At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul, dir. José Mojica Marins

Something of a cult horror classic in Brazil, and made in 1963 on a budget of nothing, I guess I was expecting this to be a Hammer horror type thing. And yes, it certainly has Hammer elements in it – dodgy special effects, overacting, an overpowering lead performance (Marins himself). But there are also elements in it you’d never find in a Hammer film (well, let’s say rarely – there are some interesting Hammer films out there too). For instance, there’s a real nastiness at times about the violence in this film – a nastiness which, until lately, you probably wouldn’t have found in Hollywood horror either.

OK, the “plot” makes no particular sense and I shan’t bother expounding it. – Oh, all right! A grave digger – Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe) – wants a child, but his wife is barren, so he murders her, and then murders his friend because he fancies his girl-friend, and then rapes the girl-friend because she won’t sleep with him, and she commits suicide, and he murders someone else, and then all these people come back from the grave and he goes insane. – But, as I say, the plot isn’t really the point. The film really revolves around the character of Zé do Caixão, a figure who terrifies everyone in the community with his casual violence and his seeming omnipotence, which is all based in his essentially scientific outlook and his contempt for superstition. All the other villagers are hamstrung by their superstitions, by their moral values, they cannot rise up again. They try to, but find when they come to challenge him, that they can do nothing against him. Zé do Caixão is indeed some sort of Nietzschean superman-type figure, superior to all because he believes himself superior to all.

To be honest, it depressed me a bit that superstition got the last laugh in the end – but I guess that’s the way the film was headed.

p.s. I have more interesting films from Brazil for cinematic challenges, so I would prefer this not to represent Brazil for me. I also have another 7 films by José Mojica Marins, since I bought a boxset of them. (It looks, from the stills, like he degenerates thereafter into 1960s counter-culture).

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5 thoughts on “At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul, dir. José Mojica Marins

  1. “Casual violence” and “seeming omnipotence”? You make Coffin Joe sound almost cool! I think this would way be a way funnier choice for Brazil than Pixote say, but I won’t include it in the Foreign Film Festival unless you change your mind and relent. Wasn’t aware that the Coffin Joe films were Brazilian, though–I always thought they were American or Italian for some reason (have read about them but not seen any of them).

  2. With the demise of the Scala cinema it sounds like you could offer a Marins all-nighter at obooki-towers.

    I used to go to the Scala quite a bit ( never got through the final film without nodding off ) and there were occasionally cats in in the auditorium so you’ve got that angle covered. Carrot-cake and angry person in the wrong place are the other essential ingredients.

  3. R: It was Caroline’s rules I was thinking of: she only allows one film per country – and I really wanted to go for a film by Glauber Rocha (though, to be fair, I’ve not seen any). Coffin Joe is indeed cool.

    ET: I’m not sure Obooki’s Place is set up to be a cinema. I’ve a friend though who owns a farmhouse, and has a projector in his attic on which he watches DVDs. On the other hand, maybe his family would object if we all suddenly turned up (there might indeed be an angry person) and also the farmhouse is located somewhere in Luxembourg (which may be convenient for some, it’s true).

  4. Yes, it’s certainly one for the horror film afficianado. It should probably go down well (so long as they don’t mind cheesy special effects, and they do like a good dose of Nietzsche).

    I watched the sequel the other night (This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse), which, like all good horror sequels, is merely a rehash of the original, but inevitably inferior and more exploitative.

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