REEFER MADNESS by way of Coffin Joe?
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If you’re looking for more Coffin Joe goodness in the third movie of the series, you’re going to be disappointed. Technically, it’s not even a sequel, even though Coffin Joe plays a major role in this film. In all reality, this barely qualifies as a horror movie. In many ways, it barely qualifies as a movie, aside from the fact that it has moving pictures and actors, etc.
A group of doctors have gathered together to discuss one scientist’s recent unorthodox experiment, and for some reason, they’ve invited Jose Mojica Marins to sit in. (Yes, he plays himself in this one.) The scientist in question has exposed a handful of patients to LSD in order to see the effects it has on their psychology. The others are angry with him for using human test subjects. All of this, by the way, you wouldn’t be able to know until you reached the halfway point of the film. Why? Because the first half is full of self-indulgent bullshit.
Mojica spends about 45 minutes showing a series of vignettes. These little scenes depict a bunch of people doing a bunch of drugs and showing what that kind of behavior it leads to. Sure, it’s pretty nasty stuff. The actors are definitely sticking the needles into their own bodies, as proved by the close up shots. In one of these scenes, a hippy takes a young woman off the street and brings her back to a hippy party. Everyone smokes up and starts dancing around, and before long, we get to the sex games. Each of the hippies is given a brief period of time to go down on her and make her come. The first few don’t get the job done. Later, a guy dressed as Jesus shows up and masturbates her with his staff.
When you get right down to it, Mojica is showing us a bunch of classic exploitation stuff, like you might see in REEFER MADNESS and SHE SHOULDA SAID NO. The worst part is, it seems to be written by someone who has never actually seen any of this stuff first hand, kind of like getting a teetotaler to describe what it’s like to be drunk. It’s very easy to dismiss this movie as something akin to L. Ron Bumquist’s marijuana speech from FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS.
Despite this major weakness, Mojica manages to get some great imagery. Aside from the woman getting fucked by the staff of Jesus, we also have the scene where the producer is trying to seduce a potential actress on the casting couch. (Here’s another good thing about Mojica: he doesn’t just portray drugs as something dirty hippies do; it’s something rich, well-known people do, too. The producer in question has just snorted a few bumps.) In this scene, he’s eating a plate full of spaghetti like a pig. In fact, he is juxtaposed with an actual pig for a split second. It is somehow even more disgusting and offensive than the Jesus scene. Great stuff.
The problem is, a string of vignettes does not make a movie, even if there is a frame story depicted in between. One might as well just chop it up and use each vignette as a public service announcement to Just Say No.
Things change, however, at the half-way point, where the good stuff finally happens. In fact, it’s so awesome that it completely makes up for the bullshit meandering that comprises of the first 45 minutes.
Why is Mojica sitting in with these doctors? The answer is pretty funny and very egotistical. The scientist who is being attacked decided to find a powerful, influential image to subject his LSD patients to, and after casting his gaze around his own culture, he has noticed that there is no more polarizing figure in Brazil than Ze do Caixao himself, Coffin Joe.
Holy shit, right? Talk about having an extremely high opinion of one’s self. Even though it is a big-balls type of move, there does seem to be considerable evidence of Coffin Joe’s significance to the culture of Brazil. Look at all the TV shows and comic books made about the guy. (As a funny aside, one of the Coffin Joe comic books is featured in the movie. Included in the DVD is a miniature reproduction of that exact comic book.)
So the scientist exposes these patients to some LSD, and he has them stare at a poster of Coffin Joe in Hell, surrounded by scantily clad women, and let the trip begin!
We now follow each of these patients as they descend into their own individual LSD trips with the insidious Coffin Joe as their guide. What happens is essentially more of the Hell scene in THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE. Granted, it’s visually astounding, but as an artist, one must never repeat one’s self. Once again, it is the only color scene in a black and white movie, and it is full of sheer insanity that might even bother a lot of people in today’s world.
While it may be a bit stagnant of Mojica to pull the same trick twice, at least he does it very, very well. There are some great images that should go down in the history of cinema as film at its finest. In one scene, Coffin Joe walks down a staircase made of people. In another, a spider with a full-grown woman’s head rests on a giant web. In yet another, one of the patients is surrounded by what at first seem to be midgets, but upon closer examination are actually full-sized people doubled over with faces painted on their asses. It sounds absurd, but it comes off as very creepy and kind of mind-blowing, actually.
Speaking of mind-blowing, there is a twist in the end that, considering the tone of the rest of this movie, would shock each and every person who views it. SPOILER ALERT: Just as the doctors at the meeting reach their crescendo of anger, the scientist calmly informs them that none of the patients actually received LSD. He shot them up with water, and he shows them the reports as evidence. He goes on to say that drugs are not the problem with society, it’s the people. People have all of this depravity and vileness in them already, and they’re using drugs as an excuse to indulge in these disgusting practices, such as buying a prostitute just so a roomful of sweaty men can jerk off while watching her shit into a chamber pot. (This is the first scene in the movie, and it is so full of uncomfortable close-ups that one wonders if Sergio Leone had something to do with this.) Talk about a complete 180! As far as set-ups go, that’s probably one of the biggest betrayals ever, to turn what seems like an anti-drug movie into an anti-people movie. No wonder Brazil banned this one. END OF SPOILERS.
Even without the twist, what we have here is a work of genius. No one in the ‘Sixties was doing meta-fictional works like this one. No director of the time would have the gonads to put themselves into the movie as themselves in a major role. It truly is a thing to behold. Despites its many weaknesses, there simply isn’t another movie like it. Stay tuned next time for the fourth Coffin Joe review!Have You Read...?