Embodiment of Evil (US - BD RA)
Gabe celebrates the return of Brazil's Coffin Joe with this vicious horror flick...
Welcome to the mad, mad, mad, mad world of José Mojica Marins, Brazilian filmmaker and horror personality Coffin Joe. Marins makes movies so strange they make David Lynch’s work appear conventional, tempered and downright sane in comparison. As a writer/director, Marins’ trademarks mostly relate to the hallucinatory and the avant-garde, and his favourite subject matter usually includes bloody torture, melodramatic blasphemy, and oodles of nudity. In my experience, Marins’ films are more similar to pointedly weird Japanese films like The Horrors of Malformed Men and The Blind Beast, rather than the culture shocked, accidentally weird genre stuff coming out of Turkey or the Philippians. These movies also recall Mexican born releases like The Baron of Terror, or any of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s early work, especially Fando y Liz and The Holy Mountain (including Jodorowsky’s penchant for Catholic satire). Coffin Joe’s exploits have covered several films, but until now there have only been two films released in his ‘official’ trilogy – At Midnight I Take Your Soul (1963) and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967). These films feature relatively more straight forward plots than the director’s other work, but they’re still about a zip code away from the mainstream.
It’s easy to overlook the extraordinary fact that this aging filmmaker (he’s 75 now) is revisiting a series more than 40 years after the previous entry, following disappointments like Indiana Jones an the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Mother of Tears or Land of the Dead (a movie I love, yet recognize the majority reaction to), but the release of Embodiment of Evil stirred up anticipation levels comparable to the prerelease of The Phantom Menace. Well, in some fringe circles. I’m sure somebody somewhere camped out to see the film. But is it any good? Well, that’s relative. At the very least Embodiment of Evil is more or less exactly what one would expect from the dude that introduced us to Coffin Joe in the first place. It’s bizarre, it’s violent, and it’s brimming with hallucinatory melodrama and wicked anti-religion satire. In terms of basic expectations, Marins meets his quota, which is more than we can say for many filmmakers revisiting older work. Perhaps more important, the director doesn’t seem to be reinventing himself, yet he isn’t entirely resting on his laurels. Is it any good? Yeah, I think it actually is, at least on its own strange terms.
Embodiment of Evil is much more attractive looking than anticipated, featuring deft camera moves, and gorgeously grim production design. Marins’ work is usually interesting to look at, but I wasn’t assuming the best based on Dario Argento’s comparatively ugly modern features, and other unattractive rebound shots like Paul Naschy’s Rojo Sangre. Almost as unexpected is the film’s pertinent and, gasp, even intelligent political subtext, though this is often forgotten in favour of more grotesque imagery (there’s one point where the narrative hints at Joe turning into some kind of anti hero, but nothing ever really comes of this). The plot itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t seen the other films (and even then…). After serving a 40-year prison term, Coffin Joe is released from the Mental Heath wing of the São Paulo State Penitentiary in accordance with Brazilian law. Back on the streets, the sadistic undertaker continues his original quest to find a woman who can give him the perfect child. After gathering a team of bloodthirsty assistants, Joe leaves a trail of bloody horror and is haunted by ghostly visions and the spirits of his past victims.
I’ve definitely seen more revolting gore in my day, but there are some choice cuts of nasty that will thoroughly please the gorehounds, while simultaneously sending the squeamish running to the nearest vomit receptacle. Most of these pertain to Joe’s team’s penchant for torture (never thought I’d see a woman fed a hunk of her own ass), but include a stunning sequence where Joe rapes a woman while the two are engulfed with blood pouring from the ceiling above them. After being entirely covered with the red stuff, Joe ascends from the liquid into a massive womb, where he is lead to a field of crucified men having their genitals eaten by naked, feral women. There isn’t a whole lot left to the imagination, and the practical gore effects are usually quite convincing. Marins even dabbles in effective digital effects and animation, such as the colourful opening credits, or an early scene where he’s menaced by black and white characters set against a full colour backdrop (a nod to the monochrome look of the first two Coffin Joe films). Usually I find that older genre directors don’t have much of an eye for digital work, but Marins finds clever ways to make the technology a part of his strange universe.
Embodiment of Evil is only a few years old, and appears to have been made on a halfway decent budget, so it’s no huge surprise that this 1080p transfer looks pretty good. Marins’ use of colour and gritty, well aged production design lead to a generally vibrant transfer with oodles of fine detail. Sometimes the clarity hurts the overall look, as some make-up appliances appear unfortunately phony, and some of the less controlled sets and locations look downright cheap. Colour quality is assisted by the fact that Brazil itself is apparently the most colourful city this side of Bangkok (as seen in stuff like City of God), but most of the really vibrant stuff appears to be planned either in the form of set painting or wardrobe choices. Many sets are lit with specific hues, then highlighted with a complimentary hue (green with red, yellow with purple). The crisp separation of these bright and solid colours is so impressive it sometimes elements appear somehow optically or digitally composited together. The 35mm stock does feature its share of fine grain, and black levels occasionally appear pretty grey, but overall this is a pretty consistent and effective transfer, and one that compares favourably to much more expensive major studio releases.
Scenes from the previous films in the series are included in flashback form, and look sharp enough to inspire hope that these may see a high definition release someday in the near future.
Marnis and his sound designers have field day with modern surround sound technology. The director’s early movies already featured a bevy of abstract aural elements (the strange sounds that start Awakening of the Beast can be heard at the top of White Zombie’s ‘I Zombie’), and those were mostly recorded in mono sound. No one is going to confuse this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track with the latest Transformers release, but most fans will be pleased by the overall design, and the uncompressed volume levels. The climax, which features lots of gunshots, would-be directional elements and disembodied voices, doesn’t really work, as most of the sound ends up centered with simple echo effects, but occasionally even this section features a handful of effective stereo bits. The less abstract noises, specifically ones that have some basis in the on screen happenings, sound canned and the source sound is a little on the flat side, but dialogue is always clear and relatively consistent in terms of volume levels.
The extras begin with a making of featurette (31:50, SD), which includes interviews with the cast and crew (including American fan Raymond Castile, who plays a younger Coffin Joe in a flashback), and raw behind the scenes footage (yes, those are his real finger nails, yes, that naked girl was sewn into a real dead pig, and yes, that guy was really hung by his back flesh). This featurette makes it pretty clear that the film was a group effort, and that the younger assistants certainly deserve a share of credit for the film’s success. Of course, everyone interviewed credits Marins with everything, and describe their experience on the production with utter affection. It’s also interesting to see the effort that went into rehearsals, even for the torture victims that don’t really have any lines or character. Things are finished up with an entertaining bit of ‘Fantasia Film Festival Premiere Footage’ (13:50), and a trailer.
I probably should’ve said this at the beginning, but I’m far from a Jose Mojica Marins expert. I’ve only seen This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse and Awakening of the Beast when they aired on IFC. The bulk of my knowledge comes from my experience with these two films, and multiple readings of Pete Tombs’ essential bizarro cinema tome ‘Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World’, which devotes an entire chapter to Marins’ work. This Embodiment of Evil Blu-ray features impressive A/V, a few fun extras, and more importantly, the film itself is actually a worthy successor to the first two parts of the Coffin Joe Trilogy.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th March 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Portuguese
Extras: Making Of Embodiment of Evil, Footage From the Fantasia Film Festival Premiere, Trailer, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: José Mojica Marins
Cast: José Mojica Marins, Jece Valadão, Adriano Stuart, Rui Resende
Length: 94 minutes
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