At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul

June 25, 2013 at 12:23 am (9 Heads, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul) (, , , )

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul – 1964 – Brazil

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul was written and directed by the iconic Jose Marins, who also stars as his alter ego Zé do Caixão (a.k.a. Coffin Joe). The character and story supposedly occurred to Marins in a dream, in which a dark figure led him to a cemetery and showed him his own grave. As Brazil’s first horror film, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul was inspired by American horror, evidenced by themes recalling the ironic morality plays of EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt

In At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul’s opening, a cackling witch warns viewers to leave the theatre. The film’s first half introduces the blaspheming, sadistic, chauvinistic Coffin Joe as he abuses the inhabitants of the village where he works as an undertaker. At a bar, Coffin Joe intimidates his way into a card game. After his opponent reneges on a wager, Coffin Joe chops his fingers off with a broken bottle, gleefully offering to pay the victim’s doctor’s bill. This nearly incites the bar to riot until Coffin Joe savagely whips a man and shouts, “I’ll charge double to bury anyone I kill!”

Later, Coffin Joe covets another man’s wife. She refuses his advances so Coffin Joe kills her husband, then beats and rapes her. In this repulsive scene, he kisses the blood from her battered face as she squeezes her pet canary to death in fury. When the woman threatens to kill herself, Coffin Joe tauntingly accuses her of lacking the courage.

This is a mere sample of Coffin Joe’s sadism. He gouges out a man’s eyes, binds a woman and drops a venomous spider on her, and makes God-fearing folk eat meat on a holy day. In Coffin Joe’s atheistic philosophy, he is fighting weakness and stupidity. Considering that Brazil is primarily Catholic, such sacrilege requires punishment and Coffin Joe is eventually killed by vengeful ghosts.

From the lurid summary above, you can guess At Mightnight I’ll Take Your Soul is wild and unrestrained. Made cheaply and simply, there is an abundance of lengthy shots, and the most elaborate effect involved gluing glitter to the negative. But Marins is compelling as Coffin Joe and his scenes of outrageous violence and madness are powerful. In one unforgettable bit, he staggers drunkenly through a graveyard, mocking the dead and challenging Satan. Marins admits to improvising some of these rants.

After At Mightnight I’ll Take Your Soul, Coffin Joe became a cult figure. Marins later films are stranger and more psychedelic, but lack the rawness, emotional energy, and sheer shock value of this first effort. Compared to American horror of the same decade, At Might I’ll Take Your Soul is outrageously depraved.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. I think it is so awesome that Coffin Joe has manikin parts jutting from the walls of his house.

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