Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring José Mojica Marins, Jece Valadão, Rui Rezende, Cristina Aché, Cléo de Páris, Nara Sakarê
Directed by José Mojica Marins
Written by José Mojica Marins and Dennison Ramalho
I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge Coffin Joe fan. I picked up Awakening the Beast, having heard about it’s crazed scenes of drug fueled perversions, and was curious about the history of Brazilian horror films, created in the midst of a military dictatorship, by this wacky looking guy with crazy fingernails. I came away disappointed by the lack of excess on display. I could appreciate how the film I saw would have been quite risqué at the time, and under the political circumstances in which it was made, but still found it outdated, and tame by today’s standards. In fact, 2009’s Embodiment of Evil is only the second Coffin Joe film I’ve ever seen. I hoped going in that this would be my chance to not only intellectually appreciate the films of Jose Mojica Marins, but that he would be able to shock me as he was known to shock audiences in the 60’s. I wasn’t disappointed a second time. I finally understand the appeal of Coffin Joe, and expect that Embodiment of Evil will be responsible for many more conversions to the cinematic church of “Zé do Caixão”.
Viewers need not be familiar with the “Coffin Joe Trilogy”, or Coffin Joe’s Nietzschen quest to locate the perfect woman with which to father the superior child. The motivation of continuing his superior, morally ambivalent bloodline outweighs all other concerns, including religion, politics, and the lives of those that impede him. The dated existentialist plot-line is little more than the philosophical scaffolding on which Marins hangs his grotesque arabesques composed of loops of guts, and splashes of blood. It is the imagery that is important, and ultimately the reason to watch this film.
You’ll see visions of Purgatory in which the damned sew each others lips shut to prevent devouring one another, torture scenes where people are hung from chains, crucified, whipped, flayed alive, and scalped. Potential wives are raped by rats as big as badgers, bathed in vats of cockroaches, and otherwise defiled in order to prove their superiority and readiness to bear the superior being. What’s more disturbing is that in many cases, the images are real, the filmmaker having contracted real-life body modification fanatics, and some very brave actors to perform their pulling, prodding, and puncturing live in front of the camera. Some of it you’ll have seen before, but when interspersed with the simulated acts of violence, it all blends together in a way that will leave you unprepared for what imagery will assault your dilated pupils next.
Some viewers will no doubt find repeated female torture, and septuagenarian sex scenes to be a bit misogynistic. Marins explains that this extreme portrayal is necessary to indicate the perfection of the women, and their equality with Coffin Joe However, it should be noted that at no time does Marins get naked, and have his genitals threatened by a rodent!
The cinematography, and score conspire to further embed the sights and sounds deep in your cortex. Co-writer Dennison Ramhalo (Love from Mother Only), and his cinematographer José Roberto Eliezer team up with Marins, bringing a lush, abattoir-esque look and mood, modernizing Embodiment of Evil for current day audiences who may be unfamiliar with Brazil’s reigning master of horror. Of special note is the way in which Eliezer combines old footage, and black and white phantoms from past films seamlessly into Marins’ latest undertaker’s opus.
While few films can be said to be perfect, Embodiment of Evil is so original, and so extreme, it’s certain that you’re not likely to see anything quite like it anytime soon. Other, far younger horror filmmakers are nowhere near in the same league as José Mojica Marins in terms of their ability to capture such poetically grotesque imagery. It may have taken Coffin Joe nearly forty years to complete his quest, but it was worth the wait.
5 out 5
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