I've been a fan of Jose Mojica Marins' work for some time now. I was blown away by his no-budget inventiveness and uniquely perverse sensibility in This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, went back and was wowed by Coffin Joe's debut in At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, and was completely brainfuckled by his nightmarish metafictional trip-out, Awakening of the Beast. I was mesmerized by his artistry, hypnotized by his vision, thrilled and awed by what he achieved through creativity, passion, and sheer force of will. I grabbed everything of hs I could get my hands on in order to complete my education. I wrote a feature article about him for the late lamented City Slab Magazine, singing his praises and encouraging everyone to check him out. Any chance I've had since that first exposure, I've done my best to spread the gospel of this largely unsung cinematic savant from Brazil.
I have loved Coffin Joe in all his incarnations, been shocked and delighted by his creepy cool. I have respected the director, the artist, in all his efforts. But I have never been literally afraid of the man, Jose Mojica Marins, himself.
But now I've seen Mojica's 2008 opus, Embodiment of Evil (Encarnação do Demônio)--and I don't mind telling you, parisioners: I'm scared.
According to interviews he's given, Mojica always wanted to do a third and final film about his iconic alter-ego's life, but due to a confluence of unfortunate circumstances--and perhaps the machinations of a loving but moribund God--he was never able to complete the trilogy.* Lacking funding, support, and even film stock, Mojica had to take the projects that came his way, letting the ideas he had for the final Coffin Joe film percolate and distill themselves in his brain all these years.
*Though Coffin Joe appeared as a character in several other of Mojica's films--The Strange World of Coffin Joe, The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe, The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures, just to name a few--only At Midnight... and This Night... are actually about Zé do Caixão's own story.
Embodiment of Evil, the third and final chapter in the Coffin Joe saga. Questions flew wildly--at 83 years old, would Mojica still have the imagination and energy to deliver on the promises of nearly forty years? In a world where Coffin Joe's shocking exploits have become almost quaint by comparison with newer, gorier horrors, could the aged filmmaker hope to make Zé anything more than a nostalgic retread?
Allow me, my loves, to allay your fears: Coffin Joe is back, and he's lost *none* of his edge. In fact, he's put edges ON, delivering such an avalanche of shocking, horrifying, soul-scarring imagery and ideas that it's almost hard to believe it could be allowed, even now, even in this day and age. Over-hype, do I? History will be my judge--but I don't think so.
The movie begins in the present day, where some very nervous prison guards are descending into the lower depths of a very filthy fortress to free a prisoner who's done his 40 years and is scheduled for release--as if you had any doubt, the claw-like nails that creep through the opening door announce his identity: Zé do Caixão, known to us as Coffin Joe. Undaunted and unreformed, Joe strides out of the prison in his trademark top hat and cape, his wrinkled, aged countenance a roadmap of hatred and contempt for the inferior beings who surround him.
Bruno, still hunchbacked after all these years. After a surprising bit of difficulty getting out on the streets, Joe and Bruno head to the slums of São Paulo, where the seemingly mentally challenged Bruno displays some frankly astounding organizational skills. Not only has he secured and furnished a perfect lair for Coffin Joe's operations (complete with coffins, chains, sharp implements, and a horned-skull throne fit for Lucifer himself), he's also rounded up four devotees of the just-established Cult of Zé, two men and two women willing to give their own lives at Joe's whim, and anybody else's even more readily. Thus headquartered and staffed, Joe gets right back to the business at clawed-hand--finding the perfect woman to bear his child and thus make him immortal.
Alas, the course of Evil Immortality never did run smooth, and Joe is opposed in his quest by various representatives of the side of "good," though most of them with very questionable angelic credentials. His chief adversaries are a couple of extremely corrupt police officials (one of whom Joe blinded in one eye, as we get to see in an excellent flashback), two elderly Macumba priestesses intent on keeping their niece out of Zé's clutches, and a fanatical priest whose father Joe killed back in the day and who wants to damn Joe to hell before killing him in revenge--as if such a precaution were necessary.
If there were ever any doubt about Mojica's technical skill as a director, Embodiment of Evil should lay them to rest once and for all. The low budgets and borrowed equipment that made his early flicks impressive in their ingenuity clearly were not masking any directorial shortcomings, as is sometimes the case--this movie looks GREAT, with wonderful cinematography, long shadows and garish eerie lighting, and truly spectacular practical effects. From the dirty streets of São Paulo to the hellish lair where Joe continues his atrocities to the nightmarish dreamscapes where he confronts the ghosts and demons who stand in his way, Embodiment of Evil is a visual feast. The pacing is superb, the music evocative, the story disquieting--everything here bespeaks an artiste still at the very top of his game, finally possessed of the resources he never had before in order to bring his vision to the screen. It's something to see, and Mojica's visuals will be rattling around in your head long after the end credits.
assembling his bevy of possible Perfect Women (almost all of whom are naked and extremely Zang-worthy), taking revenge on those who would stand in his way, or simply ordering a mug of wine, he takes his trademark palpable malevolence and turns it up to eleven. And he backs it up too--the movie boasts several extremely difficult-to-watch torture scenes (including such niceties as flaying, unsimulated hook suspension, forced self-cannibalism, and submersion in a barrel of guts--and that's just scratching the surface!), as well as some fascinating set pieces with his brides, including a smokin' hawt nude Macumba ritual and a jaw-dropper where Joe takes his bride carnally in a rain of blood! As the Duke of DVD opined after watching this, "Just when you think even Joe wouldn't go there...not only does he go there, he razes the ground, builds a house, and moves in!"
Coffin Joe has always been a complicated character, paradoxically haunted by personal demons even while denying their existence. In this flick these demons take the shape of his former "brides" from the earlier two movies. We get flashbacks to their deaths which are pristinely restored scenes from At Midnight... and This Night..., in black and white of course--and in a nice cinematic touch, when the women appear to Joe, they are shown in unearthly monochrome, despite the dark colorful world around them. (The latex masks used to replicate the original actresses' faces look strange and disturbing, another example of Mojica using low-tech methods to greater-than-expected effect.) And a dream sequence in which Joe once again enters the afterworld to observe the activities of the damned is equal parts Hell from This Night... and LSD trip from Awakening of the Beast, but harsher.
This is a triumphant and mind-blowing conclusion to the Coffin Joe saga (the ending image is just *perfect*, imo), and one that I hope horror fans get to see--if not in a region 1 release, at least in region 2. But if you're a Coffin Joe fan, SEE THIS, by hook or by crook--but be warned: you are not ready.
666 taloned thumbs for this, imo the movie of the year, any year.
(images © Twentieth Century Fox)
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Hail to the King, Baby
To watch the mind-blowing trailer, see soul-scarring stills, and read up on how best to prepare yourself for Joe's reign, visit the Embodiment of Evil Official Movie Site!