The Strange Oeuvre of Coffin Joe, Part 4

The day I thought  nobody ever thought would arrive is here: the day Jose Mojica Marins classic films have been released in HD.  Well, most of 'em, anyway.  Arrow's new 6-disc boxed set 'Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe' features all-new restorations of nine of his most famous films from the 60s and 70s, as well as Embodiment of Evil from 2008, and packs in a whole ton of documentaries, shorts, special features and swag.  For Coffin Joe fans, this is a big deal.

It also has to be noted that a replacement program is currently in effect because the subtitles for Awakening Of the Beast are broken.  And unless you're fluent in Portuguese, you need 'em to watch the movie; it's no small detail.
Update 3/25/24: And now they're here! If you buy this set new, now, you should have the replacement disc already in the package. But to be sure, you might want to double-check against the above photo, which shows the code on the new version with the functioning subtitles (specifically, you want it to end in "V3").

So I've updated the pages where I already covered most of these films with the new blu-ray versions.  Everything else we'll be looking at right here.  So click the links below for the following films:
...But if you just want a lightning quick verdict, I'll spare you the trouble.  They're all solid upgrades.  Some are a little more subtle in their jumps in PQ than others, in large part because some were scanned from their original negatives, while others had to use other sources.  Comparing some of the later films in particular to their old DVDs will really make you say wow.  Yes, they've really made genuine HD upgrades for all of them, despite some suggestion in the past that it would be impossible.  Go see for yourselves.

Now, the biggest thing that leaves to cover here is easily 1972's never-before-released When the Gods Fall Asleep, a sequel to The End of Man.  Our man Fin escapes from the asylum once again, only to this time find himself in the middle of a gang war in the local slums.  After a while he gives a speech about man's ability to reason and breaks it all up.  This catches the attention of a Satanic cult, who decide that Finis must be some kind of representative of Lucifer.  But after a while, he shows up and gives another speech, convincing them to stop their sacrifice.  Then he breaks up a fight at a wedding and another at a brothel.  At this point, the movie's already almost over, and I won't spoil the "twist," but it ain't much of one.
Along the way, though, Marins recruits an impressive amount of extras and does show us some sights: a couple having sex in a barrel, a prostitute pooping in a broken toilet.  Look, I didn't say they were good or appealing sights.  The look is bright and colorful, though, except for a few scenes which inexplicably dip into black and white.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the switching; it just happens.  Jaunty, needle drop music helps perk up the proceedings, but I don't think I'd recommend this movie to anyone but diehard completists.
2024 Arrow BD.
When the Gods Fall Asleep comes from a fresh 4k scan of the only existing 35mm print, and looks pretty good from such a limited source.  It's bright and clear, though I'm sure it could've been a bit sharper if the original negatives had been available.  But if I didn't know, I would have guessed this was from a closer source, like an interpositive, than just a print.  The colors are strong without being over-saturated, looking faded in only a few shots.  A few of the black and white shots look a little more worse for the wear, too, suggesting perhaps that Marins used lower quality film for a few shots.  The original 1.37:1 is perfectly preserved and damage appears occasionally, mostly in the form of vertical scratches, but it's fairly minor.  And the film grain is thorough and natural, suggesting about as good an encode as you could hope for without an actual UHD disc.

The original LPCM Portuguese audio is a little rough and echo-y, but I'm sure it's as good as the film has ever sounded.  And the English subtitles are removable, with just one or two little errors I spotted throughout (like "liveforms" in the opening monologue).
So let's get into the special features, not just for this film, but the whole set.  It's a long list.  I'm color-coding it to distinguish between those new to this set (red), and those carried over from previous Coffin Joe releases (black):
  • Audio commentaries by Marins, filmmaker Paulo Duarte & expert Carlos Primati on At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, The Strange World of Coffin Joe, Awakening Of the Beast, End of Man and Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind, and a commentary by producer Paulo Sacramento & co-screenwriter Dennison Ramalho on Embodiment of Evil
  • Video essay by expert Lindsay Hallam
  • Bloody Kingdom, his 1950 short film with Marin's commentary
  • Clips from his other early works The Adventurer's Fate and My Destiny In Your Hands
  • Strange World alternate ending (with optional commentary by Marins)
  • A 90 minute retrospective by expert Stephen Thrower
  • Video essay by expert Miranda Corcoran
  • Alternate Awakening Of the Beast opening credits 
  • Video essay by expert Guy Adams
  • Video essay by expert Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • Video essay by expert Virginie Sélavy
  • Video essay by expert Jack Sargeant
  • Interview with Dennison Ramalho
  • Archival 2001 Sundance footage
  • A Blind Date for Coffin Joe (short film)
  • Video essay by expert Andrew Leavold
  • Video essay by expert Kat Ellinger
  • A second part of that interview with Dennison Ramalho
  • Footage of Marins at the 2009 Fantasia Film Festival Premiere
  • A massive 90-minute Zoom chat with Dennison Ramalho
  • Official Embodiment Making Of
  • "Experimental" Embodiment Making Of
  • Embodiment deleted scenes with commentary by Marins
  • Brief visual effects featurette with commentary by Marins
  • Brief storyboards featurette with commentary by Marins
  • Ten original trailers for the films in this set
TL;DR, they carried over a few things, created a whole bunch of new extras with their own usual cadre of experts, and still left many of the interviews and other vintage materials from the Portuguese set behind, still frustratingly never translated into English.  The real coup are the commentaries, which technically aren't new, but have been subtitled from the Portuguese discs into English for the very first time, and that definitely counts!  It's too bad they didn't carry over and translate all that other great stuff, but finally getting to listen to most of Marins' commentaries is awesome.

Even stuff that Synapse saved from the Portuguese set, like interviews with Marins and his museum tour, or the crazy new scene he created for At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, have been left behind.  So we took our two forward, but also the step backwards there.  The Fantoma interviews and Mondo Macabro's Coffin Joe documentary have also been left out.  Demons and Wonders isn't here either, let alone all of the wild, untranslated extras on that disc.  So yeah, you'll have to hang on to pretty much all of your old DVDs.  I so much would have preferred just getting the cool, existing extras carried over and translated when needed than most of the new stuff by experts, but oh well.  There's no arguing that this is a pretty packed set, with at least some absolutely essential bonus features.
not the real Coffin Joe.
Of the expert stuff, it's interesting just to hear all the varying ways they pronounce "Jose."  Stephen Thrower's is less a visual essay and more a lecture towards camera with occasional cut-ins, but it's also the most informational and worth your time.  Some of the other ones are too breezy and feel like they're just giving a brief overview of what anyone who's buying a set like this would already know, or just pointing out what you'd clearly see on screen yourself once you've watched the films.  They tend to all use the same film clips, too.  So you're going to see the same signature shots over and over, which makes the temptation to skip some of these increasingly tempting.  Well, I've watched 'em all and yeah, just watch Thrower's.

The Blind Date for Coffin Joe is a genuinely funny short film that's been on Youtube, but I'm glad it made its way here, and it's cool that we got more Embodiment of Evil stuff than Synapse and Anchor Bay were able to provide, especially the deleted scenes.  The packaging and physical bonuses are impressive, too.  The whole thing comes in a solid box with a lift-off lid housing six amary cases with reversible artwork (though it's a little annoying that each film only gets printed on one side, including the spine, making it an unnecessarily irritating challenge to figure out which films are on which discs).  There's also a double-sided fold-out poster, a substantial, 90-page full-color book, an art card for every film, a bonus art card, an especially fun replication of Coffin Joe's business card as seen in the original film, and a card for another Arrow release (mine was the Spaghetti western Matalo).
And, of course, this still isn't a complete collection of Marin's films.  Between his more recent work and television stuff, there's at least enough material for a Volume 2, if Arrow feels up for it (and if the rights are feasible).  I certainly don't miss his porno stuff, but a few films, especially The Strange Exorcism of Coffin Joe, are conspicuous in their absence.  Stuff like The Hour of Fear, Trilogy of Terror, The Curse and The Plague would be great.  I fear, like with Criterion's massive Bergman box, fans will get it and think they have everything, leaving the remaining work to fade into obscurity.  But also like the Criterion box, I never thought we'd get a release half this fantastic.  I mean, I can remember Synapse explaining how we'd never get the original Coffin Joes in anything better than their DVDs because the film elements had dissolved into dust, and yet here we are - huzzah!

1 comment:


    "We tried to get Exorcismo Negro too, but it's with a different rights holder who didn't want to play ball, alas."