Thursday, October 22, 2009

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

Title: At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964)

Director: Jose Mojica Marins


The Brazilian Horror film did not exist before Jose Mojica Marins made At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul. This film represents the birth of horror in Brazil, so for that alone, it should be worth a watch to all movie buffs out there. According to the films director Jose Mojica Marins, the desire to make this film started with a nightmare he had where he saw these ghostly figures carrying his dead body on a coffin to the afterlife. Quickly after that he decided he wanted to get this film made, so he gathered his small cast and crew and decided to do this movie.

The films plot is about this gravedigger known as Ze. He is hated by everyone in town, because really, he’s one big bully. He intimidates everybody, walking to the local bar and mocking everyone. He is a trickster, a conman, treacherous, a rapist, the worst traits you could think of in any human being. To top things off, they guy thinks that religions and the supernatural are a hoax. That there is no such thing, and he isn’t afraid to tell everyone what he thinks about that! The primary thing in Ze’s life is having a child. An offspring. And since his wife is sterile, he is going around searching for the perfect woman to be the bearer of his child. How far will he go to get what he wants?

There are many things I liked about this movie. First off, its very old school spooky. What I mean by that, is that, it has many scenes that take place inside of a cemetery, with a full moon, with wolves howling in the night and owls sitting on trees looking at you with their big eyes. It has fortune tellers, and skeletons, and crosses and mausoleums, and corpses and ghosts. You name it, if it’s spooky and scary and halloweenish, it somehow made its way onto this movie. I just loved the way the movie starts, with this old gypsy fortune teller holding a skull in her hands warning the audience about the horrors that await for them while watching this film. It sets the mood right away for a spooky old time. In this sense, its the perfect movie to watch on Halloween night.

But was it a silly clichéish movie? Was it like those silly old Universal Monster flicks from the 50’s and 60s? No freaking way. This movie has an edge to it that I did not expect. Honestly, because of the time it was made and because the film is in black and white, I was expecting some silly fun. What I got was a film that was heavy in themes, and even sacrilegious in nature. Why you may ask?

Well, for starters the character of Ze (aka Coffin Joe) is one violent non believer. He does not believe in God or in the Devil. He thinks demons and ghost and fortune tellers are all a big hoax. And he thinks that after we die, that’s all there is. Theres nothing before and nothing after it. The only thing that matters to Coffin Joe is continuing his bloodline through his offspring. His children. Weird thing is, I completely agree with Coffin Joe and his views of life. Not the murderous, rapist, evil side. But more on the philosophical side. On a personal note, I’m a non believer, and all of the supernatural hocus pocus they teach at churches is only useful when you want to make a horror movie or spook your friends with a ghost story. For me, the supernatural is all in peoples minds. And Coffin Joe thinks this way in the film, and not only that but the guy screams it from the top of his lungs for everyone to hear! He thinks the only thing that matters is continuing to exist on this world through your offspring, which I agree with, I think that through our children is the only true way that we continue living. Problem with Ze (Coffin Joe) is that because he has no religious beliefs, he thinks this is synonimous with being a villain. Since there is no God watching over your every action, well, then you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want, cause NO one is going to make you pay. I dont subscribe to this point of view, because I think being a non believer implies you having to set up your own set of moral values. Your rights end, where someone elses begin. We must always strive to be the best human beings we can, even without religion. This is an idea that Coffin Joe does not believe in.

I enjoyed how Jose Mojica Marins (who wrote and directed the film, as well as played Coffin Joe himself) uses the character of Coffin Joe to get these ideas across to audiences. At the time this film came out, it confronted a lot of opposition precisely because it was considered blasphemous. Because it addressed all these issues and themes that are considered to be taboo by some. But Jose Mojica Marins was an intelligent guy, he made the non believer the villain. In this way, he gets his message across, but at the same time, since the character who says all these “blasphemous” things is the villain, its okay for him to say it, cause you know, he’s the bad guy, he is crazy. What does he know? Still, I applaud Jose Mojica for using his villain to say what he means about religion. At one point Coffin Joe is drunk and running around a graveyard literally begging the dead to come out of their graves and take him to hell! The bravado in the Coffin Joes character was great. I loved how he defied all these ideas that religion tries to scare us with.

Of course this is a horror film, and it uses that fact to make the supernatural element real. But in my opinion, this is the only place where the supernatural can come to life. In movies, books, comic books and T.V. shows. Nowhere else. The movie has some interesting scenes involving spirits and ghastly apparitions. At one moment, Coffin Joe is warned by a fortune teller not to mock the dead, or they will come take his soul to hell. It is during these moments when the film, makes the supernatural element real, and we get to see some ghosts.

This movie was an indy all the way. It was made with very little money and at times, it shows. The special effects are very low key. Almost every scene, except for the exterior shots that take place in real cemeteries, were shot inside of a lot. Everything is done in interiors and the film was shot at a breakneck pace. Marins wanted to get this film made no matter what. For example, the actor who was going to play Coffin Joe bailed out at the last minute so Marins himself decided to play the character. I don’t imagine anybody else doing a better job then him. Be prepared for a completely 100% over the top performance! That scene with Coffin Joe drunk in the cemetery getting all existential, asking the big questions about life “what happens when we die? Where do we go? Where do we come from? Its all bullshit! There is no afterlife! What matters most is the life we live NOW!” What a great scene! That scene has such energy and emotion to it. Its like the ramblings of a desperate soul, angry with the way things are in the world.

So this movie was very controversial upon initial release. And it’s easy to see why. Its main character is a villain, he screams at the top of his head that God doesn’t exist! That religion is a lie! He eats meat on Holy Friday while a religious procession is passing through the front of his house! He is a cheat, a rapist and he beats women. He is murderous, yet he is the main character in the film! Still, it makes for a great watch simply because the guy is so evil. By the way, the film is actually pretty violent. It has an edge to it. Ze is one murderous bastard! In conclusion, I applaud this Brazilian horror flick for having the gravitas to say all the things it has to say. I find it amusing because Hollywood normally shies away from addressing anything about religion, cause you know, that’s just something Hollywood doesn’t talk much about. It rarely questions the validity of it. But people from Brazil aren’t Hollywood, and this movie was a true independent film unafraid to say what it has to say. I applaud it for that, and also because its an entertaining horror film not to be missed.

Rating: 4 out of 5


I Like Horror Movies said...

Love that you personalized this post, and absolutely dig this flick. I couldnt believe how awesome it was on the first watch through. Joe is so ridiculously badass it seems impossible that he isnt more popular here in the States. Considering the budget and off-Hollywood nature of the film, the FX and film composition are pretty impressive. I consider this to be a complete classic, and an undermentioned film that holds a great importance for independent Horror cinema. Thanks for reviewing this one!

Franco Macabro said...

No problem man!

I was very impressed with it as well, I hear that Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe) recently made a new Coffin Joe movie called Embodiment of Evil, cant wait to get a look at that one.

Im going to try and get the other Coffin Joe films, "Awakening of the Beast" and "This Night Ill Possess your Soul" I'll be reviewing that one soon as well.


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