Original interview by Fornao Ramos and Antonio Querino Neto in SET Magazine. Translated by Paula Catarino.
Before visiting Brazil, all I knew about Jose Mojica Marins was that he had starred in and directed many fascinating sounding horror films that I would never have a chance to see. A few stills showed up in issues of Famous Monsters magazine and I had somehow found a 1972 issue of the Spanish magazine Terror Fantastic with a Marins article. Years later, Phil Hardy's British Encyclopedia Of Horror Films provided the first information on Marins films that I could actually read. Last year, I was surprised to find out that not only did the Sala Cinemateca (where my PSYCHOTRONIC series was being presented) have some Marins features in their archive, but that he lives in Sao Paulo. These days Marins is an eccentric recluse with long hair and long fingernails, but without a phone. I never got to meet and interview him but was lucky enough to see his two best known features. I was told by people who had met him that he was a strange, but harmless and friendly man. Brasilians I talked to seemed to have mixed reactions to the existence of Marins. Some were surprised that a foreigner wanted to know about him, and some seemed a bit embarrassed by him, saying in essence, that his films were cheap and worthless.
Marins, born in Spain, but raised in Sao Paulo, has reportedly made '30' features. His first were childhood homemade efforts in the 50s. Many of his films were apparently censored and/or were never released. Marins is known for portraying ZE DO CAIXAO, an exotic sounding name that I was surprised to find out translates as 'Coffin Joe'! A MEIA NOITE LEVAREI SUA ALMA ('Tonight I Will Steal Your Soul') (1964) and ESTA NOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER ('Tonight I Will Possess Your Corpse') (1966) were made when Marins was only in his 20s. He produced, directed, co-scripted and starred (as Ze) in both, filmed partially in his own studio in an abandoned church. Reportedly when he ran out of money filming A MEIA NOITE... and couldn't pay the actors, he forced them back to work at gunpoint (Was Marins a role model for Werner Herzog?). He made many more features (mostly in the 70s), sometimes as Ze, sometimes playing himself and Ze, and made and hosted '130' TV films. His Ze character was even the star of fumetti-style comics.
In 74 Marins was a guest at The Paris Science Fiction Film Festival and brought a print of his 0 ESTRANHO MUNDO DE ZE DO CAIZAO ('The strange World Of Ze...') (1968). Journalist Horacio Higuchi, who had interviewed Marins for L'Ecran Fantastique, claims that -'Unfortunately his horror movies became rather bland after his European sojourn. For instance, his EXORCISMO NEGRO (74) , filmed in color and backed by much better production values than before, was a slick, but unsatisfying mix of his Ze character's peculiar mythos with the then popular Exorcism craze. He brought back loads of rubber arms and fingers from Europe so he could use them in scenes of amputation and dismemberment, but gone were the mondo overtones of the first two Ze films, where he used real tarantulas, snakes and maggots to crawl over the cast, simply because he couldn't afford rubber substitutes!' Marins later directed some sex comedies and porno films using the pseudonym J. Avellar. The last film featuring Ze that I could find a listing for was ENCARNACAO DE DEMONIO (81). In 82 Marins acted in another directors feature, 0 SEGREDO DAMUMIA. Marins considers the two films I saw, as the first two parts of a trilogy. Just recently, he announced he would make the final third, a big budget film to be called INCARNATIONS OF LUCIFER.
Marins films are packed with strong images, not just th expected horror cliches (skulls, tarantulas, snakes, graveyards ... ) but scenes of shocking sadism, gore, nudity and genuine surrealism. Seeing these films made me re-evaluate even more what (60s) horror films are considered 'important' in books. What directors saw Marins films in European film festivals before making their own features? How many other inspired but forgotten or unknown foreign language features exist that make most of the Hammer and Corman standards look tame and ordinary by comparison? I've never seen anything quite like these Marins movies.
A MEI NOITE LEVAREI SUA ALMA (1964)
Ze makes his first screen appearance, bearded, in a black cape and top hat. He has intense eyes and introduces himself, speaking direcfly into the camera. During the credits, weird music plays, accompanied by howls, screams, maniacal laughter and thunder. A second introduction is made by a Gypsy/witch holding a skull. She also looks into the camera and her voice is heavily echoed. Ze is hateful and evil and relishes every contemptible thing he does, but acts polite to the townspeople as long as they don't deify him. He scares, manipulates, and humiliates people whenever possible. He lives in a house with hands sticking out of the walls (good hatracks), smokes a skull shaped pipe, and has servants. Except for cars seen in the background, the small town seems stuck in the 19th century. Ze spends a lot of time dropping by funerals, expressing his condolences to the grieving people who know he's responsible for the high death rate. In the local bar he approaches a table of men and breaks a wine bottle. He staresat one man (WHITE ZOMBIE/Lugosi style eye close-ups are cut in) then suddenly uses the bottle to cut off two of his fingers! Most of the special effects are pretty convincing. The man sobs, while Ze chomps down on a big (turkey?) leg. A big bald guy knocks him down. He jumps an the bar, kicks the man in the head, then brutally whips him until his face is streaming blood and he cries. He tapes a woman's mouth shut and while she lies in bed in a neglige, lets a huge tarantula crawl on her and bite her. One woman he desires, bites him on the lip when he tries to kiss her. Later he kills her boyfriend by stabbing him, putting him in a bathtub, smashing his head on the side, filling the tub, then drowning him. Then he brings her a bird in a cage, beats her, rapes her (offscreen) and drinks her blood. She hangs herself after he leaves, laughing. He pokes a doctors eyes out (Three Stooges style), leaving bloody sockets, then pours alcohol on him and lights a match. He takes the crown of thorns from a bust of Christ and smashes it into a mans face. Although he does all these horrible things, he rescues a little boy from an abusive father, and is disturbed by the 'bruja' fortune teller who mocks him. He seems to be tempting death by stealing gifts from graves and defiantly yelling in the graveyard. Ze fears 'INFERNO!!'. Voices and the laughing, floating ghost of the suicide torment him and he freaks out while scary music and screaming that sounds like The Doors''Horse Latitudes' is heard. The doctor's corpse surrounded by an eerie returns to light his pipe. In one scene, shown in negative, he sees a procession of his dead victims carrying him in an open casket. In a tomb, the terrified, bloody Ze breaks open coffins and screams insanely when he sees corpses covered with maggots and spiders. The townspeople (with torches) find him and the camera closes in an his upside-down mutilated face as the clock strikes 12.
ESTA NOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER (1966)
For the sequel, Marins tops himself. It begins with the end sequence of the first film. All the credits are animated, quivering and mutating over a quick change collage of shocking and unbelievable scenes from the feature you're about to see (and a few scenes that must have been cut). His assistant this time is a badly scarred hunchback. In one scene a whole room full of kidnapped women sleep in see through negliges. The hunchback lets dozens of huge (real) tarantulas under the door. Soon the creatures are crawling all over the screaming captives One woman somehow manages to stay calm and just brushes them off. The impressed Ze, who searches in vain for 'the perfect woman,' takes her to his bed. While he's undressing her, a trap door next to the bed opens and she's forced to see more women in a pit being killed by big snakes. A man gets an axe in his head, a woman is killed by acid and a (real) mouse is crushed by a rock. You never know what sick thing to expect next. Ze is tortured by vivid nightmares. One night an eerie phantom (that looks like a human skeleton from a side show in dance tights and a hood) literally drags him to hell. The hell sequence is in full color (!). Ze's hell has old fashioned cliche devils with pitchforks poking the damned, but it's freezing, not hot, with a steady snowfall. The ice cave walls have Cocteau-like body parts. Screaming heads hang down from above, and arms, legs, breasts, asses... protrude frome very angle. The damned all scream loudly and constantly, while more disturbed experimental music plays on the soundtrack. Ze has to face the devil himself, played by (who else?) Jose Mojica Marins. Although the budget was again low, Marins must have hired the best technical people available. Many of the effects are excellent and convincing and the cinematography is often stunning. Remember the amazing 'Rubber Biscuit' spinning drunk shot in MEAN STREETS? There's a spinning embrace shot here that's that good.
"I was a child of show business, my father was a Toureiro in Spain, my mother sang tango. I was born with all this energy. In my childhood, I travelled throughout Brazil. When I was only three I was sequestered by a group of Gypsies. It was incredible, my mother was devastated. After that she demanded that we live in one place. An uncle set my father up as manager of a movie theatre that opened in Sao Paulo. From there on, even though my dad went off for an occasional bullfight, we began our sedentary life. At this point, I thought I'd be a Toureiro. I used to watch my old man, people throwing flowers, coins, scarves, women screaming... I already had a cape, so one day I decided to go and tourear the bull. The animal got so wild, that I couldn't. I had to climb up a post. Shortly after that, the Society Against Animal Cruelty closed all the arenas, they became forbidden in Brazil, and there went my dreams of being a toureiro.
"There was an old potato store keeper near my house.He used to tell all us kids these stories about death, told us that when people die they go to heaven where there are lots of animals and people can communicate with them, everything should be beautiful there. He used to talk and talk and give us candy. One day he died. The wake was the most incredible tear flow, everybody asking for this mans return, saying only the good die and all that stuff. So, at some point, the man gets up. Sat up in his own coffin, with cotton stuffed in his nostrils. Everybody fled outside. Even his wife, who'd been praying that she be taken in his place, and his children who prayed for his return, the priest, the mother. There were only three kids and myself left in there, wondering what had happened. It was catalepsy (like in PREMATURE BURIAL), something that at the time, nobody had heard of. Anyway, in the end, no one bought his potatoes anymore- even his mother went around saying he'd been possessed by a demon, his wife left him. The whole thing traumatized me; I saw that things are wonderful once one dies, but should he come back, everything changes.
"I made my first film at nine with an 8.5mm camera that I'd won. The film was called 'The Final Judgement'. The film showed the end of the world, influenced by my experiences with the Catholic church. One day, youth would cease to think, and what would occur then was what I called an ecological disbalance. People became an immense mass that melted away into nothing, while at the same time germs ran throughout. When I was 12, 1 made my first 16mm film. A total of seven 16mm and two 8.5 mm. At the time, I had plenty of girlfriends. I usually preferred ones with many siblings. You see, I used to put the girls before the camera and the siblings behind as part of the technical crew. The only problem was that at the end of an affair, I was also out of a crew. At 15 I was riding with my buddy and the bike broke down in front of the local cemetery. Looking in we saw something glitter. To us, those were the dead, ascending, leaving. Today we know it is 'Fogo-Fatuo'. We got into town screaming that the dead were invading the world. Somehow people believed us, some thirty people came running to see the so called dead. Of course, when they arrived there was nothing. The following day, I went to the Church of the Congregated and the priest tried to convince me that I was Hallucinating. My pal believed the priest, but not me. Then, more than ever, I had the desire to make a horror film, one that would remove this fear from me.
"At 18, I got engaged and another problem came up: how could I marry if I was such a fearful man? I had to clear myself once and for all. I jumped the wall of a cemetery on a Friday night, holding a rosary in my hand, completely scarred out of my mind. I managed to tell the spirits that this was their chance to come and tell me everything they wished me to know. At first, nothing happened, but suddenly, I saw a dance of an only soul. I wanted to run, but stayed still. It was a fresh grave, a young boy had been buried there less than a week before. The fact that I confronted it gave me strength and I came out of the cemetery whistling 'Maria Bonita'. I went to the priest and told him that I had seen a real spirit. He sent me to the national library where I found the logical explanation to what I'd seen,'Fogo-Fatuo'. In very warm days, the cows and pigs that are slaughtered release a certain light. That was what happened at the cemetery. To me, this was like discovering America, my egg of Columbus.
"In my first (35mm) film, SENTENCA DA DEUS/'Silence Of God' (1958), there was a problem with an actress who died when she went swimming in Vera Cruz. I replaced her with another actress, but I didn't know she was suffering from tuberculosis. She began production, but couldn't finish. I stopped shooting and after a while she passed away. I had nothing to do with it, but by then, people were wondering.. one ... then another.. and I worked with a lot of people! Sometimes I had two or three hundred extras on the set. Someone left, carelessly crossed the street and got himself killed. Another guy killed his wife because she's been an extra, and all these were credited to the fact that they were jinxed by Ze. The second (35mm) film, A SINA DO ADVENTUREIRO/'The Fate Of The Wonderer' (1959) was the first cinemascope feature made in Brazil. Here in Sao Paula, things went well, but in the rural areas, the clergymen would preach against it en masse, pleading with people to boycott this film because it was damned. My third film, MEU DESTINO EM TUAS MAOS /'My Destiny In Your Hands' (1962) was made for the clergy, they were the heroes of the film. We even held a screening for nuns and priests only. The problem was, nobody wanted to release the film! I was appalled. The producers lost money and nobody else wanted to finance me.
"I've had long nails since childhood. I got as far as 21 with long nails, but had to cut them because they were smothering my hands. It was televised. The day I got my nails cut they showed it on live TV. Ze is a character of personality and ideology. He believes in the blood hereditary ties, power of the mind. He believes he can have a child with a woman who thinks alike. He respects children for their innocence. If he could, he'd keep children young forever. I admire him, but I don't have his courage, I am the total opposite. He's waiting for an ideal woman to have a son. I've already got 23. One of my daughters, in fact will play a lead role in "INCARNATIONS OF LUCIFER".
"During the shooting of ESTA NOITE.... we asked the women (auditioning) if they were afraid of spiders or snakes, and we spread them around the sets. We let them know that. We found a guy in Cosmopolis who breeds spiders. He kept them around the house to shun burglars. During the filming, however, none of the women wanted to do the scenes. Since they refused to participate, we were forced to hire new actresses. I brought about 500 tarantulas. The sting hurts like hell, but we took an antidote and it was fine. They covered everything. When the girls rolled over on the bed there were spiders underneath, they were on top, they came out of shirts... It was the men who were afraid. The girls got friendly with the spiders and gave them names. When a spider died, the were crying.
"I saw hell and asked myself why does it have to be black and white? I saw colors, ice, covered by snow. It's a question of vision, very personal. At the time, I hadn't heard of Dante. I even asked somebody wether I could meet this Dante. All I got was a book though. I believe in a supreme being, a reining force. It's impossible to believe that we exist only to sleep, eat, make love, write a book, die, and it's all over. I think there is a reason for existence, for being. I know that people need to belive in something, I am against fanaticism. I'm not afraid of death itself. What I fear is knowing the exact time of it's occurrence. To see death you must die. The truth of the matter is once you die, it is not here that you return. Therefore, my desperation is that I cannot depart here. Well,not yet! I haven't finished leaving my mark here."
Thanks to the helpful staff at Sala Cinemateca in Sao Paulo, Alex Laceroa for translating help, and Horado Higuchi for sending valuable information in a letter that arrived just in time.