“The Embodiment of Evil” is a real cause for celebration, marking as it does the long awaited return of the legendary Brazilian bogeyman Coffin Joe. For those who don’t know, Coffin Joe is the alter ego of writer director and star Jose Mojica Marins, whose earlier “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” and “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” have been hailed as wild, gruesome cult classics. The final instalment in the Coffin Joe trilogy (though the iconic character has turned up in other of Marins’ works), the film is now receiving a region 2 DVD release through Anchor Bay, complete with a making of featurette and the usual trailer.
The film is a direct sequel to the earlier Coffin Joe films, and follows on from the events of “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” as the psychotic undertaker (played by Marins himself) is released from a secure prison mental ward after serving a forty year term for kidnap, torture and murder (amongst other things). Joe is met by his long suffering hunchbacked servant Bruno, who takes him to his new lair deep within the favela slums, where a new gang of followers await him. Not exactly rehabilitated after his stint in jail, he immediately sets back upon his quest to find the perfect woman to carry on his diabolical bloodline and bring about his immortality. As before, this basically involves kidnapping women and torturing them in a variety of strange and unpleasant ways. Possibly now even crazier, Joe is completely obsessed with his mad mission, and is haunted by visions of his past victims and his ever looming damnation.
Coffin Joe is a true horror icon, and in these days of soulless commercial horror his return is a welcome one indeed. Starting with a classic impenetrable rant about the nature of life and death while weird images flash in the background, it is immediately clear that the years have not mellowed Marins and that the film is no mere attempt to cash in on former glories. Joe is still completely old school, with his long fingernails, black top hat and cloak, looking totally out of place as he wanders down the streets laughing to himself and glaring at anyone who crosses his path. It is mainly this mix of the gothic and the modern which sets the film apart from the others in the trilogy, with the rest of the action sticking closely to the trail blazed by “Soul” and “Corpse”. As a result the plot might politely be described as meandering, focusing entirely on Joe and developing according to his whims. However, there is always something going on, and the viewer is kept on the edge of the seat, eagerly awaiting the next piece of madness or the next obsessive soliloquy. The film does feature a fair few flashbacks to the earlier films, which basically show Joe up to his old tricks in black and white, though these are used sparingly, and should help to fill in newcomers to the series on what they’ve been missing.
The film is a decidedly visceral affair, with the latter stages in particular packing in lots of gore and nudity. Some of this is pretty strong stuff, with some very sadistic torture scenes as Joe tears the skin off his naked female captives down in his dungeon, usually after whipping them or dousing them with cockroaches or spiders. Marins is an excellent director as well as actor, and the film is visually impressive, with some striking hallucinogenic effects and bizarre bloody visions. These help to give the film a distinctly mystic feel, and at times push it over into surrealism, not least since very little is ever actually explained, save through Joe’s own strange philosophising. One sequence, in which he imagines himself in a desert purgatory, is particularly memorable, and is almost reminiscent of something from a Jodorowsky film, with savage penitents tearing the flesh from each other as death watches on. It’s touches like these, and the fact that Joe is quite obviously preoccupied with his own impending fate that make him such a fascinating character, with his very human madness making him a convincing and winning ghoul.
Certainly, it’s great to see that Marins hasn’t lost his touch, and “The Embodiment of Evil” is a more than worthy follow up his earlier Coffin Joe films, and is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining genre releases of recent years. Hopefully, the film will bring the crazed character to the attention of a new legion of younger fans, and it would be a real shame if it does indeed mark his final outing.
José Mojica Marins (director) / José Mojica Marins, Dennison Ramalho (screenplay)
CAST: José Mojica Marins … Zé do Caixão
Jece Valadão … Coronel Claudiomiro Pontes
Adriano Stuart … Capitão Oswaldo Pontes
Milhem Cortaz … Padre Eugênio
Rui Resende … Bruno
José Celso Martinez Corrêa … Mistificador