNDO DE JOSE MOJICA MARINS).

Andre Barcinski and Ivan Finotti's film is clearly a labour of love, and the filmmakers have done a great job of tracking down plenty of the big man's friends and colleagues for engaging anecdotes.

Marins is a likeable and gracious subject, recanting his early struggles with budgets and censorship, and speaking candidly at home about his unexpected resurgence in prominence in the 1990s.

His sojourn into directing pornography (and even, at a lowpoint in his career, bestiality!) is also touched upon, amazingly.

Interspersed with film clips along with archive footage and stills, this is an often fascinating love letter to an amusingly demented man of startling staying power and conviction.

A hit at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, MARINS is an insightful and fun documentary that acts as a fitting cap to the box-set. It's hardly slick, but in an odd way that makes it all the more charming.

Marins' films are excessive, frantically energetic in their portrayal of sex and violence, repetitive in theme and boyishly mischievous in their blasphemous attempts at incensing the censors. Filled with Scooby Doo-style horror conventions and at times staggering set designs, they are stagy and theatrical (not to mention noisy - this is the most screaming I've heard since ALUCARDA) - and often just short of brilliant.

On to the presentation of the films, at which point I must state that I haven't seen the Brazilian box so I can't make comparisons to it. I did previously own the Fantoma discs of MIDNIGHT, CORPSE and AWAKENING, as well as the Mondo Macabro disc of AWAKENING - and have done my best to offer comparisons where possible.

Most of the films are presented in 1.33:1, full-frame. Immediately, those familiar with the Fantoma discs of the aforementioned trio are going to point out that they were presented in 1.66:1 - and appeared to be correctly framed.

The fact that Marins was involved in the Fantoma discs further suggests that 1.66:1 is his preferred aspect ratio. However, it's interesting to note that these new presentations do provide additional information on the left and right sides of the screen, as well as at the top and bottom. There is definitely more information present in these 1.33:1 presentations, marginal as it may be (and MIDNIGHT, for example, looks better framed than ever).

Unfortunately, the picture quality is not always the best. To give them their due, Anchor Bay have printed a disclaimer on the base of the box: "Due to the archive nature of these films and despite significant remastering and restoration the quality occasionally may not be consistent ...".

MIDNIGHT, for example, looks soft and grain is evident throughout. Blacks are not always as defined as would be desirable and the picture wobbles on occasion. It's a relatively obscure film made almost half a century ago - we can't expect perfection - but it's still worth noting the wear and tear you're facing.

That having been said, the Fantoma disc offered a presentation that was - in my opinion - worse. At least Anchor Bay's disc doesn't suffer from the same digital sharpening issues. And, hey, the clips from the film on the Blu-ray of EMBODIMENT look little better. Honestly!

CORPSE looks clean and sharp in comparison, with bold colours contrasting well alongside the nicely rendered monochrome images. There are obvious imperfections such as specks here and there, and a thin layer of natural grain, but personally I was happy with the look of the film.

AWAKENING is presented in 1.66:1 and looks softer than I recall either the Fantoma or Mondo Macabro offerings being.

The later films are, to the best of my knowledge, presented in accurate transfers. Framing appears dandy on each film. However, being new to these films, I can't weigh them up against other versions. But each film is highly watchable, sporting healthy monochrome contrasts and fine colours that refrain from bleeding. Blemishes on the prints and occasional fades do betray the age of each film at times, while some images are undeniably soft, but by-and-large I was satisfied with what I saw. Artifacting and other potential qualms such as edge enhancement are happily not an issue.

All in all, Anchor Bay's digitally enhanced transfers are more than fair. They offer solid balance of blacks and whites, along with bold colours and reasonable brightness for the most part. Again, you shouldn't expect perfection - bear that in mind, along with the age and scarcity of these titles, and you will not be disappointed.

The big bug-bear, going from online comments, is the prospect of motion blurring. A problem common of clumsy format conversions, excessive motion blurring - or "ghosting" - can make even the best film unwatchable (the most criminal example that springs to mind is Fox Lorber's R1 disc of VIOLENT COP - horrendous!).

But I'm happy to report I had no issues with motion blurring during playback. I apologise in advance if others disagree - I'm only going on what my own eyes see. There have been suggestions online that perhaps this is an issue only prevalent on NTSC DVD players? I'll admit I'm not technically savvy enough to advise further on this issue, but can say that watching these discs upscaled on a 40" LCD TV, I had no chew. For NTSC-to-PAL conversions, which I suspect these transfers are, they fair quite well.

Portugese mono audio is provided for each film (want 5.1 surround? Seek out the Brazilian set - and pray it's worth the small fortune you'll pay for that privilege). This improves with each presentation. It starts fairly abysmally with lots of background noise during MIDNIGHT, suffers a cleaner but low mix throughout CORPSE and steadily improves towards a clear, consistent mix for MARINS.

The occasional muffled dialogue (most noticeable on END OF MAN) and pops on the soundtrack throughout the discs are no doubt indicative of the source material and therefore I feel it would be unjust to malign Anchor Bay over these instances. Some readers, of course, may feel differently ...

English subtitles are burned-in throughout. They're yellow, easy to read and good for the most part. However, be warned that there are glaring grammatical errors on occasion (the later films suffer the worst). In a peculiar way, they make the already mental films become all the more endearing. It could be that the subtitles utilised for the likes of END OF MAN and STRANGE HOSTEL are the same as those employed on the Brazilian box-set - again, I'm unable to confirm or deny this (sorry). I'll just reinforce though, that the subtitles are good for most of the time - the occasional blunders are unfortunate.

Those fluent in Portuguese may grumble about how they'd have preferred the option to view the films without subtitles, but I don't think I'm being unfair when I suggest that the majority of UK-based genre fans won't possess this attribute.

Each disc opens with an identical black-and-white main menu page, allowing immediate access to scene-selections for each of the films. Each film is graced with 4 chapters apiece.

The five discs each come in slimline keepcases with covers offering colour reproductions of original theatrical poster art. The cases are housed neatly in a card slipcase which itself slides into an outer card sleeve - much the same as was the packaging for Anchor Bay's brilliant Mario Bava tomes.

Coffin Joe finally arrives in the UK. Minus the Portuguese-friendly extras of the revered Brazilian box-set; minus the interviews and comic book reproductions of the Fantoma DVDs; minus the short documentary found on Mondo Macabro's AWAKENING release; minus a fancy coffin-shaped box packaging; minus double-sided covers.

But ... we DO get eight superb films along with an excellent 65-minute documentary on Marins that masquerades as the ninth film, but actually works as the most effective extra imaginable.

Well done, Anchor Bay. The transfers of the films are certain to provoke debate for some time to come. But this box-set is uncut, affordable and single-handedly brings one of the greatest horror icons of the last four decades to these shores.

Yeah, I wish Anchor Bay had included all the extras from the Brazilian box too ... but, realistically, how much profit do you expect them to make from this release? Sometimes, it's just nice to be grateful for what people can achieve - and this ... this box-set is an achievement in itself.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review