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In our series exploring horror from around the world, we uncover some of the best horror from South America and enter the strange world of Coffin Joe.

American horror fans have come to know numerous horror icons, from Freddy Krueger to Captain Spaulding. It has been debated amongst horror fans since the 1970s as to who the face of horror truly is. Is it Michael with his iconic blank stare? Perhaps Jason with his trademark hockey mask? Or maybe even Pinhead with his signature look? Fortunately for horror fans in South America, and specifically Brazil, there is no debate. The face of horror is Zé do Caixão, aka Coffin Joe.

“What is life? It is the beginning of death. What is death? It is the end of life! What is existence? It is the continuity of blood. What is blood? It is the reason to exist!” – Coffin Joe

But who is this Coffin Joe?

He is the creation of Brazilian horror writer/director/actor José Mojica Marins, who also has portrayed Joe in numerous films, TV shows, songs and comic books since the 1960s. Coffin Joe had his debut in the 1964 film À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma (At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul) in which he is the antagonist and the main character. The film follows the violent, nihilistic, aggressively atheistic undertaker Joe who looks only to continue his blood line by any means necessary.

Over the top and violent for its time, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is a story about karma as Joe terrorizes a local town, rapes, maims and murders but in the end becomes victim of a voodoo curse. The content and subject matter was extreme by the standards of 1964.

Coffin Joe returned in 1967 in Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver (This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse) where Joe is back to his old tricks, kidnapping women, cursing God and trying to continue his bloodline.

Over the next 40 years, Joe would become an icon in Brazil appearing as a cameo in multiple other horror films before finally returning in the 2008 film Encarnação do Demônio (Embodiment of Evil), which is the finale of the epic Coffin Joe trilogy. It ends with Joe dying after having finally continuing his bloodline.

The Coffin Joe films are each violent, bizarre, macabre, artistically beautiful and unique in the way that they blur the lines of antagonist and protagonist.

The influence of Coffin Joe exists even to this day in South American horror films, here are 5 fantastic horror films from the region.

Motorrad (2017, Brazil)

Talk about unique! Motorrad is a fantastic survival horror thriller. It’s about a group of motocross riders who are pursued through the wilderness by another group of motocross riders, armed with chains and machetes, looking to kill the group members off one by one. Even though it is about leather clad motocross riders and looks like it’s set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, this is one of those art house style horror films which relies on cinematography and stunning imagery to tell a story.

The Portuguese dialogue is sparse, the first 15 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever, and the majority of the dialogue in the film is people screaming for help and calling each other’s name in the dark.

This is a high tension, beautiful film. It has enough artsy appeal to make you question what the true meaning is, while having enough horror gore to make you applaud. The violence is brief but impactful: 2 decapitations, a drowning and one person burned alive.

Motorrad has Coffin Joe’s finger prints all over it and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Sudor Frio (Cold Sweat) (2011, Argentina)

Another amazing example of the diversity of horror from around the world is a feature like 2011’s Sudo Frio (Cold Sweat) from Argentina. The premise is a jealous boyfriend tracks his girl friend to a man’s house to catch her cheating. But when he goes in the house to confront them, there is something more nefarious than just infidelity going on. How nefarious? How about 2 old guys doing human experiments and covering women in nitroglycerine, then subjecting them to Saw-like puzzles nefarious.

This is a fantastic film that hits the ground running, you are in the car with jealous boyfriend Roman one moment, and the very next there is a woman getting Nitro on her forehead and being asked complicated math problems under the fear of death.

The director of this one, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, also directed a movie mentioned in the Mexico installment of this series Here Comes the Devil as well as the fantastic 2014 film Late Phases (aka Night of the Wolf).

A bizarre film with extremely psychotic and nihilistic characters which are certainly influenced by Coffin Joe, Sudor Frio aka Cold Sweat is currently streaming on Amazon.

Downhill (2016, Chile)