Posts Tagged ‘Brazil

29
Oct
09

À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma (1964)

coffinjoeIt’s getting close to Halloween and I told myself I would start watching some old horror movies that I have been wanting to see for awhile. I started with At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, because I’ve never seen anything by Jose Mojica Marins (or “Coffin Joe” as he and his most famous character are known in the United States). This Brazilian filmmaker has lingered in obscurity for decades, despite having consistently made films up through last year’s string of pictures at the age of 72.
This film is his first, which makes it particularly interesting because Brazil apparently had no horror films up to this point. Marins was simply fusing what he’d seen from imported films with his own crazy, auteur-like approach.
One can see the influence of Italian gothic horror (like, say, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday), as well as more quaint English countryside-type supernatural atmospherics (Dracula, being the most obvious example). Yet, this film goes beyond the usual Hollywood accepted incarnation of evil. Yes, it may look tame to some at this point in our post-“torture porn” horror output, but its blatant rejection of religion, especially in such a predominantly Roman Catholic country as Brazil, is interesting. Morins later foray into more explicitly sexual films also brands him as a filmmaker intent on going against the grain of his contemporary establishment. It should go without saying that this film, among many, was banned in whole parts of Brazil upon release…

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The film itself has a simple, yet devious, premise: Morins himself plays the lead as Zé do Caixão, an undertaker never without his black cape, top hat, long fingernails and beard, who, in search of a woman to bare him a son, begins a string of unrepentant murders across town (and, although not emphasized in the film, reaps the profits of the funerals of each of these deaths). He is an utterly despicable, yet feared individual among the people who live around him (as evidenced by the scene, with pictures above, where he cuts off the fingers of a man who challenges him in full view of everyone). He repeatedly challenges the religious customs of his neighbors, like demanding to be served meat on a holy day that forbids it (and forcing another man to eat with him). Morins seems to revel in portraying his character as a kind of Satanist (he says at one point that if he meets the devil, he’d invite him for dinner); he simply does whatever he wants, whenever he wants (assault, torture, rape, murder, etc.). One can choose to view this retrospectively as slight camp, but his continuation of the character throughout the years seems to imply his trying to being genuinely scary here. Without spoiling anything, it should be noted that the film ends in a slightly conventional manner, though this is dampened a bit by the knowledge of what happens at the beginning of his follow-up film, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse.
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Though the film is uneven at times, with spots that noticeably drag without effect, it still contains enough scenes and setups to carve itself a more than memorable place in horror movie history. I’ll have to catch up with some of his others to see the assumedly better technique and storytelling in some of his later pictures…

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