Label: Anchor Bay (U.K.)/ Region: 2 (PAL) / Released: July 27, 2009
Genre: Horror / Supernatural / Coffin Joe
Synopsis: An egotistical undertaker is determined to find a woman worthy of fathering the child to preserve his impeccably mad bloodline.
Special Features: Part of a 5-disc, 9 film box set.
Writer / director / star Jose Mojica Marins may have sold a bit of his own soul to make Brazil’s first horror film – betting his parents house and car to finance the picture, and selling the rights for a song to get it distributed – but it’s a testament to the man’s drive and creative brilliance that every hurdle was circumvented without harming the final film. When his lead actor bailed before filming, Marins took over, and immortalized himself as Brazil’s pioneering horror maestro of the classical, the weird, and the strange.
Made for a pittance, shot with barely enough film cans to allow for multiple takes, and using sets built in a tiny indoor studio, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is part vintage spook show[link to def), classic Universal monster movie, and Shakespearean tragedy. Marins opens the film with a prologue in which the witch that curses his character of Ze (Coffin Joe, the town’s amoral undertaker) gives the audience one last chance to run for safety before they’re trapped in the drama of a small town bullied by a grinning, sadistic undertaker who isn’t happy unless he’s physically and emotionally brutalizing people (including his clients).
Wearing a top hat, cape, and decked out with nasty long nails, Ze walks around town like the gunslinger no one’s able to oust, and those who dare challenge his arrogance lose digits, both eyes, or their lives. He whips a poor brave lad in the face, and every burst of rage is preceded by a sudden eruption of veins in his glowering eyes – telling audiences bad shit is gonna happen quick & fast.
Married to a genteel and vacuous woman unable to conceive him a son – a symbol of purity & longevity – Ze sets his sights on the girlfriend of his only friend, and mounts an intricate Shakespearean scheme to get between her legs, and impregnate (rape) the love Terezinha with his evil spawn. When she cheats him out of a son, he challenges the spirits townsfolk fear to ‘come and get him,’ laughing at them because he’s a poured-in-lead atheist who eats lamb on meatless Holy Days and tells the devout they’re wasting their time.
Marins directed the film with an eye towards grim black & white cinematography and dimly lit sets, and the film’s pacing is expedient and sharply edited, with trippy montages and transitions perhaps inspired by psychedelic films and the numerous weird optical effects in Universal shockers such as It Came from Outer Space (1953).
Indeed, Marins loved the films so much, he created a music score made from a pastiche of cues culled from It Came from Outer Space, plus the slashing / screaming cues from Mario Nascimbene’s Barabbas (1961). There’s probably no original music in the film (amazing no one ever called him on the theft), but it’s a great mash-up of audio samples and effects, perfectly mixed and edited to specific events and shock cuts.
Marins’s performance is very broad, but he’s brilliant as the scoundrel who terrorizes, rapes, and legitimately buries townspeople. His 8 minute rant against the spirits is a masterpiece of aural Grand Guignol, as well as further tempting fate in the local cemetery, and while the chilling finale concludes what was designed as a one-off, it’s unsurprising Marins was courted to make a sequel.
The original film ran for months in Brazil, toured states where it wasn’t overly censored or outright banned, and survived mixed press as 30,000 filmgoers caught the film in one week.
On DVD, the film’s been given a real mixed bag, and part of the problem is finding not only a good source print, but dealing with the technical imperfections of the sound. When first released by Fantoma in 2001, the label sourced their transfer from a worn & optically wobbly 35mm print, which they letterboxed and applied only minor cleansing towards the crackling, primordial sound mix.
In 2007, Anchor Bay released a Region 2 boxed set, but their source seems to be from a 2002 Brazilian set where heavy digital noise reduction was applied to the picture and sound elements – the result being a soft-focus transfer, and a hideous fake 2.0 stereo mix. When there’s dialogue, the noise reduction is constantly screwing around with the dialogue levels, worsening the artifacting around the high peaks, and a severe compressor was used for moments of minimal sound effects; although designed to suppress the constant optical crackling, it also flattens any foley work, leaving several dead audio spots between dialogue and music. The only plus to the 2002 / 2007 transfer is that it’s full frame, offering more detail than the 1.66:1 cropped Fantoma version.
AB’s film is double-billed with the second film on a dual layer DVD, whereas the Fantoma release is just a single layer, carrying the film, trailers for the first 3 Coffin Joe films, and a lively 10 minute. interview with Marins, who describes the film’s genesis and production with his voice and clicking elongated nails. (The trailer for At Midnight is an incoherent mélange of sound effects and shock moments, but it does feature an outtake of townspeople carrying Ze in a coffin during a funeral procession.)
Fantoma also included an English translation of one of several Portuguese comic books derived from the character, and a booklet featuring liner notes by the director’s biographer, Andre Barcinski, and co-director of the 2001 documentary Coffin Joe: The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins.
Fantoma released At Night I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967), and Awakening of the Beast (1970) separately and in a coffin-shaped box.
Apparently the out of print Region 1 transfers were licensed to Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment, who released their own edition with the same DVD extras in March of 2011.
AB’s set, branded The Coffin Joe Collection, includes the first three films, plus the 2001 documentary, Coffin Joe: The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins, and 5 more films: The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968), End of Man (1971), Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976), Hellish Flesh (1977), and Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978).
The Brazilian set, branded The Coffin Joe Collection (1964 – 1978), features 6 films, lacking Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976) and Hellish Flesh (1977), both present in the AB set. In their place, however, are a bevy of extras including audio commentaries, introductions, promotional ephemera, and a rare short film. (A full review + catalogue of the largely Portuguese-only extras is archived at Monsters at Play.)
While the multi-Region Brazilian set includes multi-language subtitles, the Portuguese audio options are limited to bullshit Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 audio mixes.
In 2008, Marins brought Coffin Joe back to the big screen in the third part of the series, Embodiment of Evil, following the events in part 2, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan
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DVD / Film: Barabbas (1961)
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review