When you think of Brazil, horror movies don’t automatically spring to mind. But José Mojica Marins is the country’s king of the genre. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, his surreal films were a mix of the Ed Wood school of shoddy filmmaking and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s metaphysical musings.
But over the past 40 decades, Marins has created an oeuvre that is all his own, and through his greatest creation Zé do Caixão (aka Coffin Joe) he has carved his name into the Horror Hall of Fame (in blood, of course).
First seen in 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, Coffin Joe – looking suitably funereal in his black suit, cape and top hat, and possessing impractically long fingernails (Marins own) is an undertaker for whom morality and religion is an impediment to individual liberty. He’s also obsessed with finding the perfect woman to sire him a son.
Killing anyone who crosses him, Coffin Joe’s bloody story supposedly ended with 1967’s This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. But Joe was never laid to rest. Instead, Marins continued to play his scary alter ego (fingernails included) on Brazilian TV and in a variety of film work.
Embodiment of Evil sees the return of Marins dark creation in a proper sequel to those 1960s cult hits. Having been released from an São Paulo prison on a legal technicality, Coffin Joe picks up where he left off – looking for that perfect mate. But hot on his tail is a vengeful police chief, a musclebound monk and the ghosts of his past victims.
Embodiment of Evil is a beautiful-looking nightmare come to life. Marins does what he does best – spouses rambling monologues (in very clear Portuguese – language students take note) on existence, destiny, religion and the like – while his loyal servants, including that horror movie staple the hunchback, assist him in torturing (in very graphic detail) seven beautiful brides-to-be as part of his big quest.
Coffin Joe fans will love Embodiment of Evil, as Marins has finally been able to make the film he has always wanted. His vision is in every shot – from the Dante’s Inferno-inspired trip to Purgatory to the ultra-violent graphic torture scenes (watch out for the horrific rat scene) and in every word.
In fact, when he says, “Do you think I’m vanquished, weakened by time? No, true men never give up. I will yet conceive my perfect son”, you find yourself wondering if Marins isn’t talking about Embodiment as his perfect son.
But will Marins and his metaphysical monster be back to haunt our screens any time soon? Given the film’s final shots, let’s hope so.
From 3 July at ICA London, Sheffield Show Room Cinema and Bradford National Media Museum.
In Portuguese, with subtitles