BR: Embodiment of Evil / Encarnação do Demônio (2008)

June 28, 2011 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / E

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Film: Good/ DVD Transfer: Excellent/ DVD Extras: Very Good

Label: Synapse Films/ Region: A, B, C / Released: March 29 , 2011

Genre: Horror / Supernatural / Coffin Joe

Synopsis: Released afer a 40 year prison term, the maniacal Coffin Joe picks up where he left off, seeking the ideal woman to bear his uber-child and create a race of superior humans.

Special Features:

Making-of featurette (31:45) / Fantasia Film Festival Premiere Footage (14:21) / Original Brazilian Theatrical Trailer / Disc 2: Region 0 NTSC DVD of film (Dolby only) + same extras.

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Review:

According to director & Coffin Joe creator Jose Majica Marins, Embodiment of Evil was originally written during the sixties as the final part of a trilogy, but for reasons undisclosed, the film was never made, and serious efforts during the late 1990s and early 2000s floundered until indie filmmaker and rabid Coffin Joe fan Dennison Ramalho persevered, and production finally began with Ramalho sharing screenwriting credit, and the saga of Brazil’s meanest, craziest undertaker was brought to a bloody, blasphemous close.

The final results should please ardent fans, but Embodiment of Evil is also a product of the times, with a level of graphic gore (some real) that’s obviously been influenced by contemporary advances in special effects and audience tastes. Ramalho, being part of the new generation of horror filmmakers, may have influenced the film’s flesh-tearing gore, but Marins is also part of the independent & experimental filmmakers that emerged from Europe & South America during the late sixties – specifically Spanish surrealist Francisco Arrabal.

At the very least, Arrabal and Marins – one Spanish, the other Brazilian – enjoyed shocking audiences with graphic extremes, and Marins simply brought his visions up to date (something Chilean-born surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky similarly accomplished with his 1989 serial killer / art house thriller Santa Sangre).

In the first film, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), Marins played a mortician with the arrogance and sadism of a gunslinger – daring anyone to stop his acts of rampant cruelty. He also wanted a son because children were the only form of human purity before adulthood and religion rendered them stupid and useless. Coffin Joe (referred to a Ze in the film) killed his wife, raped his best friend’s girlfriend, and taunted the spirits of those he maimed and killed before he was claimed at midnight for being such an inappropriate member of rural Brazilian society.

Taking a cue from Universal’s ability to bring back dead monsters by showing footage of near-escapes and brilliant luck, Marins had Ze return quite alive in This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967), recuperated from his oracular wounds and released by the justice system due to ‘lack of evidence,’ and the character became Omen-like – mounting a mad-scientist scheme to foster a child with his He-Man blood using the womb of a woman unafraid of his monstrosities. Tests involved spiders, beatings, and bad bedside manners, but in the end Ze was chased to a moat by townsfolk no longer afraid of his wicked ways, and he drowned in the waters where the cadavers of his victims were dumped.

It seemed as though Coffin Joe was finally sent to Hell, but like Frankenstein and Dracula, he survived and managed to take out the eye of a cop before being arrested, convicted, and thrown in jail for a set term… and then given release because his time had been served.

Obviously unrepentant, Ze is met outside the penitentiary gates by his loyal hunchback servant Bruno (seen in Part I), and taken into a favella, where the pair established a mini-cult with minions ready to mete out cruelties on persecuting coppers, and snatch a new batch of maidens whom Marins and his cohorts will test before impregnating the winner.

That’s the story in a nutshell, and there are enough stylistic ties and ongoing motifs to the prior films to maintain continuity: as Ze begins his grand hunt, he’s also tormented by the spirits of his prior victims – nicely seen as black & white visions moving into his colour world. Yet he’s unstoppable, and Marins blurs the line between reality and surreal trips stemming from Ze or the angry spirits, spawning gory sequences with tarantulas, knives, and a room with a rainfall of blood.

The effects are generally solid and disgusting, but Marins went a bit further, apparently engaging performers willing to endure Jodorowskian penances: a man is hooked and hung by his shoulder skin, a woman has her lips sewn shut, a vengeful priest readies himself for battle against Coffin Joe by clamping his nipples to an electrical gearbox, and another female victim has her face dunked in a bucket of swarming roaches. And perhaps taking a nod from Arrabal, Marins has Ze ‘free’ a nude female victim from the carcass of a pig, in which she was tightly sewn.

The sequence simultaneously recalls a number of variants: in Arrabal’s Viva La Muerte (1971), a character is sewn into the skin of a bovine, and in Guy Magar’s Retribution (1987), a victim ‘tumbles’ into a carcass, and during his futile struggle to escape from the abattoir’s conveyor, he’s bisected by a bone saw. Ze doesn’t fully delve into Saw-terrain, but the gore is clearly part of the show, and its outrageousness is presumably a meeting of minds between pioneer Marins, and newcomer Ramalho.

Fans of the original black & white films might not welcome the blazing gore because it’s clearly a substitute for the intricate Shakespearean plotting that set up Ze’s rise and fast downfall in the prior films. Marins was more creative in constructing the methods in which Ze uses townspeople as pawns, but the writers have changed the setting and made Part III a battle between vengeful factions: Marins and his acolytes, and the one-eyed copper, now a high-ranking police official set on killing Ze after his wife’s hand was among one of many in a package mailed by Ze. (The actor who plays Ze’s well-armed nemesis, Jece Valadão, died in mid-production, so the revenge torch was taken up by the character’s brother, also a police official.)

The simplistic plot is perhaps the direct result of setting the story as Ze is released from prison: as a convicted felon and out of the loop for 40 years, he no longer has a funeral business to run, has no customer base, no friends, no social standing in modern Brazil, and is forced to live like a pauper with just his hat and cape. The writers could’ve used the favella as Ze’s ‘new town’ but that would’ve repeated elements already explored in prior films, hence the decision to focus on revenge, wrapping up loose ends, and giving fans a more modern dose of nastiness.

Synapse’s Blu-ray set offers a crisp transfer of the film (originally distributed theatrically in Brazil by Fox!), and perhaps the biggest surprise to fans are the near-pristine extracts from the original black & white films Marins intercuts in select montages. No Region 1 or 2 print is ideal, but it’s clear there exists pristine visual source materials in Brazil, and one hopes those transfers will eventually make their way to Blu-ray.

The 5.1 audio mix is aggressive at times, treating Ze’s rants with similar deep echo and reverb as in the prior films. The only weak spot within the aural realm is the score: it’s functional, but doesn’t offer the depth needed by the central character, nor the trippy, sometimes minimalist weirdism of the first film.

Extras include the film’s theatrical trailer, a lengthy making-of featurette with interviews and footage of the shock scenes (yup, the roaches, pig carcass, and hooks were real), and the intro / outro material from the film’s premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, where a straight-jacketed Ramalho translates Marins’ Portuguese orations in English for the raucous fans. Marins also mentions the post-production of his then-current film, The Curse, released in Brazil as FilmeFobia (2008). The bonus DVD replicates the same extras and 5.1 and 2.0 sound mixes (in Dolby Digital).

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

DVD / Film:  At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964) — This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Viva La Muerte (1971)

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External References:

IMDB — Fan / Official Site

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Buy from:

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon.co.uk

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Return toHome Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / E

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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