One of the (many) reasons that Scream 3 was such a weak entry is that it tried to riff on the rules of trilogies, when, at the time of its release, there really weren’t any horror film trilogies, with notable exception of the Omen series (and the not-so-notable exception of the trio kicked off by Captive Wild Woman in 1943). But the last few years have seen the completion of two horror trilogies, whose third parts were a very long time in coming. Dario Argento wrapped up his Three Mothers trilogy with the disappointing Mother of Tears in 2007. And now, hitting home video, is a primal roar that also happens to be José Mojica Marins’ 2008 conclusion to his Coffin Joe saga.
Despite his enormous list of crimes and his total lack of repentance, Coffin Joe (Marins) is released from prison after serving a mere 40 years. Administrative bungling appears to lie behind his freedom – a hint of the vein of mordant humour that runs through the film. Met outside prison by his hunchbacked assistant Bruno (Rui Rezende), Joe is at first thrown by the 21st-Century metropolis he finds himself in, and Marins has some fun with the Gothic and wildly out-of-place Joe and Bruno stumbling along through the traffic. But things take a darker turn very quickly, once Joe is back in the slums, and embarks once more on his quest for the superior woman who will bear his son, and ensure the immortal continuity of his blood.
What follows is a delirious mix of Sade and Nietzsche as Joe determines through ghastly ordeal whether this woman or that is worthy to receive his seed. Are any of Joe’s ravings at all coherent? Is the movie? Likely not. But what it most definitely is, is ferocious.
A bit of background, then. Marins’ first two Coffin Joe films – At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964) and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967) – were made on microscopic budgets, and are raw, primitive affairs. They kick against authority and the Church, which took some guts in a repressively Catholic Brazil ruled by a military dictatorship, and Marins had his share of troubles with both censors and the law. Outside their time and place, some of the horrors are rather quaint now: in Midnight, Joe torments a religious procession by eating meat (lamb, no less!)… on a Friday! (IS THERE NO END TO HIS DEPRAVITY?) But others (torture with bugs and so on) are still nasty, anticipating torture porn by several decades. Crude as the films are, they are energetic, committed works, and examples of true guerrilla filmmaking.
But now, Embodiment of Evil comes with a 20th-Century Fox logo, and funding from all kinds of cultural and governmental bodies. Marins is no longer an outlaw – he’s an institution. One might worry that with the bigger budget (and advancing age – Marins was 72 when he filmed this) that tamed sensibilities and corporate compromise would rule the day.
Not a bit of it. The result is rather like what happened when Fox gave Russ Meyer a big budget for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970): a maverick director completely unleashed. Marins hasn’t lost one iota of his madness, and the rage against figures of authority and the clergy is just as vitriolic as it always was. The torture scenes make Saw and its imitators look like weak beer indeed, and the combination of convincing makeup FX and the real deal (Marins cast body modification mavens) makes for some sights that are not going leave any viewer’s mind any time soon. Meanwhile, the dreamlike non-logic of the script plunges the audience from one nightmarish and surreal spectacle to another. At a time when so many of the grand masters of horror (Argento, Carpenter, Romero, Craven) seem to have run out of creative steam, Marins arrives with a carpet bombing of viewer sensibilities, announcing to all and sundry that when it comes to shock, he’s ready to take on all comers.
So the film is a vital one, an important horror release. But just as Surrealism, as an artistic movement, was dogged by issues of misogyny, the same is true of Marins’ fever dream. Most of the Sadeian indignities are visited upon women, and any protestation that this violence is not misogynist sounds pretty hollow indeed. This has ever been the case with Coffin Joe films, so I’m not going to express shock and surprise to find it here again. But anyone settling down with this film had damn well better be prepared for some truly ugly stuff.
And though I won’t defend these elements, neither can I deny the brutal, crude, raging, explosive energy of the movie. Marins hasn’t ended his trilogy with a bang: he’s ended it with a nuclear blast.
Bigger budget notwithstanding, there are some reassuring rough edges to the video, in that there is some grain visible on the print. At the same time, where it really counts, the film looks great. The colours are very strong, and the all-important flesh tones and reds (for all that blood) are terrific. The AVC codec maintains a healthy average around 30 Mbps, and the aspect ratio is the origianl1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The score is thunderous, booming and blasting out of the speakers like the wrath of some demonic god come to punctuate Coffin Joe’s insane rants. It’s the real star of the 5.1 track, though there is nothing wrong with the other elements. The dialogue is perfectly clear, and the environmental effects are well done. We are definitely submerged in Coffin Joe’s world, whether we like it or not. The bass is very deep, too, giving both thunder and heartbeat a properly apocalyptic power.
Making of Embodiment of Evil: (31:29) A pretty thorough behind-the-scenes look, covering the entire production of the film, and provides insight into how the script was altered to deal with the unexpected death of one of the leads. Marins himself doesn’t have too much to say in here, but he does chime in from time to time.
Footage from the Fantasia Film Festival Premiere: (14:21) Marins’ arrival is just as OTT Gothic as one might expect. What follows is a Q&A with the audience, via translator.
The DVD has the same features as the Blu-ray.
I have no idea where Marins will go from here, but with this film, he has further cemented his already legendary reputation in the history of extreme horror.