The Strange Oeuvre of Coffin Joe, Part 2

 
...Continued from Part 1.

The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968) was actually made and released before Awakening Of the Beast, and in some ways feels at least a bit more like a proper Coffin Joe film, so it's a little odd they chose Awakenings over this for the Fantoma set. At least it's another horror film. But I suppose the strongest argument against its inclusion was that, despite the film's title, Coffin Joe the character doesn't really appear in this film at all. Marins is in it, though, as a diabolical villain who does some pretty similar things to his victims; but he's without the signature top hat, and no longer on the same mission to sire an heir.

The Strange World is actually an anthology film, no doubt inspired by the Amicus anthologies which had already started in the 60s. We have three stories presented here. The first is about a doll maker who's robbed a gang of hooligans, but has a sinister secret that makes them regret their act. Next is a weird story with no dialogue about a balloon dealer who falls for a girl and isn't deterred in making love to her even after seeing her get murdered. And the third and final entry is the one to finally bring Marins on screen, as a professor who kidnaps a fellow professor and his wife, performing experiments on them to prove a twisted theory. All together, it's really not as compelling as the original Coffin Joe films, but horror anthologies are always fun, and it is satisfying to have Marins back delivering his mad monologues for the final act.
Cinemagia on top; Anchor Bay on bottom.
We're down to only comparing two transfers, Cinemagia and Anchor Bay. And in this case, they're both identically framed as fullscreen; and they seem to be a dead even magic in terms of clarity and detail. Like Awakening, Anchor Bay has a slight yellowish tint, but it's not downright yellow as the first two films were, to the point where neither coloring is really very preferable. In direct comparison, I prefer the non-tinted Cinemagia, but when you're actually going to watch one DVD or the other, I'd say the difference is strictly academic. Of course, Anchor Bay's subtitles are still burnt in, while Cinemagia's are removable. That's a plus, although I doubt many of us are going to watch this with the subtitles off anyway.
If you've been reading along since Part 1 of my Coffin Joe coverage, you probably already know what to expect in terms of extras. Absolutely nothing from Anchor Bay, and a whole heap of terrific-sounding but untranslated extras from Cinemagia. And you'd be right. Specially, the list of Cimemagia's extras are: another intro, another commentary, a second commentary this time, four more audio recordings, an extracted fourth segment made for this anthology that runs 31 minutes(!), audio commentary for that fourth segment, 7 interviews, an on-camera radio interview with Marins, a making of doc and outtakes about the Coffin Joe claymation piece, another interview with Marins, another episode of Who's Afraid, five more galleries, the website piece and a bunch of trailers.
We really leave horror behind now for 1971's End of Man.  We also leave black and white behind as Marins enters the (mostly) full color world as a mysterious, nameless and naked man who walks out of the ocean and might just be the second coming. He basically walks around being completely passive, and everybody's reactions to him wind up drastically changing their lives. And he winds up attracting followers. It's kind of a religious allegory played for broad laughs, with a soundtrack that plays muzack versions of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." It's playful, Marins is in a lighter mood walking around in a red robe and turban, and people looking for sex and nudity will find some; but I still found it to be a heavy-handed slog to sit through.
Cinemagia on top; Anchor Bay on bottom.
My opinion of this film probably wasn't helped that the transfers look muddy, soft and de-saturated. Both discs now have that ghosting effect on certain (but different) frames, and they're both fullframe, although by the head room in many shots, I'd guess this was at least supposed to be 1.66:1. Anchor Bay again has that slight yellow tint to it, and the subtitles are burnt in as always. Otherwise I can't see one being any better than the other, detail and sharpness seem to be equal.
How does Cinemagia top Anchor Bay's barren feature collection of nothing this time? Let's look at what hasn't been translated this time? An original Coffin Joe intro, an audio commentary, four more audio recordings, a 50 minute "autobiography" film by Marins, clips from two films Marins didn't make that he appears in, 6 interviews, an interview with his webmaster (I think), a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of their audio commentaries, a music video by Liz Vamp, another Marins interview, another episode of Who's Afraid, their website thing (oh, and I'm certain they're all different now), and a bunch of trailers and stills galleries. Oh, how I wish I could understand what they were saying...
Thank goodness, Coffin Joe returns in Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978). This is kind of a fun "meta" horror, along the lines of Wes Craven's New Nightmare but obviously decades earlier. A doctor is haunted by nightmarish visions of Coffin Joe. His colleagues can't cure him, so they enlist Marins, playing himself, the director of the Coffin Joe movies, to help. This is the first full-length Coffin Joe film since This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, ten years earlier. But it loses a little of its punch by not having Joe as the protagonist this time around. And, like Nightmare In a Damaged Brain, Marins cheats by using clips from his past films as the nightmares the doctor is having. It's definitely a bit of a clip show episode, but at least Joe's back.
Cinemagia on top; Anchor Bay on bottom.
More muddy transfers with the same framing. Anchor Bay looks yellowish again, and this time noticably brighter as well. Blacks might be getting a bit crushed, but I still prefer Cinemagia. And again, AB's subtitles are burnt in.
Say it with me, gang: Anchor Bay has nothing; Cimeagia has a wealth of un-dubbed or subtitled extras. Specifically, Cinemagia has: a new intro, an audio commentary, 4 more recordings, a 40 minute documentary about Marins from 1978 called Horror Palace Hotel, 3 clips of films Marins presumably worked on, 7 interviews, a clip of Marins appearing at a rock performance, another interview with Marins, another episode of Who's Afraid, another website clip, more trailers and more galleries.
The year before Hallucinations, Marins made 1977's Hellish Flesh. This wasn't included in the other set because - holy cow; it's an Anchor Bay exclusive! I knew I bought that thing for a reason... Well, Hellish Flesh is not a Coffin Joe movie, but it is a horror film with Marins as the bad guy. He's a scientist who spends to much time at the lab, so his wife cheats on him. She and her lover plot to kill him by burning down the lab (and throwing acid in his face for good measure), but the scientist survives, as a disfigured madman now out for revenge. This is a real, classical-style horror tale; a throwback. That works in its favor compared to some of his weaker, less entertaining films like End of Man, but the fact that its more conventional means it doesn't rise to the heights of his greatest works either.
There's nothing to compare this full-frame transfer to, but it looks a little better than the last couple films we looked at. Of course the subtitles are burnt in, and there are no extras. But thanks to Anchor Bay's set. we got to see one more Marins horror flick, and it's a good 'un.
And it's not the only Anchor Bay set exclusive! Even before Hellish Flesh, Marins directed 1976's Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures. Despite what you might gather from the title, this is actually a Coffin Joe film, although his character isn't quite as prominent as in the main trilogy. We get a hell of a colorful, wacked out introduction of exotic characters bring Coffin Joe back from the dead. After the credits, the film is a bit more grounded as a variety of strangers arrive to stay the night at a hostel run by Marins not quite in Coffin Joe form. Things get weird, time stops, and they each have their own little narrative a la Tales From the Crypt. There are some goofy "naked pleasures" on hand, it does live up to that promise, but it's definitely more of a horror film than anything else.
More fullscreen ghost frames and burnt in subtitles. And again, zero extras. But this is our only opportunity to see this film, and it's one of the more enjoyable ones.
The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins (2001) is a new (at the time - now it's fifteen years old. Where does the time go?) documentary about our hero. Not to be confused with The Universe of Mojica Marins, this is a more substantial, 65 minute doc that's only available in the Anchor Bay set. It's a cool overview of his life and career. We see Marins at home, talk about his childhood and his life as a filmmaker. For such an interesting person, this kind of documentary is essential.
It's full-frame, but since it was a new release at the time of this set, I assume that's how it's supposed to be. It's fine but underwhelmingly handled. I mean, the subtitles are even burnt in here. I just don't get the feeling Anchor Bay spent a lot of time putting this set together.
Finally, we have Embodiment of Evil (2009), Marins comeback film where he finally completes the Coffin Joe trilogy. He has a surprisingly big budget and great technical look here, and the story is everything you would want it to be. Marins hasn't lost his touch, and Joe hasn't missed a step in his quest for a woman to give him a son. The fact Joe looks older and Brazil looks modern is easily explained by the fact that Joe has been sitting in prison for the last 40 years (which makes sense, given what he did in those past movies). I don't know how young horror fans would feel stumbling upon this film if they'd never seen the original Coffin Joe films; but for longtime fans, it's a real crowd pleaser. If you've seen his past films but avoided this one because you anticipated a big let down, I'd say it's safe, you should check it out.
This flashback to the old film in the new one suggests how a restoration might look in 2015.
Now, the version I have is - and the screenshots we're looking at come from - the Anchor Bay DVD. They released it on both DVD and blu in the UK, and Syanpse did the same in America (sold separately in AB's case and as a combo-pack in Synapse's). As a brand new, shot on digital film, it's safe to assume that AB and Synapse's transfers are essentially identical [not true! See the update below], with the blus obviously having the benefit of being HD over the DVDs.
There's a ghosting effect on Anchor Bay's DVD, though, which I can't confirm is on their blu-ray, too. It might be, though, because I suspect it comes from their bringing an NTSC film over to PAL. It's also worth noting that Synapse's blu-ray is a dual-layer disc, while AB's is single. They share the same extras (an enjoyable 30+ minute 'making of' and the trailer), except Synapse one-ups AB with an additional 14 minute featurette on the film's premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, where Coffin Joe speaks to a very large, enthusiastic crowd. The sound quality makes it a little hard to make out some of the words, but you certainly don't miss the showmanship as Marins is carried out in a large coffin by two burly men surrounded by... creatively dressed women. So, the AB DVD is what I've got, but I'd say the Syanpse blu is the definitive way to go.
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Update 2/13/15:
I made a little error above, as was pointed out to me in the comments. This film was actually shot on film, not digital; and the transfers are far from identical beyond a PAL/NTSC difference. So I researched it, saw he was right, and upgraded to the Synapse blu. So now, let's compare screenshots. And since the Synapse release is a combo pack, we can throw in the Synapse DVD, too.  Further update 2/12/17: The third disc in Synapse's Coffin Joe Trilogy 3-disc set is the same as the DVD from the combo pack.  Like, it's literally the exact same disc, with the 2011 date on the label and everything.
Anchor Bay DVD on top; Synapse DVD mid and Synapse blu-ray on bottom.
Synapse went back to the camera negative (it says so right on the back of the box) to strike a new transfer of Embodiment, and it's certainly quite noticeable. The framing's the same, but the colors are more natural on the Synapse disc, and the Anchor Bay is decidedly darker and smudgier. To be fair, though, I think the Syanpse disc could stand to be a sliver darker. The ghosting (look at the guard's right hand) is fixed, too. Now, granted, it's unfair to compare the AB DVD to the Synapse blu - one obviously has the added HD edge - and after all, AB did release theirs on blu, too. But I think that's why it's helpful to throw the Synapse DVD into the comparisons. We can really see what's different in the transfer vs what's different in the HD/ SD compression. To zero in on it, I've zoomed onto the sign behind the characters in that second screenshot.

I've also shuffled the order a bit and didn't give away which shot is which with a caption this time. But you don't need me to tell you which is which anyway, do you? That's the dark, blurry, unreadable Anchor Bay disc in the center, without a clear distinction between where his cap ends and his head begins. And that's a much clearer, smoother and brighter Synapse DVD to the left of it. Of course, better still is the Syanpse blu on the right, which really takes away a lot of the compression flaws of the image, and its sign is by far the easiest to read. But even without the leap to HD, Synapse's transfer still clarifies each letter, whereas the Anchor Bay only manages to clarify each word from the next, like varying lengths of grey smear.
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Coffin Joe, as seen in one of his many exclusive Cinemagia intros.
So, that's about it for what's available. There are more Marins films out there, even more Coffin Joe ones; but none that have been released (except for some now very rare SWV video tapes). He's also still active as a filmmaker, so don't be surprised if one of his new works pops up on DVD one day. As I mentioned already, the now OOP Fantoma set has been reissued by Umbrella in Australia, so they're easier to find now. These titles have also been issued in a few other countries... I've seen Greek and Japanese discs online, and a collection from Italy which seems to have everything that Anchor Bay UK set offers. But I think those all just replicate the transfers and features we've covered here.

Overall, collecting Coffin Joe means you're either going to have to do a lot of double/triple dipping, or let some stuff go. Fantoma and Synapse have the best transfers, and some nice if brief extras; but they only have a few of his films. Cinemagia has more films and all those untranslated extras, plus that one translated soc. Mondo Macabro's disc kinda blows, but they have an exclusive extra. And considering how lacking Coffin Joe fans are in (translated) extras, you might be compelled to pick it up just for that. And Anchor Bay? They've got the most movies, but the worst transfers. It's really just a collection of compromises. It's just going to come down to how much do you feel you need beyond the core Coffin Joe trilogy of films. At least until somebody comes along and does a massive restoration of Marins' entire body of work.  But it seems Synapse's DVD-only Trilogy may be the best we'll get

It is unbelievably frustrating how much great material there is in the Cinemagia box without subtitles. Any company that simply reissued an English-friendly version of that box alone would have fans dying to give them their money. But of course, there's so much more that could be done. Look how good the original films could look. And you know what? I'd really like to see The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe. It seemed like the buzz around Coffin Joe on DVD has simmered, but I'd love to see it boil back up for blu-ray. I've read so many fans say on forums that they were holding off on the Brazilian set, waiting for the English-friendly version that was sure to arrive in America. But it's been over a decade now. So let's keep hope alive, but in the meantime, we can at least make use of what's available.

3 comments:

  1. Another great write-up. However, EMBODIMENT OF EVIL was actually shot on 35mm film, not digital. Based on what I've read about Anchor Bay UK's less-than-stellar DVD, I can understand the mistake! I seem to recall Don May telling me they were unhappy with the HD master supplied by the licensor (the one used for the UK releases), so they actually had a new scan made from the original camera negative for their Blu-Ray -- I had both the ABUK and Synapse Blus, and I'm pretty sure you can guess which one comes out on top.

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    1. Oh really? That's interesting. Sounds like one more reason for me to bite the bullet and upgrade.

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    2. You were right! I just updated this post with a full-on comparison with the Synapse release. :)

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