Monday, April 11, 2011

Pure Brazilian Evil

D. Jose Mojica Marins aka Coffin Joe

Synapse Ent.
Blu-Ray/DVD Combo


After nearly three decades in hibernation from the director's chair, Coffin Joe returns to the horror scene with the blood-drenched horror tale that is sure to raise hackles if it ever gets a real release stateside. It is also the third movie in the trilogy that began with the films AT MIDNIGHT I WILL TAKE YOUR SOULand AT MIDNIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE featuring Marins as the penultimate character of Coffin Joe, an evil gravedigger who doesn't believe in god, morals, or good and evil. Just in the flesh and what he can prove in the here and now. Humans are of no value to him unless he gets immediate pleasure or usefulness out of them. In all three films he is in search of the ultimate woman of superior intellect and breeding to bear him a son and continue his bloodline. Naturally he failed in the first two films.

Here, the film opens forty years later with him being released from prison after serving for all the murders he committed in the previous films. He is being released much to the consternation of the prison officials and police in San Paulo. His hunch back assistant Bruno and several nearly sub-human worshipers await him on the outside and waste no time getting back down to business. He may be in his seventies but he has not slowed down with the need to get laid and to kill! Meanwhile the corrupt cops in the small town are killing the poor locals, the criminals are running extortion schemes, and the priests are closet masochists who hook up electrodes to their nipples for self-abuse purposes. Seems only the town witches and whores are close being honest. Joe finds a beautiful atheist writer who openly gives herself to him for his purposes, and he puts through one of his horrific and painful tests to make sure she is worthy of his offspring: making her eat the flesh of her own buttock. Which she does greedily to prove her prowess. Still, he has his servants kidnap about a half dozen other women from the town to torture and impregnate for good measure. He also catches the local cops beating on his crippled assistant Bruno at one point, leading them to horrors and suffering they could have never dreamed of.

The narrative of EMBODIMENT OF EVIL should be rather simple, but somehow it gets really messy rather quickly. Several plot threads get raised, then forgotten, then pop back up almost at the end of the film. There is this business of Joe being tormented by the ghosts of those he has killed in the past films. It sort of plays into the movie, but awkwardly at best. And when the climax hits, that plot strand pays off in a way that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Really, it is kind of a mess in a lot of ways because what you are left with is a movie of images and nightmares. Thankfully those are the things that Jose Mojica Marins has always done best and he's still in top form here. There is a long trippy sequence where he ends up in purgatory, guided by an old man who shows him the pits of hell below him (not represented by lakes of fire, but instead by landscapes of sand and desert, filled with tortured souls and lakes of blood) which is simply stunning. Preceding that is a moment where he fucks one of the women while corpses above them rain blood upon them until the room becomes an ocean of blood and literally buries them both. Another great scene has Joe cutting open a dead pig and a nude Asian woman emerges that he embraces and kisses. Then there are the vile torture scenes. Scenes that do not owe their power to the SAW/HOSTEL school of film-making since Marins has been doing stuff like this since the sixties. The usual spiders, bugs and other creepy crawlies make appearances, but this time he dowses a woman in molten cheese and has a hungry rat chew into her exposed vagina! People are dunked in vats of blood and guts, crucified, whipped and pierced and hung from the ceiling. A lot of the piercing in the film appears to be for real as well, using actual body modifiers, a practice that once again, Marins started using back in his old B/W films in the sixties. Except back then they were circus performers and geeks.

Which brings me to the question; How and why did 20th Century Fox pick this film up for release? There is no way in hell it can ever get an R rating! Even though it was passed uncut in the U.K. (which mystifies me because almost all of the violence is sexually tinged. Not rape, mind you, but with a healthy does of S+M involved which used to be a BIG no no in the UK). This is about as far from studio safe horror fair as you can possibly get. It's gory, brutal, ugly, anti-religion, anti-government, anti-establishment, and last but not least, NOT in English. You cannot convince me that Fox has any real interest in releasing this, at least not theatrically. Boy, I'd love to be a fly on the wall at the MPAA screening though.

This was co-written by Dennison Ramalho, who directed the short film LOVE FOR MOTHER ONLY (which is on the Synapse DVD SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA) which is excellent. He also directed the second unit. Problem is, often the film feels more like his work that Jose Mojica Marins. The themes of Marins work are all present, but stylistically this is more like Ramalho's shorts, especially in the approach to violence, and in the editing. even the casting of the actresses feels more like Ramalho's shorts and less like the voluptuous sirens of Coffin Joe's previous films. But then, he was also a driving force in getting the project made at all, so I can't complain. I should be grateful that Coffin Joe got another real movie made, on 35mm no less, before he passed out of this mortal coil. Of course, he is still kicking around pretty well, so he may still shoot out another before long. I'd be game for that.

The new Blu Ray/ DVD combo from Synapse is an amazing package. The preceding review was originally done for the British DVD Release. But I have since rewatched the movie from the Synapse release with an audience no less and it has resonated much more with me. Synapse remastered the film from original elements to a 4K Hi Def master with an all new re mastered sound track. So experiencing the film from the Synapse discs is like seeing it for the first time. I still stand by my opinion that the script and story get mighty muddled in the mid section, but a second viewing go a long way to clearing it up. All the elements are there, they just get introduced quickly and several characters look astonishingly alike which makes it hard to follow on first go around. 

Watching this with an audience was a blast. We held a FREE screening here in Dayton and only maybe three people knew Coffin Joe's work. The rest were Virgin's as it were. I figured people would be turned off by the Subtitles but in fact everyone got into it vibe quickly and were way into it. Everyone came out saying they loved it and claiming they saw "things they had never seen before!"

This Blu/DVD package has some fun extras including behind the scenes, a video of the premier at Fantasia and some trailers. It would have been nice to have some more interviews or something, especially considering Coffin Joe's age. But it is still an amazing package. And Seriously, who would have thought we would have a Coffin Joe movie on BLU RAY? Certainly not me!!! 

Review © Andy Copp

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