Tag Archives: Brazilian

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.)

PLEASE HELP, NON-AMERICAN FRIENDS: A LIST OF OBSURE, FOREIGN (TO US) FILMS

The Internet Movie Database is a wonderful and a terrible thing.  Wonderful, because it allows you to create impressively thorough lists of potentially weird movies.  Terrible, because it may tease you with the names of intriguing movies you may never be able to see.

Below is a list of dozens of highly-rated movies that have been tagged with “surrealism” or similar keywords, broken down by country.  To my knowledge, none of these movies is currently available on DVD, and I suspect that several of them may never have been translated into English.  Any information on these titles by people who are familiar with them would be of enormous value to us in deciding whether or not we should invest time in trying to track them down.  So, my non-American friends, please have at it!  If you leave a comment with some information on any of these titles, I’ll update the body of the text to reflect it.  (Information supplied by readers is added in bold).

Argentinian

  • Razón de mi vida, La (20??) [The Reason for My Life].  This showed up on the IMDB as a highly rated 2008 release a while back.  Now, the link goes to a movie of the same name, but it has no rating and is listed as a 2010 release.  OFFICIAL UPDATE: Per Kino Red: “completed in this month. Release soon (Buenos Aires, Paris and Tokyo). Trailer and teaser (in Spanish) in youtube: NOTE: The film is not based on the Eva Perón autobiography. The title of the film is ironic or parodic about the Eva Perón’s book.” I will add that the trailer looks very promising!
  • Rosaura a las 10 (1958) [Rosaura at 10 o’clock].  Alon thinks it’s only borderline weird at best.

Brazilian

  • Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (1964) [God and the Devil in the Land of the SunPer Alon: “interesting, beautifully filmed and edited, movie about the drama of the Brazilian dispossessed… but I wouldn’t consider it weird by any measure.”
  • O Anjo Nasceu (1969) [The Angel Was Born]
  • Per Alon: “…seems to be famous for its unconventional camerawork and editing. The film tells the story of two murderers, one of whom has mystic visions, and was regarded as quite gory for its time.”

  • Terra em Transe.  No English translation of the title.  Per Alon, Entranced Land or Land in Anguish. Has read it’s more “daring” than Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol by the same director.

Czech/Czechoslovakian

  • Adéla jeste nevecerela (1978).  Per LRobHubbard: translates to Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet. From the director of Lemonade Joe (which we do plan to review).  “Spoofs the ‘Nick Carter’ detective stories, featuring Carter investigating strange disappearances, which involve a carnivorous plant, the ‘Adele’ of the title.”  No Region 1 release.  Worth seeing, but not necessarily weird.
  • Akumulátor 1 (1994).
  • Jak utopit doktora Mrácka aneb Konec vodniku v Cechách (1974) [How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer]
  • Kytice (2000) [Wild Flowers]
  • Lepsie byt bohaty a zdravy ako chudobny a chory (1993) [It’s Better to Be Wealthy and Healthy Than Poor and Ill]
  • Nejasná zpráva o konci sveta (1997) [An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World]
  • Nevesta (1970).
  • Pane, vy jste vdova! (1970) [You Are a Widow, Sir]
  • Postav dom, zasad strom (1980) [Build a House, Plant a Tree]
  • Sedím na konári a je mi dobre (1989). No English translation of the title. Probably never translated into English.
  • Tajemství hradu v Karpatech (1981) [The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians].  Per LRobHubbard: from the director of and similar to Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet (above) but a pastiche/parody. The idea may be from a story by Jules Verne.
  • Tisícrocná vcela (1983) [The Millennial Bee]
  • Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem (1977).  No English translation of the title.

French

  • La Cicatrice intérieure (1972).  Written by and featuring glacial chanteuse Nico (best known here for her work with The Velvet Underground).
  • La Dernière femme (1976) [The Last Woman].  Despite the presence of a young Gerard Depardieu, I am not sure this was ever translated into English for home video.  Controversial on release due to its sexual content.  Per Irene, not a weird film.

Greek

  • Souvliste tous! Etsi tha paroume to kouradokastro (1981) [Barbecue them!].  A Greek correspondent tells me this is basically unknown even in Greece and no DVDs are available.  It is on Google video, with no English subtitles.

Italian

  • Capricci (1969).  By Carmelo Bene.
  • Don Giovanni (1970).  Also by Carmelo Bene.
  • Fantozzi (1975) and Il Secondo tragico Fantozzi (1976).  These popular Italian comedies seem to have never been released in America.  I gather Fantozzi is something like the Italian Monsieur Hulot?
  • La Rabbia (2008).  With Faye Dunaway and Franco Nero in the cast, I would assume this might see the light of day soon.

Indian

  • Poi (2006).

Japanese

  • Den-en ni shisu (1974) [Pastoral Hide and Seek]
  • Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (1970) [He Died After the War]

Mexican

  • Pafnucio Santo (1977).  Per Alon: “…seems promising… directed by Jodorowsky’s cinematographer… the trailer on YouTube is rather terse.”

Polish

  • Ewa chce spac (1958).  No English translation of the title.  Per Irene Goncharova, “a mere comedy… I didn’t find it weird.”
  • Jak daleko stad, jak blisko (1972) [How Far, How Near]
  • Walkower (1965) [Walkover]. Per Irene Goncharova, “A Polish movie, just drama, nothing weird.”

Russian/Soviet

  • Den vyborov (2007) [Election Day].  Per Irene Goranchova: “…absolute trash, a really BAD Russian movie. I sometimes laugh watching it. Bad, bad, bad! Nothing weird…”
  • Posetitel muzeya (1989). [Visitor of a Museum]?
  • Sobachye serdtse (1988). Literally, Heart of a Dog. Based on a Mikhail Bulgakov novel that was also adapted by the Italians into a film called Cuore di cane.  Produced for television?  Per Irene Goncharova: It was a television production, although there may also be another filmed version.  “…a good movie, quite weird.”
  • Zhena kerosinshchika (1988) [Kerosene Salesman’s Wife]?  Per Irene Goncharova: hasn’t seen it, but looks weird from the description.

Spanish

  • Amanece, que no es poco (1989). No English translation of the title.  Per Alon, English translation may be Isn’t dawn enough? “…a masterpiece of surreal humour. You have a serious candidate for The List.”
  • Don Juan Tenorio (1952).  Alon thinks it’s unlikely to be weird, mentions that its notoriety may come from the fact that Salvador Dalí served as the costume designer.

In the interest of thoroughness, we’re potentially saving a spot on the List for all these movies, so any help as to whether they are must-sees or duds will be greatly appreciated!