At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

Where to even begin with this one?  Written, directed by and starring the inimitable Jose Mojica Marins, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is the film that kickstarted the Coffin Joe franchise.  And what a franchise it is:  roughly 15 films featuring Coffin Joe, with the majority of them played by Marins.  Earlier in the year I ordered the handsome PAL box set which contains eight Joe films plus a documentary entitled The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins (the NTSC set, which contained three films, is long OOP, but we have them at the FBW).  How can you not love it?  Along with that, I picked up the most recent Joe film, Embodiment of Evil, sadly as-yet-unreleased in NA.  But enough about my acquisition fever, let's get on to the film itself.

AMITYS is such a strange trip.  The plot concerns a small town's sadistic gravedigger who is obsessed with finding a woman to bear his seed and continue his bloodline.  But the plot is neither here nor there - we get an evil witch, the walking dead, and a truly trippy vision of vengeful ghosts mixed with all kinds of supernatural strangeness.  Coffin Joe is the highlight, of course, and anyone who defies him is dealt with brutal, graphic violence.  There are a few scenes sprinkled throughout the film where Joe truly gets to lay bare his bleak world view - there is no life after death, there is no God, there is no Satan, there is only LIFE.  And in this one life, Joe has chosen to live it exactly as he desires, indulging in all earthly pleasures.  Wine, sex, violence, power; Joe swims in it all, fears no one or no thing, and laughs in the face of religious cowards.  Joe is a non-believer, or rather, a believer in the here and now, whatever he can experience through sensual means.  Quite simply, Joe is a hero for our times.

The sound mix on the film is incredibly muddy, although there are some near supernatural moments that sound like the actors are delivering their lines inside an echo chamber.  Spooky stuff.  The cinematography is lurid, but the black and white tones are starkly stunning.  This is crude filmmaking, in the very best sense of the word - raw, unrefined, pure.  Not much actually happens in the film - between the taverna, Joe's house, the graveyard, and the windswept woods that connects them all, locations and scenarios are limited, and we find ourselves watching a fairly repetitive film.  None of it matters though, because Joe is so deliriously over the top and fun to watch that you forget the film's shortcomings.

Marins conveys a singular vision that is in no way diluted as the series rolls along - something that can be said of very, very few horror franchises.  Coffin Joe may not be as recognizable a name in the horror canon as Jason or Freddy, but he has every right to be.  You'll have a hard time finding a more consistently sadistic, evil character in horror cinema.  I'd recommend any of the Coffin Joe films, but AMITYS holds a special place in my heart as it was introduction to the Coffin Joe and has left an indelible imprint on my mind.  All hail Jose Mojica Marins!


La Sporgenza said...

Holy Moly.... I can barely keep up here. The Lovecraft thing is a mixed bag for me and I haven't seen Dagon (and probably won't) Loved Re-Animator and thought it captured the Lovecraft vibe nicely. I've seen a couple of other but can't recall them. Is that Lovecraft documentary any good – seem to recall you posted on it and I need to go back and read it again.

I've also not seen (or heard of) Sole Survivor. Sounds excellent and I wouldn't mind borrowing that one at some point. Last time I did that I think I had your movie for 2 years.

Coffin Joe.... yes, hard films to review. I've only seen the first three from the FBW boxset and had no idea so many additional films existed. They are completely unique and down right chilling at times, but in rough shape. The first two films – this one and it's virtual remake a few years later - This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, are quite focused on religious horror (Brazil being about as RC as they come) and I must admit that I found them difficult to access as a result. I think you need to approach them from the perspective that the intended audience was entirely awash in rabid Catholicism and buttoned-down conservatism. I nearly didn't watch the third film in the box set and that would have been a disaster, because it is a forgotten near-masterpiece of social and political commentary.

Awakening of the Beast (1970) is a simply fantastic bit of introspective film making. It's a self-reflective, semi-autobiographical treatise on fame and the difficulties faced by those who offer controversial and shocking works distinctly odds with the status-quo. What makes the film utterly fascinating is how successfully it plays on two levels – the obvious being the character Coffin Joe's godless and blasphemous undertakings on screen, but entirely more interesting is that of Jose Mojica Marins' godless and blasphemous authorship of the character. The lines are blurred because Marin intentionally blurred them. His creation facilitates an undiluted, uninhibited and uncensored series of challenges to Brazilian society and religion that Marins could never have got away otherwise. Coffin Joe is a little like Stephen Colbert in that way, both are characters invented by their creators to free them from the constraints and censorship imposed by society.

Unfortunately it didn't work for Marins because Awakening of the Beast never played in theatres. It was simply too shocking and too tawdry to escape the censor's scissors. It is a truly strange movie.

FYI - AOTB is a film for hardcore cinephiles only. You need to see at least one of the earlier two films before tackling this one to appreciate what Marins is talking about here, because Awakening the Beast is not a horror film per se, but rather a film about the implications of making horror films. This ultra-rare and unconventional curiousity will never find much of an audience. On the surface, it's too slap-dash and kooky to be taken seriously. Most will find it achingly slow, ponderous and silly as well... and they'd be right.

The fact that a remarkably complex, insightful and weirdly humanist film is hiding in here makes its discovery all the more satisfying.


La Sporgenza said...
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La Sporgenza said...
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La Sporgenza said...

Don't know what happened there - suddenly there were three copies of my longwinded response. Deleted two of them, but it serves to make it look like someone other than you and me are conversing here Joe, so that's OK.

the coelacanth said...

awesome! i've only seen the first two coffin joe films, but AOTB is in my set, so i'm REALLY intrigued by that one now after your review. and i'm anxious to get into the doc on marins, sounds like a fascinating guy, but i don't know much about him. i totally agree with what you've said about the cj films (at least the first two that i've seen) being religious diatribes, and the colbert comparison is brilliant, and something i'd never clued in to. you should really just cut and paste your comment into a post on AOTB, it's long enough. and then we'll have another post!

i'll bring sole survivor to the fbw next fri. i think you'll like it quite a bit. it's not a masterpiece or anything, but it's a creepy little mood piece.

the coelacanth said...

oh yeah - that lovecraft doc is good, pretty straightforward, and hardcore fans aren't going to be told anything new, but for a casual reader of his works, there was a lot in there that interested me. review here.

Chandles said...

Get back to work, Joe!