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Coffin Joe is the English equivalent of Zé do Caixão. Marins created the character in 1963 for the film At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. The character went on to appear in many more films and as the character gained popularity he has portrayed and used the Coffin Joe persona in television programs, songs, videos, and comic books.
Coffin Joe wears a black suit, a cape and a top hat. His most notable feature is his grotesque, long, curled fingernails. Marins grew his fingernails several inches long, always wearing them in public in the style of the character. Coffin Joe is an evil, amoral character who considers himself superior to others and exploits them to suit his purposes. He hates morality and religion to the point of obsession. Coffin Joe's argument is that (self) imposed religious limitations tend to prevent individual development and, as a consequence, inhibit social change and improvement. The primary theme of the character is his single-minded obsession with the "continuity of the blood"; he wants to sire the superior child from the perfect woman. His idea of a "perfect woman" is not exactly physical but someone he regards as more courageous and intellectually superior to the Brazilian average, and in this quest he is willing to kill anyone who crosses his path.
He is called Coffin Joe by the townsfolk, but the character's real name is Josefel Zanatas- a name Marins explains that he chose because fel (gall) brings to mind something bitter and Zanatas, "because it means Satan in reverse."
According to Marins' backstory for the character, despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Josefel was a very lonely child; he was mocked and ostracized by others because his parents owned a funeral home. He had one friend at school, Sara, a girl whom he fell in love with and later decided to marry. However, tragic circumstances prevented them from being wed; Sara's parents died and Josefel was sent to war. They decided that they would marry when he returned home.
Sara continued taking care of the funeral home and sent letters to her beloved. However, due to a mix-up, Josefel’s letters were never delivered to her. As a result, Sara thought Josefel had died, and with times being difficult, she married the mayor instead. On July 18, 1945, Josefel returned to find Sara and the mayor together. Before either of them could explain, Josefel pulled out his gun and killed them both.
He was not convicted of the crime, which was justified as "war trauma," but something inside him had changed. Josefel, who, until then was a sweet and gentle man, transformed into a bitter and unfeeling person. After that, he would go on to terrorize the people of the city and receive the name "Coffin Joe."
See also: List of film appearances of Coffin Joe
The theme of the films in the Coffin Joe trilogy focuses on Coffin Joe's bloody and determined quest to find his perfect bride. At the end of each film, his plans are undone when, while he is haunted and pursued by authorities and those he wronged, in the end is seemingly killed by some means. The first Coffin Joe film, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma) (1963), is Brazil's first horror film. This is the first appearance of Coffin Joe.
The film was followed by the second installment, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver) (1967), wherein it is revealed that Joe survived his ordeal at the end of the first film and returns to São Paulo to continue his quest. Marins released Embodiment of Evil (Encarnação do Demônio) in 2008, in which Coffin Joe returns after 40 years in a prison mental ward and immediately proceeds to exploit, terrorize, and kill in order to find the perfect woman to bear his child.
Marins played the character of Coffin Joe in his other films that, in addition to the basic genre of horror, had elements of exploitation and surrealism such as Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind, Awakening of the Beast and The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe. In these films Coffin Joe is not the central character and generally inhabits an abstract realm such as nightmares, hallucinations, and hell. Despite its title, The Strange World of Coffin Joe does not contain the Coffin Joe character.
Cultural references Edit
- Raymond Castile's independent short film, The Blind Date of Coffin Joe parodies the character in a modern setting.
- The Brazilian band Os Mutantes mentions Zé do Caixão in the lyrics to their song "Trem Fantasma" on their 1968 self-titled debut album.
- The death metal band Necrophagia dedicates a song to the character on their album The Divine Act of Torture. The song re-tells At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and contains sound samples of Coffin Joe's voice.
- The drummer of The Horrors has the stage name of Coffin Joe.
- Zé do Caixão is mentioned amongst two other Brazilian legends, Zumbi and Lampião, in the song "Ratamahatta", from Sepultura's 1996 album Roots. He also performed an onstage 'blessing' for the band during their Barulho Contra Fome (Noise Against Hunger) concert which was the first gig of the Against tour in 1998. The recording of this turned up as a b-side entitled 'Prenuncio' on the Tribus E.P. and is occasionally still played by the band to open concerts.
- The opening from Awakening of the Beast was sampled and used as the intro to White Zombie's song "I, Zombie."
- The character of Hopey in "Wigwam Bam Part Four" of Jaime Hernandez's graphic novel Locas is shown watching At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul.
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