Dec. 2, 2006: Proposal
I go to the set for the last time, I am going to eat lunch at Gopala
Prasada, the vegetarian restaurant Dennison recommended.
(After returning to the U.S., I Googled the restaurant and discovered that it is quite famous. It is run by Hare Krishnas and has a worldwide reputation. Travelers and celebrities frequent the place. At the time, I had no idea I was dining at such a high profile destination.)
I get there at 11:30 a.m., expecting to walk right in. Instead, I find locked gates and a growing crowd camped on the sidewalk. I walk around the block, see some of the local shops, then return to the restaurant. Still locked, now with twice the crowd waiting. A restaurant worker in an apron appears, exiting one door and reentering through another. The anticipation is building. Noon comes and the gates open. The chattering crowd shuffles in, walking up a flight of stairs to the dining area.
The menu is simple. Gopala Prasada serves only two meals: a rice platter and a lasagna platter. I pick the lasagna. It arrives quickly. This is probably the best veggie lasagna I’ve ever eaten. The side items are too exotic to identify. Whatever they are, they are delicious. The drink is a cloudy lemon and rose concoction. It is like nothing I’ve ever tasted. I can see why Dennison likes this place, even though he is a diehard Cannibal Holocaust-loving meat eater. Anyone who likes food would like this restaurant.
Back at the hotel, I call the production staff and ask for a driver to take me to the studio. In 15 minutes, the driver arrives. Another 20 minutes and I am there. One last journey into the world of Ze do Caixao. One last chance to say hello and goodbye to everyone.
The wardrobe department gives me hugs and kisses. Bruna is there. She says hello, but not much more. I had down into the set, into Ze do Caixao’s skeleton-strewn torture chamber.
People seem happy to see me. Dennison says he saw the rushes from the swamp scene and they are great. “There is no doubt, you are the living embodiment of (young) Mojica,” he says. The director of photography compliments me, saying the scene truly looks like vintage footage. Cro says I am his father’s twin, “only out of phase in time.”
Mojica is standing in the middle of the torture chamber set, absorbed in setting up the next shot. Cro walks up to his father, says my name and points to me standing on the stairs. Mojica grins and gives me a big wave.
Lots of violence today. Ze’s disciples capture some police officers and drag them to his lair. One cop gets crucified. Another is wrestled into a cage. The exchange is so aggressive that, after yelling “corte,” Mojica yells (in Portuguese) “Check to see if the actors are all right.” The crew finds this funny and erupts into fits of giggling.
The next setup is Ze slowly scalping Cristina Ache’s character. Flanked by disciples, Ze uses a long blade to slice at the back of her neck, then slowly peels her scalp forward until it hangs over her eyes. The whole time, he is laughing endlessly like Dr. Evil.
“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha HAHAHAHAHAHA!”
The cackling goes on and on until the crew is struggling to keep from bursting out with laughter.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – corte.”
The camera stops. Everyone explodes with laughter. When audiences watch this scene in the film, the violence will probably make them squirm. Little will they know how funny it seemed during the shoot. In person, a maniacally laughing Mojica is more hoot than horror. Then to see Christina walking around with her fake scalp hanging over her face – hopefully horrifying on film – but hilarious in person.
Despite the laughter, it is seriously spine-tingling to see the real Ze do Caixao in full costume, with top hat and cape, committing carnage for the first time since the original films. This is a sight no one has seen in nearly 40 years.
For the close-up of the gore effect, Mojica does not wear the cape. We see only his hands and the side of his head, so the cape is not necessary. Mojica does not walk around in full costume all day. He wears only what he needs in a particular shot, then takes it off as soon as the shot is finished.
He has a personal assistant (I think it is his daughter, Merisol) who follows him everywhere. She is the one who takes the cape on and off between shots. She wears the top hat on her head. She seems to anticipate Mojica’s every move. If he wants a cigarette, she is already lighting it in her mouth before he holds out his hand. She carries a satchel filled with paperwork. Whatever document Mojica needs, it is in his hand before he even asks. She is constantly using tissue to dab his perspiration, especially on the back of his head and neck. At one point, she took out a swab and started cleaning his ears. I didn’t see or hear Mojica ask for this. He was discussing something with a crew member when she just started swabbing out his ear. He just continued talking like nothing was happening.
She also keeps track of Mojica’s glasses. The only time he doesn’t wear glasses are when the cameras roll. He wears them during the rehearsals, which means I’ve witnessed Ze do Caixao wreaking havoc in his spectacles.
In between scalping shots, Dennison and the producer whisper to each other. They look in my direction. “Oh, Raymond,” Dennison says. “We need you to do one last thing for us.”
They ask me to stand in for Mojica while they set the lights and camera. I’m sure they could have got someone else to do it, but they probably thought it would be a treat for me. They were right.
Best of all, I finally get to wear the top hat! Yes, Mojica’s actual top hat is resting on my head as Cristina stoops in front of me and the disciples stand on either side. I take the knife and go through the motions of scalping her. I do it silently, without laughter.
To my left is Rubens Mello, a dashing actor who looks very much like the 60s Ze do Caixao. So much so that he was offered the part a few years ago during Mojica’s previous attempt to get Encarnacao off the ground. That film would have featured a young Ze from start to finish. But Rubens declined, thinking only Mojica should play the part. He pursued a music career instead, singing in the band Dead Fish. Now he is playing one of Ze’s disciples. He has been very nice to me all week, as has everybody.
Rubens and I get into character. I start arching my eyebrows and glaring at him. He starts acting like he’s intimidated. I point the knife at him and he grimaces as if he’s scared. We are hamming it up. Some of Rubens’ reactions make me wonder if I really am scaring him a little bit.
After the scenes in the torture chamber, the crew shoots Cristina and two children standing in front of a green screen. Cristina still has her scalp over her eyes. She is supposed to be a ghost taunting Ze in hallucinations, just like the specters that haunted him in the first two films. One of the children is supposed to be the unborn child of the woman who curses him in This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. I think the second boy is supposed to be Ze’s own unborn child from the same film. There will be plenty of ghosts haunting Ze in Encarnacao.
Outside, Dennison tells me I will receive a set of nails as soon as the production wraps. He and I say our goodbyes, promise to keep in touch, and pose for a two-shot.
As the day winds down, Cro and I chat in the makeup room. Cro tells me I can stay at his house if I ever want to come to Sao Paulo for a holiday. His kids seem to like me. His son says he is going to learn English. I say I will learn Portuguese.
There is a young woman, maybe 18 years old, who wants to talk to me. I think she is Mojica’s granddaughter. Is she one of Cro’s children? I’m not sure. She asks Cro to translate for her.
“She says she thinks she is in love with you,” Cro says. “She is asking if you will marry her and take her to America.”
I almost say, “yes,” but better sense prevails.
“Tell her that the next time I come to Sao Paulo, we will hang out together,” I say.
Cro repeats this to the girl, who smiles and blushes. Cro laughs.
Mojica enters. It is time for farewells. I tell him “goodbye.” He repeats “goodbye” in English and gives me a hug. Mojica talks to Cro, who tells me he is thanking me. I tell him it was my honor to come. Mojica says something else to Cro.
“He is saying that, next time he comes to America, he will find you,” Cro says.
Then Cro says something about contacting me when the movie comes to America, I think. I don’t quite understand what he is saying. I think he is talking about me coming to a premiere. I’m not sure. I just smile, give him a thumb’s up and say, “OK.” Whatever they want, they can rely on me. Mojica gives me a thumbs up, smiles and walks away.
The van is leaving for the hotel. The cast assistants are ushering actors out of the building. I have to go. Cro’s children do not want me to leave. They are saying “Bye!” and waving over and over, following me out the door. I keep waving at them, saying “Bye!” Finally, I have to turn away and enter the van.
It is packed with actors. Rui is in the front passenger seat. Rubens is sitting in the back, next to the window.
“Coffin Joe!” Rubens shouts as I enter the vehicle. I lean toward him, arch my eyebrow and glare. He acts like he is scared, then laughs.
On our way to the hotel, we pass through a shantytown. This is the worst poverty I have seen during my trip. There are people living in makeshift homes beneath overpasses. Their houses are made of trash cans, plastic bags, whatever material they can find. There are homeless people wandering around, children begging in the streets. I see what looks like a line of people waiting to receive food. In a vacant lot, a mother sits cradling her baby. Everyone looks desperate.
Rui goes into a rant, obviously upset by what he is seeing. He is speaking Portuguese, so I don’t know what angle he is taking. I just know that he is upset and has a lot to say.
We arrive at the hotel. I step out of the van and see Rubens smiling at me through the window. I walk up and place my hand on the window. I think he does the same. The light is reflecting off the glass, so it is hard to see. The van pulls out of the drive as I walk to the hotel entrance. The automatic glass doors slide open.
Tomorrow morning I will be airborne. Tomorrow night I will be back in Missouri.