Tag Archives: Brazilian

CAPSULE: MEDUSA (2021)

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Medusa is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Anita Rocha da Silveira

FEATURING: Mariana Oliveira, Lara Tremouroux

PLOT: A group of Brazilian girls involved in a fundamentalist Christian sect spend their nights as vigilantes attacking women they deem insufficiently modest; one becomes beset by doubts.

Still from Medusa (2021)

COMMENTS: Medusa begins with a closeup of an eyeball, with a spot of bright red light and a spot of bright green light clearly reflected to the right and left of the pupil. As Goblin-esque techno music swells, the camera pulls back and rotates to show its subject performing an abstract but provocative interpretive dance, bathed in competing green and red washes. It’s appropriate that the film begins with a moody dance scene, because Medusa is full of elaborately choreographed atmospheres, from the bubblegum pink neon pop performances of “Michele and the Treasures of the Lord” to synchronized fascist yoga to a masked rave in the woods. The audiovisual aspects are superb: doom-laden dollies establish an effective mode. The director cites Suspiria as a major influence (seen mainly in the bold lighting choices.)

But while the style is enthralling, Medusa‘s script struggles to keep up. Granted, a lot of thought goes into the film’s themes. The running monster motif is handled well. The film critiques the cult-like dynamics of the nameless evangelical Christian sect portrayed here by focusing on its overwhelming concern with policing surface appearances rather than fostering virtue. This leads to the occasional satirical hit: an influencer explains how to properly take a “Christian selfie.” It also allows for moments of pathos, as when the same YouTuber removes her makeup after abandoning a video tutorial to reveal an unglamorous underlying reality. The fact that the protagonist only begins to question the group’s ideology of superficiality when her physical perfection is temporarily compromised is meaningful. But these insights exist alongside more obvious anti-religion jabs that verge on the stereotypical, e.g. a pastor stops a spiritual counseling session in the middle to take a call from a wealthy donor.

That unevenness could be forgiven, but at the same time, the story is losing focus as it progresses. The film’s increasing disorientation tracks with Mariana’s growing disillusionment and the disintegration of her worldview; but the story also seems like it’s unsure how to conclude. Shaving twenty minutes or so off the running time would have helped. Medusa lingers a too long on dreamlike sequences that add little. And Mariana’s arc goes a bit flat in the third act: she drags her bestie into dipping their toes into hedonistic excess with no believable coaxing—just a touch of magical realism that doesn’t feel all that realistic. And, though cracks show, Mariana doesn’t firmly break from her religious fervor even at the end, when the girls all spontaneously erupt into what is meant to be an expression of raw, resentful female fury, but might be unfairly dismissed as a mass hysterical episode. The women express righteous catharsis, but it seems tacked-on rather than flowing from the plot (especially since it encompasses characters who’ve experienced none of Mariana’s character growth). Medusa has a great look and sound, a few memorable scenes, and a fine central performance by Mariana Oliveira to ground the chaos, but the whole feels less than the parts.

Director Anita Rocha da Silveira was inspired by the rise of evangelical Christian groups in Brazil, and by reports of teenage girls physically assaulted by their peers for appearing too slutty on social media. On these inspirations she overlaid Ovid’s version of the myth of Medusa, where the gorgon is transformed into a monster by Athena as punishment for alleged promiscuity. De Silveira’s film played at Cannes and was picked up for U.S. distribution by Music Box Films (who are becoming a major player in distributing some of the weirder low-to-mid budget movies out there, having also released Strawberry Mansion and Please Baby Please in 2022).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Da Silveira has alluded to the disturbing social trends in her native Brazil that have informed her themes. Here she challenges them in a way that is satirical, amusing, stylish and strange; perhaps even controversial for her native audience.”–Demetreos Matheou, Screen Daily (festival review)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: KING CAR (2021)

Carro Rei

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DIRECTED BY: Renata Pinheiro

FEATURING: Luciano Pedro, Jr., Clara Pinheiro, Matheus Nachtergaele, Jules Elting

PLOT: Born inside a car, Uno grows up being able to talk with it; later in life he reconnects with this old friend after a second family mishap.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: A couple individual flourishes on their own just about lock it (crotch glow-strip Hebreic  “Dead” stamp-panties, car-comm-harmonica), but the thematic fusion of ecological preachifying; Futurism v. (utopian) Communism; and human-vehicular intimacy easily propel King Car into candidate class.

COMMENTS: King Car has a lot of surprises under the hood, particularly as a vehicle for some pertinent socio-philosophical musings: the relation between man and his machines, machines and the natural world, and the natural world and man. This triangle of ideas pivots around the heavy-handed precept that technology has become detrimental to mankind. If her film is an accurate representation of her philosophy, Renata Pinheiro probably thinks we should have slammed the brakes on our scientific advancement at the Amish age. She has no love for cars, something made abundantly clear; more intriguingly, she seems also to have sympathy for the doleful hunks of rust.

Uno is his parents’ first and only son. The mother owns a junkyard overseen by her brother Zé, one of those holy fools that crops up every now and again in family trees and moralistic stories. The father owns a fleet of taxis. Uno is born in the back-seat of a car driven by his father; the journey to a hospital interrupted by some rogue bovines. Uno can talk to this car, and takes it very personally when it seems the car allows his mother to die in a crash. Uno forswears automotive technology, takes up cycling, joins a coop, and aces his agroforestry exam. This displeases his father, who had hoped the boy would take over the family business. When a new regulation banning cars older than fifteen years takes effect, the father suffers a medical emergency, bringing Uno back to his home to face his fears—including the car that “killed” his mother. As it is turned back on, it begins talking with Uno once more.

Innumerable themes and allusions crash together in King Car. There are erotic human/car interactions (read: sex scenes), and anyone who’s seen anything in that sub-genre will immediately think of Crash. (This movie takes out the middle man, so to speak, having the action between just woman and sentient automobile.) Eco-socialist sloganeering competes with, and then morphs into, Futurist rants about the rise of the machine. Tetsuo gets a nod later in the film, when Uno is trapped inside his car’s trunk, which has become an electro-embryonic “This is Your Life” chamber. There are even hints of Colossus: the Forbin Project when Uncle Zé is fixing up “King Car”, following the vehicle’s directions on how to upgrade his frame and make him a vocal unit.

King Car often annoyed me—I know too much about the precedent of cooperative farm-induced famines to overlook idealistic ramblings about the practice—but these occurrences were quickly glossed over when it shifted gears, which was often. A car conspiracy develops, a romance one of the eco-hippies alternately blossoms and withers, and Uncle Zé is always a spectacle worth beholding (imagine a love-child of Dominique Pinon and Jack Nance). Like the titular character after his upgrade, it’s a smorgasbord of disparate parts. However, to resurrect a metaphor, it’s well worth a spin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The DNA of Christine and Holy Motors flows through the core of Renata Pinheiro’s dystopian carsploitation flick, King Car… a fascinating, eccentric, and bold piece of Brazilian cinema.” -Christopher Cross, Tilt

CAPSULE: BACURAU (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

FEATURING: Bárbara Colen, , Sonia Braga, Thomas Aquino

PLOT: A group of killers isolate a small Brazilian village intending to massacre the residents for recreation, but find the peasants are more resourceful than they anticipated.

Still from Bacurau (2019)

COMMENTS: Seeing the word “weird” used to describe a movie like Bacurau reminds us just how jaded we here at 366 Weird Movies are. The only unusual features of this Brazilian export are its slightly unconventional blend of art-house drama with ballsy genre filmmaking, along with some mild psychotropic visions and one quirky flying-saucer shaped drone. It may be a weird brew for general American audiences—the ones who would never go see a foreign or independent film anyway—or to professional critics who prefer to stick to the realist side of the art-house scene… but this sociological-study-cum-shoot-em-up isn’t exactly Let the Corpses Tan.

With it’s magnificent landscapes, including some local cacti that could pass for Saguaro, Bacurau evokes the mythic West of Sergio Leone: it could be Once Upon a Time in Brazil. The opening scene includes a litter of coffins spilled onto the road leading into town, which reinforces that connection. By the end, when the resourceful tribe defends their eerily deserted town from the better-equipped invaders, Bacurau takes on the shape of The Seven Samurai.

The first forty-five minutes paint a portrait of the hamlet of perhaps one hundred souls, planted in the middle of nowhere. A matriarch, the ancestor of a large percentage of the population, has just died, and nursing student Teresa returns, bearing a suitcase of vaccines, to attend her grandmother’s funeral. The town has a teacher, a doctor, a whore, a DJ who serves as the town crier and local news anchor when not pumping out the jams, and so forth; it also has a rather large library and a museum devoted to the town’s history. Things get strange when Bacurau suddenly disappears from Google Maps, a UFO is spotted, and bullet holes are found in the tanker truck that supplies them with fresh water. The nature of the trouble soon becomes apparent; a tour group of American thrill-killers have paid a small fortune to hunt these forgotten people for sport. The killing starts in the final act, but although squibs are not spared and plenty of red stuff splashes around, it’s not the action-packed bloodbath you might expect. Steering away from exploitative spectacle as much as possible (given the scenario), the killings are spread out, as the invaders are picked off one by one. You might guess that Udo Kier, the oldest, evilest, and most famous of the bad guys is the last one to go. I’ll never tell.

Many note that with the sympathetic portrayal of the villagers’ “degeneracy” (casual nudity and free love, acceptance of homosexuality, and liberal use of ethnobotonicals)—and the presence of crooked con-man mayor Tony Jr., representing provincial corruption—the film takes its shots at homophobic, right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Capitalism itself also comes in for quite a thrashing. On the other hand, Bolsonaro might be pleased with the film’s xenophobia aimed at the stereotyped Western interlopers (Kier is not a Nazi, he insists, shooting a companion to prove his point). He might also approve of the derision heaped on the invaders’ big city Brazilian allies, traitorous globalist collaborators shamelessly manipulated by shadowy outsiders. The line between anti-colonialism and populist nationalism is thin indeed.

Pulled from American theaters early due to the Covid-19 crisis, Bacurau is currently streaming via Kino Now. They have thoughtfully set up a system whereby the independent theaters that were supposed to screen the film can share the streaming revenue (check here for the list of participating venues). Kino probably could have kept all the revenue to themselves, as Disney did with the digital release of Onward, so they deserve massive respect for this move. Bacurau is not only a quality film, it’s a good way to support small (and big) businesses in a dry season.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“’Bacurau’ is definitely weird, a quasi-Western mashed up with psychedelic sci-fi and political satire.”–Jeffrey Anderson, San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967)

Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: José Mojica Marins, Nadia Freitas, Tina Wohlers, Antonio Fracari, José Lobo

PLOT: “Coffin Joe” returns to town in the hopes of nabbing himself a perfect bride to match his perfect self so that they might together create a perfect son; trouble ensues when he kidnaps six townswomen and then later seduces the daughter of a local bigwig.

Still from This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Marins has cleaned up his technique since At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), the first movie in the Coffin Joe series, but trace amateurism still does This Night no favors. Admittedly it’s a close-run thing: the bridal spider-test, Nietzchian diatribes, and a colorful visit to Hell are among a number of memorable bits of weirdness. But this is avowedly a straight “horror” movie—that’s no bad thing, it just makes it, in this case, no weird thing.

COMMENTS: Coffin Joe is at it again. His eyesight restored after a bout in the hospital and his freedom granted after a hearing at the local courthouse, he returns to his home village to terrorize the dismayed locals as he continues his quest to father a son. José Marins neatly resurrects his signature character in This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse for another round of ominous behavior and philosophical ranting at no one in particular. Armed with the experience gained from making his first horror movie (At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul), Marins now offers his audience more of the same, with a finer polish. Not being saddled by any other precedents (he was the only Brazilian horror filmmaker in the market), the director continues fashioning the yardstick by which Brazilian horrors would be measured.

Coffin Joe starts his machinations immediately, without any fear of the law or God. With his signature chapeau, charismatic beard, grotesquely long fingernails, and his hunchback henchman, Bruno (José Lobo), Joe captures six women and holds them in his funeral parlor, testing their mettle by releasing a swarm of fuzzy tarantulas on them as they sleep. One woman, Marcia (Nadia Freitas) passes this test, but alas for the would-be lucky lady, she ultimately doesn’t cut the mustard. A second (pregnant) kidnappee curses Joe before her snake-y demise. Undaunted, he lays eyes on the daughter of a local grandee. She is immediately smitten by the long-clawed mortician. Once again, Joe goes too far, and the peasants get a hankering for a lynching.

This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is a technically superior outing to the comparably long-titled At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul. Smoother editing, marginally superior acting, and more memorable sets (whipped up in an abandoned synagogue); all come together for a more professional feel than that which plagued (blessed?) Marins’ first outing. However, this works against This Night‘s weird qualifications, as far as we’re concerned. The film has a number of things going for it, but now that the director has started walking the fine line between amateur and professional, he abandons his beginner’s luck. In short, This Night is just a smidge too well made to have the flash of weirdness that a novice’s efforts might have provided. Still, a popcorn-snow Hell, spider-eroticism, and Joe’s Übermensch stance all make it a close call.

Marins reinvented horror for his homeland of Brazil, and makes a decent start. As remarked in the At Midnight review, he’s got the best character in town, and one who can hold his own among the other greats of horror film history. There is an undeniable charm (of sorts) to a diminutive undertaker who obviously relished the Cliff Notes of “Beyond Good and Evil” in school. Marins doesn’t go full tilt enough, however, to make This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse so mind-blowing or unsettling to bring it into the weird canon. Further investigation of this anti-hero may come, though, so there’s a chance José Marins’ brain-child may at least achieve the immortality that 366 Weird Movies can furnish.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie itself has a real sense of surreal and jarring horror, but its main problem may be its lack of subtlety; the themes come across as blatantly obvious and a little too self-consciously articulated.”–Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings (DVD)

CAPSULE: BEYOND THE GRAVE (2010)

Porto Dos Mortos

DIRECTED BY: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro

FEATURING: Rafael Tombini, Álvaro Rosa Costa, Ricardo Seffner

PLOT: A solitary policeman travels the countryside looking for the Dark Rider, one of the prime agents of evil walking the earth after the Seven Gates of Hell have opened.

Still from Beyond the Grave (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While it works nicely as an imagining of a minor zombie classic from the 1970s, its various idiosyncrasies aren’t too dissimilar from what you might find in many other low budget horror pictures.

COMMENTS: Highways invariably become desolate when the undead start out-numbering the living. Our film opens on a lone black car traveling a deserted stretch of road, and inside is the film’s hero—a determined police officer on a quest. A radio DJ broadcasts from some indeterminate location, playing music and speaking to the few survivors: “…if you’re out there, have a nice day. I hope you survive it.” The officer makes a stop at an abandoned building, enters, and dispatches the killers who have set up camp there. He narrowly avoids decapitation, revealing a preternatural ability to survive. Now nearly out of ammunition, he returns to his car and flips through dossiers in the trunk. He obviously still has unfinished business.

Though made in 2010, Pinheiro’s zombie film has the feel of a much older movie. The picture quality is slightly washed out, and looks like a relic from a bygone era. The environs and fashions hail from thirty to forty years ago. And the gist of the story—lone man, undead, Gates of Hell— all smack of the golden age of zombie pictures.

Through the course of the officer’s travels (his character, like all but one in the movie, is never given a name), he encounters a young couple, a household of survivors who’ve set up shop in an abandoned school, and a clutch of supernatural assailants keen on thwarting his mission. Ostensibly his goal is to kill someone or something called the “Dark Rider,” who always has the undead following in his wake. Though society has by and large collapsed, the officer continues doing his job. He always has his lights spinning on his car during his many long drives, more as an act of defiance against the death of civilization than anything else.

As with most supernatural movies, there are elements of the strange. The cop stumbles across ceremonial designs drawn on dingy floors, sometimes in blood. The trio of killers that he is both following and is followed by are made up of a man armed with bow and arrow, a mixta woman wearing a gas mask and armed with a handgun with a pistol-grip of human bone, and a nebulous fellow whose weapon is an atonal harmonica that when played cripples enemies with its bleed-inducing drone. There is talk of the Seven Gates of Hell having been opened, and at one point a cultist gives the officer a book with which to summon the Dark Rider (Necronomicon, anyone?) Also, this is the only zombie movie I know of that takes something of a sympathetic stance towards the afflicted. A few scenes depict cruelty toward the walking dead negatively.

Beyond the Grave clocks in at a succinct 89 minutes. While not everything is made clear, there is a consistency to the narrative. Though certainly not weird by the standards set at this website, it still is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half in an atmospheric, post-Apocalyptic detour.

Beyond the Grave is currently available for viewing free in the U.S. on Hulu.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a unique experience in the theater of the weird.”–Mark L. Miller, Ain’t It Cool News (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964)

À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma

DIRECTED BY: José Mojica Marins

FEATURING: José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei

PLOT: Brazilian undertaker Zé do Caixão (“Coffin Joe”) eats meat on Friday, terrorizes peasants, and plots to steal his best friend’s fiancee; a gypsy witch is the only person in town who dares to defy him.

Still from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Up until its nightmarish finale, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is only weird in the sense that it features a one-of-a-kind antihero: Zé do Caixão, a the stovepipe hat wearing undertaker and self-appointed ubermensch who eats lamb on Holy Friday, rails against God during a thunderstorm, and gleefully murders his friends and acquaintances. The vicious character was popular enough to spawn a series of films, and Zé became an iconic boogeyman in Brazil, along the lines of a Freddy Kreuger in the States. Although not all that strange, the original At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is arguably the best of the Coffin Joe movies; the character, however, would return in weirder guises…

COMMENTS: When José Mojica Marins made At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul in 1964, there were no previous Brazilian horror films for him to model his movie after. That explain why Midnight, while cheap, sleazy, and cheesy in design, feels fresh and unique. Marins begins Midnight with not one, but two prologues. In the first Coffin Joe explains the concepts of life, death, existence and blood; in the second, an old gypsy hag waves a Universal Studios surplus skull in front of the camera and warns audiences there’s still time to turn around and go home. In between the introduction and the foreword, the sadistic highlights are previewed over the credits. A leather gloved hand bloodies a woman’s face, the same hands strangle a man in a bathtub, and a tarantula crawls over a bound victim, all while the wind howls and screams, moans and cackles echo in the background like a soundtrack for a Halloween haunted house. The opening impression is of a cross between a Universal horror and a grindhouse roughie; throw in a bit of Anton LaVey posturing, and that’s a fairly accurate description. The violence, which includes severed fingers and gouged eyeballs, is astounding for the early 1960s (there’s no nudity, of course—modesty must prevail). There’s a brutal rape scene, but Zé’s casual blasphemies probably shocked the original audience even more. The plot is simple but unusual: it’s mostly a series of scenes of Coffin Joe scandalizing pious villagers with his sacrilegious antics, then beating and whipping them while daring them to gather the courage to confront him. Meanwhile, he obsesses about fathering a son to carry on his bloodline, and decides to get rid of his barren girlfriend in favor of his only friend’s fiancée. A gypsy woman hangs around the edges of the picture predicting doom for the blackguard. Coffin Joe finally goes too far in his iniquities and one night, at midnight, the spirits of those he’s wronged come to take his soul. It’s not the plot (and certainly not the production values) that impresses, however, but the character of Coffin Joe. Clad head to toe in black, with a stovepipe hat, cape, pipe, bristly beard, and three-inch long fingernails sharpened like knife points, Zé is an instant nightmare icon from the moment he arrogantly strides onscreen. But what makes him terrifying is that he freely chooses evil: there is no backstory to humanize him or explain how he became embittered and corrupted. He’s simply a sociopath who delights in causing pain to his fellow human beings, and who is smart enough to justify his lusts and strong enough to seize them. His philosophy of evil is summed up by his assessment of the villagers he terrorizes: “They’re weak because they fear what they don’t know. I am free. Therefore, I am stronger.” Because Zé, an atheist in a superstitious Catholic society, has no fear of eternal punishment, he can take whatever he wants. A woman he rapes tells him she will kill herself: Zé’s chilling response is to wipe her blood from his lips and inform her that all the women say that—at first. Coffin Joe is repulsive, but he’s also charismatic; the cinematic figure he resembles most is Alex from A Clockwork Orange. We can’t actively root for him, but we can’t help but secretly envy him; he is what we fear in ourselves. That makes for a great character, even if the technical qualities of the movie surrounding Coffin Joe can’t quite live up to Marins’ ghoulish persona. Zé’s downfall satisfies the censors; evil is punished. But at the end, when the forces of superstition and the vengeful spirits of the dead swamp the undertaker, Coffin Joe’s comeuppance has all the sincerity of a fallen preacher’s tearful apology to his parishioners. It’s there for show, to convince the audience that wickedness has been buried once and for all. As Coffin Joe’s words echo in our ears, we remain unconvinced.

Director José Mojica Marins says he took the role of Coffin Joe because he could not find a professional Brazilian actor willing to play the part. He portrayed Zé do Caixão for 45 years, through three canonical Coffin Joe films and a host of guest appearances, including cameos in Marins’ more surreal offerings, including the LSD horror Awakening of the Beast and the cut-and-paste highlight reel Hallucinations in a Deranged Mind.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Morality is annihilated, transgression is exalted — a confrontational close-up makes Mei’s mauled mouth as bizarrely erotic as Barbara Steele’s punctured face in Black Sunday…”–Fernando Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by EricSG, who praised the “eerie atmosphere” and “surrealistic touches that hint upon Bunuel (albeit more evil)” and added “the ending catapults it into the weird netherworld with psychedelic camera tricks…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)