Directed by Jose Mojica Marins
Distributed by Synapse Films
Well this was a long time coming, wasn’t it? When we last saw Coffin Joe back in 1967, the Brazilian village of Sao Paulo had taken to the streets in an effort to oust Ze de Caixao – everyone’s favorite gravedigger / philosopher / murderer – from their community. The madman was given his just desserts and found himself serving out a forty year prison sentence for his reign of terror. A far older Ze emerges from prison and the government hopes him a rehabilitated man. Has Ze abandoned his approach for the perfect son, or will his lifelong quest threaten Brazil’s inhabitants once again?
Embodiment of Evil is the conclusion to the ‘Coffin Joe’ trilogy that started with 1963’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and continued through 1967’s This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Each film features writer/director Jose Mojica Marins in the role of the nefarious gravedigger, as we follow him on his murderous quest to obtain a son through the loins of a ‘perfect woman.’ Encounters often turn violent and Ze never thinks twice about getting rid of those who stand in his way. Marins fashions Embodiment in such a way that audiences need not be familiar with the previous installments in order to enjoy this one (although both previous installments are highly recommended). Sprinkling enough flashback material throughout the first act, it brings the viewer up to speed on everything they need to know about Ze.
Ze certainly is a stubborn man in his refusal to change. His existential attitude is typically so disturbing to those around him he always clashes with the majority of Brazil’s residents – most of which view him as some sort of Satanic anarchist. But Ze’s an atheist with tired and true convictions: he doesn’t believe in the God or the Devil, viewing both as little more than false idols. Here is a man unbound by the trappings of religion and government, always pursing his own ideals of personal freedom. But he’s also a troublemaker, terrorizing the weakest souls around him. Weakness to Ze isn’t physical; rather it’s putting faith in what you cannot see (religion), or allowing others to dictate your way of life (government). He sparks the ire of both organizations early on in Embodiment of Evil, setting the stage for an incredibly symbolic showdown.
This film is incredibly graphic as well. Marins’ previous installments were quite explicit for ‘60s sensibilities in their approach to misogyny, rape and murder, so it was only fair to assume Marins would’ve brought an equal amount of ferocity to his contemporary entry. This time out, the graphic depictions of murder and torture are guaranteed to raise eyebrows. There’s a sex scene with a blood rain that puts Angel Heart to shame, and by the time a rat tunnels into a woman’s vagina it’s quite clear that nothing is off limits in the world of Marins.
It’s not all about the shocks, though. One of the best aspects to Embodiment is the way Ze’s previous victims haunt him as creepy black & white images. It helps give the film an undeniably surreal feel and prevents it from feeling like a one-trick pony.
Another reason why Marins remains such a distinguished and iconic cinematic boogeyman is because of his sincere and complex approach to the subject matter. While his work does often push the boundaries of good taste and frequently showcases enough blasphemy to kill an entire convent, he’s not reveling in the shock without reason. His philosophies in personal freedom and the right to believe in anything serve as the backbone of this entire trilogy, and yet he refuses to establish this as an absolute (or make a martyr out of Ze). Instead there’s always a counterpoint to Ze’s ideals, and nothing ceases to terrify him more than the possibility that he might be wrong about the afterlife. And like any great artist, Marins’ work speaks for itself; it may be interpreted in a number of different ways while asking the viewer to evaluate their own beliefs/thoughts without every being told to feel one way or another (take note, Paul Haggis).
Here’s a movie that isn’t for all tastes – even where the genre is concerned. It’s not perfect (the abandoned amusement park climax is both clunky and unintentionally amusing), but there’s so much happening throughout Embodiment of Evil that it’s virtually impossible to not recommend it. We’re sadly at a point in the genre where smart and thought-provoking stuff like this isn’t often coming down the pike. Couple that with a compelling storyline, astounding violence and some actual creepiness and you’ve got a real winner – even if it’s all a bit rough around the edges.
There’s nothing rough about Synapse’s 1080p transfer, however. This is their second Blu-ray release and, like their Vampire Circus disc, it’s another big time winner from a technical perspective. The image quality is just great: Colors are as vibrant as Marins’ color palette will allow while detail is simply staggering. From the individual fibers on Ze’s top hat, to the textures of the Brazilian landscapes, there is hardly any fault to find with this marvelous encode. There might’ve been a bit of black crush in some of the darkest scenes, but nothing that should prevent anyone from giving this a go. Synapse has proven they’re going to be another strong contender in the Blu-ray game, and that’s really, really exciting. Bring on The Exterminator!
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track is another winner. Loud, aggressive and well-separated – this helps give Embodiment of Evil another layer. Turn this up loud and enjoy the sickeningly real gore FX, enveloping ambient sound, textured music and crystal clear dialogue. Not a single issue with this track, Synapse absolutely nailed it.
This is a strong film with a phenomenal audio/video presentation. A shame that we’re only given a paltry collection of extra material here: The half-hour ‘making of’ is a must watch for fans of the film, although it could’ve gone a lot longer and it still would’ve been enjoyable. The cast/crew recount the experience of making this film, as well as the seemingly impossibly struggle to bring it to screen in the first place. This documentary is followed by fifteen minutes of footage from the film’s Canadian premiere and it’s really cool to see the legendary Marins introduce the film beforehand. Rounding out the collection is a theatrical trailer and a DVD copy of the film.
Looking for some substance to contrast with your gore? Look no further than Embodiment of Evil! Fans will love the depravity Marins has captured in Ze’s final outing while even newcomers should find this to be an appropriate introduction to the series (just don’t dismiss the previous installments because they’re old … worst mistake you could make). Synapse brings it stateside in a damn fine Blu-ray with superb quality. Extras are a bit lacking, but everything else more than makes up for it. No doubt about it, this one is one for your horror library.
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