To say that Embodiment of Evil is long overdue would be the understatement of the millennia. It has taken Brazilian, writer/director José Mojica Marins over four decades to conclude the nightmarish trilogy that began with the trashy classic, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964). Most importantly, the release of this movie means the long overdue return of Marins’ infamous alter ego, Coffin Joe. Although Joe has been used in various forms in several of Marins projects since the penultimate, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967), it is not until now he that he has returned to wreak havoc in the world in which he was first introduced.
We enter the realm of Coffin Joe through a bizarre, kaleidoscopic nightmare, a form of psychedelic animation exploring the inner body. His perverse obsession with the ‘continuity of blood’ is given a 21st century make over, visually represented by a chorus of CGI blood cells. After a brief but brilliant voice over from the malevolent undertaker himself, we are informed that he is not dead but is, in fact, about be released from a forty year stint in prison. He re-unites with his hunch backed servant, Bruno, who has gathered a small group of attractive minions to help find the perfect women to bare Joe a son. This leads to a series of brutal murders, ghostly visitations and general, brain nuzzling freakouts.
Joe’s introduction to the film is absolutely fantastic. The iconic, elongated fingernails curl out of the darkness of his cell as he rightly mocks the system that deems him fit for release. Skulking down the corridors of the murky prison, his top hat and cape draw a distinctive, powerful silhouette. But as the occult murder wanders into focus something becomes embarrassingly apparent. Instead of the young, creepy mad hatter that he once was, he has become a rather adorable, portly gentleman with the histrionic manner of a pantomime villain. His tawdry performance and b-movie apparel seem glaringly out of place as he gesticulates through modern Brazil. His unlikely existence in this world creates an atmosphere of accidental post modernism. The problem is not that Coffin Joe has changed (the age and weight gain being quite inevitable), it is that he hasn’t changed at all.
The surrealist, dream like quality of Marins’ films is also retained but to pleasing rather than jarring affect. In one sequence Joe makes love to a particularly mad, gypsy mystic whilst her shamanic auntie’s hang strung and quartered above them. The cadavers begin to bleed out, pouring gallons of syrupy blood onto our demonic lovers, provoking pleasurable cries of ecstasy. Before you can say ‘Herschel Gordon Lewis’ the couple are completely submerged. What follows is a fantastic but frankly perplexing trip through a paper maché artery, followed by a cheeky sojourn to purgatory (which looks suspiciously like the cover to Houses of the Holy). Moments like these are extremely charming; it’s just too bad that they appear so scarcely.
During the films most reflexive moment, Joe stares into the camera and asks ‘Do you think I’m vanquished, weakened by time?’ and unfortunately, the answer may be yes. Although the character has lost much of his bite through the ravages of time – the horror landscape having changed significantly, films like The Ordeal and WDeltaZ adding their harsh tones to our beloved genre – he is no less entertaining.
This film may be a little quaint for the modern viewer, but for those who remember the wicked escapades of Coffin Joe with a genuine fondness, I dare you not to be enchanted by this barmy mess.
Additional film information: Encarnação do Demônio (2008)