Known in English as Coffin Joe, Zé do Caixão is the creation of José Mojica Marins. Considered to be the first Brazilian horror movies, the Coffin Joe duology kickstarted Marins's career, as well as a new craze for the Latin American nation.
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul
In a small Brazilian town lives Zé, the local undertaker. Loathing of religion, and obsessed with siring the next in his bloodline, he makes life hell for everyone in the area, disfiguring those he plays cards with, insulting the local holy people, and worst of all is his fixation with the lovely young Terezinha, fiancee of his friend Antonio. Believing that she really wants to be with him, Zé tortures and murders his infertile wife, then sets about making Terezinha his, no matter who gets in his way...
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul starts off with a bit of a cheesy and old-fashioned look to it, but soon reveals itself to be anything but! Its focus is squarely on the psychology of the lead, a truly nasty and vile character who definitely has his place as one of the great horror villains. He has a distinctive look, an interesting personality for many reasons, and creepy motivations, all paired with an unrelenting sadism.
A large element to the movie is religion, and Zé's feelings towards it. He hates it like nothing else, which in a way reflects the feelings of José Mojica Marins himself, and was quite a scandalous opinion to have at the time, for a country where Catholicism was a big deal. The only way Marins could get across his viewpoint was through the mouth of a villain, which seems just a tad counterproductive, but oh well. All of Zé's attacks on religion culminate in a great monologue near the end, all shot in one long take.
The story here is mostly well written, but there are places where it comes off as just plain unbelievable. I'd be most curious to know how the heck this guy managed to commit atrocity after atrocity without having been arrested yet, despite being quite open and public with them. I also wonder if the murders he commits are his first. If they're not, everything makes a bit more sense, but if they are, he certainly jumped onto killing very quickly and abruptly! Can't say it doesn't fit his 'charming' personality though.
While their general inaction towards the villain are annoying, the other characters are fine, though some get killed off before getting the chance to do a whole lot. I wish Terezinha had gotten get sweet revenge against Zé, or at least pointed the finger at him in a 'certain note' she writes. The Doctor was a total dope for not fighting back when about to get his eyes poked out! And Maria's uncle was a moron too for getting just a wee bit too close to Zé when making his grand declaration of rebellion. That scene in particular I felt was a bit much. I already got the picture that Zé is an asshole, and he's already done at least 2 horrible things in that tavern. Showing any more just felt a bit pointless, especially when the climax approaches. I wish the finale would've happened right after he made his final grand speech to the heavens, as it would've been much more fitting. Instead it comes when there's still a little while to go.
The movie is predominately made up of Coffin Joe doing every horrible thing imaginable and going unpunished, while it's in the final act where everything come back to bite him, and he begins to know fear. It's a suitably ghoulish last act, ending on a great note. The plot may be somewhat thin in a few regards, but it's very effective in others.
The effects are pretty good whenever present. The violence is done well, if not entirely convincingly, while the supernatural stuff is more on the cheesy side. Not bad though, except for Antonio's face at the end. I also found the look on Terezinha's face after her death is pretty laughable.
The sets are all neat too, especially once you learn of the behind the scenes troubles, due to the low budget, and doubt from others in the industry. One touch to the movie's look did outright piss me off though-The opening cast montage! It totally spoils just about every death scene in the movie!
If At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul really is the first Brazilian horror film, the genre certainly started off with a bang over there, with this macabre film dealing with fears both old and new! It's well worth watching for any horror fan...
This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse
Somehow (*coughyeahrightcough*) surviving the events of the previous film, Zé is back to his old tricks. Just as fanatic, he kidnaps several women and puts them through sadistic tests to see if any of them are 'worthy' of carrying his child. All but one die, and the townsfolk are desperate for revenge. Will they finally kill Zé, or will his evil plans succeed? Or will another force come for the mad Coffin Joe?...
This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse is an interesting film, with a lot to like, but also sharing many of the same flaws I had in the previous entry, namely a run-time and sense of pacing that began to exceed my patience. On the face of it it's a pretty daring film, and definitely pushes the envelope in terms of violence and themes. It explores the character of Coffin Joe even more, and really delves into his twisted psyche and philosophy.
Joe is still searching for the perfect woman, and kidnaps just about half the village. He gathers together all these women, and all he does is scare them with spiders. And because they failed this one single test by being afraid, he kills them all, immediately! Bloody hell, man, I was expecting you to at least do a few tests, but he does one and immediately declares the half dozen women he kidnapped as a write off.
Joe is a complex character with many sides to him, all bad. In his mind he is the only truly virtuous man in town, and intends to show the others, and the world, that he has moral superiority...By committing acts of sadism and perversion! For a character who openly and proudly hates hypocrisy, he sure is a bloody hypocrite! He also acts indignant that the townsfolk suspect his hand in the recent crimes, as if it's a witch hunt. Umm, that's all well and good, Joe, but...you did kidnap all their women, and you fully intended to rape, torture, and possibly murder them. So maybe they do have the right to throw aspersions your way?
For such a science enthusiast, he really is a bit dim at times. He'll have his way with a woman, and no sooner than he's putting his boots back on he's convinced she's already pregnant. Hold your horses, Joe, it takes longer than that! He also always assume she'll have a son, despite the odds only being 50-50.
We see elements of a softer side to Joe, which still fits in with his mindset. While he hates the 'useless' townsfolk, he admires children, for their innocence, and their role in shaping the future. Because of this sensitivity, when Joe realises one of the women he killed was already pregnant, he's shocked senseless. It's to the point when he actually apologises to people for being rough! And yet when he openly admits why he's upset to his girlfriend Laura "One of the women I murdered was pregnant", her response is to comfort him by insulting the girl's morals, basically!
Despite only being a gravedigger with a modest house in the last film, Coffin Joe now has a large mansion, complete with specialty made torture dungeons, secret panels, and various booby traps. And they're all stocked up with well-fed animals too (presumably by new evil housekeeper Bruno, complete with hunchback). The lair even has a bed-post that doubles and triples as a trapdoor opener and snake hatch release! Damn, I want a place like this! Well, minus the torture dungeons. The booby traps are ok though.
Marcia is the only one of the 'brides' spared, because she's actually on-board with Coffin Joe, to the point that she was happy to be kidnapped, and is ready to give birth to his 'perfect' children. But the mass-killing does upset her, and leads her to break away a little (while still being loyal). Her character really is pointless. Her only purpose is rendered almost immediately moot, and she's replaced by a completely likeminded character, while she does just about nothing, before a hilariously abrupt suicide.
Laura is like Marcia if you stripped away the personality, and dialed up the poor judgement. At first it just seemed like she has terrible taste in men, but it turns out that she's just as crazy as Joe! At first I felt bad for her knowing she'd be a victim of his, but since she's so freakishly into Joe and all his beliefs, she can keep him!
What I appreciate most about this film is that it gives the townspeople a chance to make up for their cowardice in the previous film. We also get a group of thugs to solve the problem, but are out of the movie far too soon, and far too easily too! They had ample opportunity to gang up on Joe and pummel the fear of God into him, but he has a character shield they can't break.
This town also holds the stupidest legal system ever! After burly local Truncador exits the bar, Bruno conks him on the head and dumps a corpse next to him (which has obviously been killed hours ago, by non-human means), and this instantly convinces the authorities of his guilt. So they can't see Coffin Joe's guilt in all his crimes, but this is all the evidence they need to convict this innocent sap?
By far the most impressive sequence of the film is Joe's trip to Hell. The film turns to colour and the film stock changes, and what was previously a black-and-white Gothic production suddenly becomes a full-blown Bosch painting. There are devils with pitchforks and tails torturing people, asses and boobs are poking out of the walls, and the souls of the dead gang up on Joe. It's by far the film's best scene, and a highlight of Marins' career
The climax is great! Joe is ranting outside, demanding evidence of the supernatural, despite literally just seeing a vision of his victim. Then after his demand, lightning strikes the tree in front of him, and it collapses onto him. I jokingly thought 'He's so stubborn, I bet he's gonna go "That was just a coincidence, I need real evidence!".', and then he actually says just that!
The effects here are decent all round, with cheap but effective violence. The costumes and make-up during the Hell sequence are pretty over-the-top, almost feeling like a community play, but it's visually impressive, and I liked the filmy painted look the scene has.
The black and white photography throughout is good, and shots are well-framed throughout. The credits however are unwatchable. Not only do the names flash by far too quickly to read, they flicker wildly too. All over violent imagery to come that likewise is over before you can even register what it is.
This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse is mixed. It's got many good qualities, some bad too, and is wrapped up in a pretty overlong package. But it's still worth watching once for horror fans, even if the fastforward button may come in handy at times. I may not be the biggest fan of José Mojica Marins, but I at least respect him for his efforts, and for his contribution to horror cinema...