My Last Interview With José Mojica Marins (Part 3 of 3)
The creator of Coffin Joe talks about porn, pride, and regrets
In 2012, I was invited to take part in an incredible project called Memória do Cinema (Memory of Cinema), created by Heco Produções and carried out in partnership with the Museum of Image of Sound (MIS) and the Government of the State of São Paulo. This project allowed me to interview Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins, a cult artist and a true icon of horror cinema (because of Coffin Joe, the character he created and lived for decades).
Mojica was 76 years old at the time and our conversation lasted for almost three hours. Shortly thereafter, he would suffer a heart attack that left him very weak and reclusive, until his death on February 19, 2020, at the age of 82. This must be, therefore, one of his last longer interviews.
There are few interviews with Mojica translated into English, and I thought it was worth translating this one because he talks about aspects that are generally ignored. I divided our conversation into three large chronological blocks. The original video can be found at the end.
In this third and last part, the filmmaker talks about his experiences in the Brazilian X-Rated cinema of the 1980s, about his return to horror only in 2008 (in his last feature, “Encarnação do Demônio”), and leaves some reminiscences about his life and career — some of these words become particularly bitter now, after his death.
From the second half of the 1980s, with the end of the Military Dictatorship and censorship in Brazil, the cinema produced in Boca do Lixo surrendered to sex: the only type of independent film that still gave some financial return at the time was the pornographic film. Mojica was forced to leave horror movies behind to venture into the eccentric world of X-Rated, starting in 1984 with “A Quinta Dimensão do Sexo” (Fifth Dimension of Sex). But he continued to explore taboos and disturbing images — filming sex scenes between women and animals, for example!
FMG: Before, we were talking about Mário Lima.
JMM: Mário produced a porn movie that I directed with a dog named Jack. The film stayed in theaters for an entire year. Then the owner of the dog could not take jealousy and poisoned Jack, because he discovered that it was his own wife who taught the dog to make sex! The repercussion of the case was really huge! If I had made another film at the time called “The Death of Jack”, with a similar dog, I would have made a lot of money for sure. I remember walking in front of movie theaters like Ipiranga and Art Palácio, and I saw a lot of TV Globo [note: The most important TV station in Brazil] stars in line to see a porn movie with a dog! Because it was a different thing, no one had done that until then.
FMG: Of course you’re talking about the famous “24 Horas de Sexo Explícito” (24 Hours of Explicit Sex, 1985)…
JMM: “24 Horas de Sexo Explícito” was an unexpected success. First, the maids went to the theaters to watch it, and then they went to work and told about the film to their mistresses. Suddenly I was passing by the movie theaters and it was full of wealthy, snobbish women in line to see a movie with Jack the Dog! I don’t know, maybe they wanted to imitate that with the puppies they had at home. (…) Then other producers tried to make porn with other animals, even with a donkey. And I used to say: “No, it’s no use”. But they tried to repeat the success with every kind of animal. I remember that [filmmaker] Jean Garrett even used fish…
FMG: In “O Beijo da Mulher Piranha” (Kiss of the Piranha Woman, 1986)!
JMM: That’s it, he used piranha!
FMG: Are you upset about having directed so many great films in the past and one of your biggest popular hits being a porn movie with a dog?
JMM: No, I don’t care. Because it’s like they said in Canada: I’m in the Third World, and that kind of thing here is very important. But in the First World, I have a completely different recognition. There I am a cult filmmaker, I am a genius, and here I’m an opportunistic man, according to many. I personally think that we should all be opportunists, right? If you have the opportunity to do something that someone else hasn’t done, I think you need to do it. I think it’s normal.
FMG: Did you have fun making these pornographic films or did you consider it a shame?
JMM: I didn’t enjoy myself, but it was a challenge. And the people at Boca do Lixo used to say that I just didn’t make this kind of film because I didn’t know how to do it. That touched my pride, and I decided to show them that I knew how to do better than anyone, I just didn’t do it before because I didn’t like it. So I directed “24 Horas…” and proved that I could stop Brazil, because for a whole year everybody was talking about this film. And when I did “48 Horas de Sexo Alucinante” (48 Hours of Hallucinatory Sex, 1987) I was no longer interested in it. I wanted to let the producer Mário Lima direct this one, because he was my friend for 60 years. But he didn’t make it and I had to go back to save the film and the investment. But the truth is, I didn’t like that. I actually filmed sex without liking it. What I like is to film sexuality, something that makes me much hornier than showing it explicitly. So I filmed explicit sex, but it didn’t feel right. I did it for money.
FMG: Soon after, Mário debuted as a director in a violent rape-and-revenge porn called “A Menina do Sexo Diabólico” (The Girl of Diabolical Sex, 1987). Did he ask you to direct this one too?
JMM: No, but I try to help him as much as possible. But they ruined the film in such a way that I said: ”Look, to save this thing it’s easier for you to start all over again”. It was pure crap. But Mário remains my friend, he comes to my house every day. I wish I had brought him here today, to honor his work too. Because he was a great producer in his day, he just didn’t know how to enjoy the moment. He even slept with six women at the same time. Just yesterday I joked with him: “You slept with six women but you did nothing, they just scratched your back”. [note: Mojica’s friend and business partner since the director’s first films, Mário Lima died the year after this interview, 2013, victimized by complications from pneumonia.]
“Encarnação do Demônio”
Mojica always had the dream of turning his Coffin Joe saga into a trilogy, starting with “À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma” (At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul, 1964), continuing with “Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver” (This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse, 1967), and ending with “Encarnação do Demônio” (Embodiment of Evil). Although Coffin Joe has appeared in other of his films as a supernatural entity, this would be the villain’s original trilogy. But the long-awaited last chapter of the saga would be released 40 years later, only in 2008!
FMG: You only started making porn movies because you wanted to get money to shoot “Encarnação do Demônio”, right?
JMM: I fought a lot for “Encarnação”. When I finished “Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver”, I thought that the following year I would do “Encarnação”, but it took 40 years! I spent years looking for all the means to make this film. I had a contract with [producer] Augusto de Cervantes that he did not fulfill, it was he who was going to produce “Encarnação” [in the 1980s]. But then he started producing porn films with other directors, and he started making a lot of money.
FMG: When you finally managed to shoot “Encarnação do Demônio”, you were away from a movie set for decades. What was the biggest difficulty you faced?
JMM: Actually I didn’t have much work, because I had a great crew. Everyone gave me total freedom. If there was a film I made with complete freedom, it was this one. Even so, there are many scenes that I think were not explored as they should. For example, there is a barrel with three thousand cockroaches where I put the head of my girlfriend at the time [Lenny Dark], and I think that moment wasn’t well explored in the finished film. Some strong scenes did not appear in the film, and I never understood what happened. Because we had total freedom, and the initial idea was to make two cuts of the film, Rated and Unrated. But it never happened. The fact that they had cut some scenes made me really upset, and other moments shouldn’t have been in the film at all. Because my friend Dennison Ramalho [note: The screenwriter of “Encarnação do Demônio”] was an unconditional fan of mine, it ended up complicating things because according to what I said he was going to complain to producer Paulo Sacramento. Sacramento used to listen to what I said, but he was always convinced by the other producers. So each one had a different view on what the movie should be like, and I think things got a little bit complicated.
FMG: So a lot of people influenced the result of the film?
JMM: I think so. It ended up getting… I would say, half of what I wanted.
FMG: And the other half?
JMM: The other half is part of one, part of another. I think there is a mixture of several things. But it was not the film I imagined 40 years before. If I had total freedom, as they originally proposed to me, I think the movie would be much more commercial. (…) And if God helps me, I want to produce my last film in 2013, [a new sequel] with the most beautiful women in Brazil. I want to make a film that values women, and not just because we all came from women, it’s a tribute that I want to do to women. If I am still alive today, if I have been through so much and managed to survive, it was thanks to the women in my life. So I want to pay tribute to the woman, a film dedicated to them, giving them the value they deserve.
FMG: Is this the last movie you want to make?
JMM: Yes, this would be my last film. I thought “Encarnação do Demônio” would be the last one, but I think it is necessary to introduce Coffin Joe’s son, and for that it’s necessary to make a new film. (…) Coffin Joe is dead, but he leaves a son, and other filmmakers in the future will be able to decide which side Coffin Joe’s son should go — Good or Evil. [note: Mojica never directed this or any other feature film after “Encarnação do Demônio”. His last job, just before he died, was directing one of the episodes in a Brazilian horror anthology.]
During his long and problematic career, José Mojica Marins had dozens of projects started and never finished, canceled, or shelved. One of them was “O Devorador de Olhos” (The Eye Eater), about a psychopath who discovers that he can recover his eyesight if he tears out the eyes of his victims and eats them. But there is a single project that Mojica still regrets not producing: “Os Sapos” (The Frogs), an amphibious version of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” that he tried to film in the early 1970s.
FMG: Do you think it’s easier to make movies today?
JMM: Today is too easy.
FMG: The problem is the same as always: money.
JMM: Yes, it’s always the money. But today it’s too easy to shoot, you can do anything, you don’t have any more obstacles to do it right. I think that between 1960 and 2012 the whole process became much easier.
FMG: You have had numerous projects announced or started that have never been filmed or completed. Are there any of them that you would still like to see completed, even by someone else?
JMM: “Os Sapos”. This was a script that I wrote over four years. I consulted experts on the subject, and the producer would be Barretão [note: Luiz Carlos Barreto, one of the most important producers of Brazilian cinema]. In the end, he kept the script but never made the film.
FMG: And why this film exactly?
JMM: Because I think the idea was very good. Like it or not, in this film I tried to unify everything that exists on Earth, man and… If there are insects, if there are animals, I think everything has a raison d’être, and comes from an objective that the Great Force of the Universe has given us. Let’s call this Force God. “Os Sapos” had everything to be the great masterpiece of my career. [note: The reason for the project’s cancellation was the discovery that there was an American film with an argument similar to Mojica’s being shot at the same time, George McCowan’s “Frogs”, released in 1972]
Pride and Regret
In a long career full of ups and downs, with some brilliant movies side by side with productions made just to earn some money to pay the rent, it is common for any artist to be proud of some titles, but want to forget others. When asked about this, Mojica made a surprising revelation: he was not 100% satisfied with almost any of his own films!
FMG: Are there any of your films that you regret having made and that you would like to delete from your filmography?
JMM: Let’s see… Well, many of my films ended up being distant from the initial idea or proposal during the filming, either due to technical problems or financial problems. So I think that none of my films really reached my initial goal. The film that came closest to what I wanted to do was “O Despertar da Besta” (Awakening of the Beast, 1970). If this film was not confiscated for 20 years by the censors, perhaps it would change the direction of Brazilian cinema forever. Who knows, today we would be in a more welcoming and much better situation to work with performing arts. [note: Finished in 1970, “O Despertar da Besta” was confiscated by censorship and had its exhibition banned in Brazil for almost 20 years. The film would only be released in 1986.]
FMG: What has been your greatest happiness in a career of more than 50 years?
JMM: In reality… Maybe my highlight is… I think it is the making of the first Brazilian horror film, “À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma”. Because this film showed not only here in Brazil, but for the whole world, that we can make movies for international audiences. Films about our legends, about our stories, maybe even about [Brazilian author] Monteiro Lobato. I think this is incredible, I think Brazil can do that. But unfortunately there are no thinking heads to do so. The great heads, the great intelligences that existed among us are gone. Today, very few people in Brazil remain capable of carrying out works like this. I think we are doomed to final destruction if we suddenly see these things like “Twilight” and “Eclipse” as models. It’s the end of horror cinema!
In Brazil, neither the audience, nor the press, nor the authorities were able to separate José Mojica Marins, the creator, from Coffin Joe, the creature. He was naturally called “Coffin Joe” even when he was not dressed as his famous character, just as Bela Lugosi was immortalized as Dracula. Mojica and his films were also very important for a new generation of Brazilian filmmakers who decided to make horror cinema.
FMG: Are you bothered that people still don’t know how to separate the creator from the creature and call José Mojica Marins Coffin Joe?
JMM: I already got used to it. I’m even a little surprised when someone calls me José Mojica. I ask him: “Hey, how do you know my name?”. If the person calls me José Mojica, I think it’s very cool, because he knows how to separate the creator from his creation. When they call me Coffin Joe, I don’t know what to think…
FMG: To this date, people speak of Brazilian horror mentioning only Coffin Joe and Mojica, but other directors have also tried to make horror films in Brazil. Are there any Brazilian directors, or Brazilian horror movies, that you like? Maybe guys you met in the past, like [filmmakers] Jean Garrett and Ivan Cardoso?
JMM: Unfortunately I have to answer what I wouldn’t like to answer: none of them satisfy me. From what we have of poetry and strange things in Brazil, it really surprises me that there are no people interested in making films about this exotic and strange culture that we have. If we did that, we would be able to speak to the whole world. When talking about Brazil abroad, a lot of people know our legends, but nobody is making films based on our legends, and that saddens me a lot. I hope that other people will come and make cinema in a different way, true Brazilian cinema, a cinema of ours. It would make me very happy and I would die comfortably fulfilled.
FMG: How would you like José Mojica Marins to be remembered by future generations?
JMM: Like a man who falls, who doesn’t give up, who rises, who goes on. Someone who falls and gets up. Because as long as he can stand, he can fall as many times as necessary, and as many times as he can get up. Our future filmmakers will have to continue this fight of fall and rise, because it’s something that is part of life. If you never fall, you will never know what fall is. That is why we have to fall to feel the fall, and also to know, when we rise, what glory really is. This is very important: fall and rise. The message that I leave for future generations is the following: you, my friend, who is watching and listening to us right now… Whatever you want to do, do it! Do not listen to advice, because often your advisor wants to be you and will try to hinder you. If you want to accomplish something, go ahead. Falling is normal, just get up and move on. Never surrender. Live your life the way you want to live.
To read this interview in full:
Part 1: The first films and the creation of Coffin Joe
Part 2: Filming in Boca do Lixo, the 1970s, and censorship
Part 3: Porn cinema and the return in the 2000s