(1967) Directed by José Mojica Marins; Written by Aldenora De Sa Porto and José Mojica Marins; Starring: José Mojica Marins, Tina Wohlers, Nadia Freitas, Antonio Fracari and Jose Lobo; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“When I shot Inferno em Cores (Hell in Colors), I had to find a hue for Hell. Since the film was black and white, I thought it would look beautiful to add some color to the white parts. It would highlight the victims in Hell. The scene was all white, and it was snowing the whole time. That highlighted the people. Now, a colorful Hell is my view. No one has ever come back from Hell to tell me what color it is. Each one sees it as they please. I saw a colorful one, and it worked better than in black and white.” – José Mojica Marins
José Mojica Marins’ follow-up to his groundbreaking film, At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Soul (1964), continues the saga of Zé do Caixão (aka: Coffin Joe) and his tireless quest to find the perfect woman to bear his son. Anyone foolish enough to get in his way must prepare to suffer the consequences. As with its predecessor, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (aka: Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver) explores the Coffin Joe’s tumultuous relationship with the sacred and the profane. Compared to the brisk 13-day shoot for the first movie, the second Coffin Joe installment* was more complicated, requiring three months.
* Fun Fact #1: As with his first production, Marins employed mostly amateurs for the majority of the roles. Marins recalled that several of the performers from the Hell scene had to return to their day jobs, still covered in plaster.
Once the angry mob descended upon him in the first film, Coffin Joe’s fate appeared to be sealed. But in the unerring logic of sequels, no one ever truly dies. It turns out he was only mostly dead (with apologies to The Princess Bride). After a brief stint in the hospital, and an ensuing murder trial (in which he’s exonerated), he’s back in town, and up to his usual misanthropy, misogyny, and any other “mis” word you might care to attach to him. This time, however, he’s joined by his faithful hunchbacked assistant Bruno (Why is it always Bruno or Igor?), played by Jose Lobo, who helps collect potential vict—ahem, candidates for Brazil’s most ineligible bachelor. He subjects his prisoners to all sorts of torture to satisfy his sadistic pleasures, including tarantulas, a snake pit,* and a stone device that pulverizes his victims, like a crude hydraulic press.
* Not-So-Fun Fact #1: According to Marins, the actress playing Jandira was a little too convincing in her snake pit performance, as she was actually being strangled by a large constrictor. Once Marins and his crew realized what was going on, they jumped in to save her. Surprisingly, she agreed to do another take of the scene.
Marins doesn’t portray, so much as inhabit Coffin Joe. You get the feeling he’s not merely playing a character, but possessed by the spirit of his demented creation. Coffin Joe shuns the spiritual world and human frailties, in the service of his lofty, amoral ambitions. He practices his own form of eugenics (“The perfect man can only come from the union of two perfect beings.”), convinced that his son will help usher in a new world, free of superstitions and (what he considers to be) weak human emotions. At the same time, he’s a man of profound contradictions, denying spiritualism or a higher power, but fearing retribution from above. He despises adults, yet holds a special reverence for children (“Look. Nature’s perfect creation… children. Pity that they grow up to become idiots, in search of nothing.”). This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is a fascinating study in human behavior in the face of evil. It illustrates how someone could perpetrate ghastly atrocities, and still become revered by certain individuals. Despite the fact that most of the villagers want to destroy him, a devoted mini-cult forms around Coffin Joe. At once rejected by him as an imperfect candidate for breeding, Marcia (Nadia Freitas) becomes his willing accomplice. Marcia’s eventual remorse about assisting him (in the film’s latter third) only seems perfunctory, designed to reinforce the film’s moralistic message, rather than refute her role in Coffin Joe’s skullduggery. Considering the scenes that preceded her change of heart, Marins forces us to confront the unsettling notion that there’s a small part inside us that enjoys watching Coffin Joe’s sadistic deeds, and wants him to succeed (think Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger, or Jason Voorhees).
This Night’s main attraction is undoubtedly its color sequence, providing a stark visual contrast to Coffin Joe’s black-and-white world. When he learns that he’s killed a pregnant woman (who cursed him before she expired), he fears some form of divine punishment (despite his professed atheism). In the midst of a nightmare, he’s dragged off to Hell by a gangly, faceless demon, where he meets his ultimate fate. Not since The Wizard of Oz has there been such a jarring, eye-opening cinematic experience. Of course, since it’s Marins’ movie, instead of a fanciful technicolor Oz with prancing munchkins, we get his version of Hell, filled with demons carrying pitchforks, exacting torments a’plenty. Besides Coffin Joe, Marins appears in a dual role, as Satan himself, seated on a throne and presiding over the mayhem. And what a fascinating vision of Hell it is: Rather than the usual clichéd depictions of fire and brimstone, it’s perpetually cold, comprised of white caverns and perpetual snow blowing around.*/** An endless parade of nearly naked people writhing in endless torment, while various body parts emerge from the cavern walls and ceiling. This colorful Hell is more than an arbitrary stylistic flourish. It’s important symbolically, as Coffin Joe is confronted with an experience that contradicts his rigid world view. Seeing Hell sends him into an existential tailspin.
* Fun Fact #2: In order to simulate snow, the filmmakers used a plentiful and cheap commodity, popcorn.
** Not-So-Fun Fact #2: According to Marins, the dry ice and smoke created an electrical discharge on the Hell set, causing discomfort for the actors (including himself), lending some unintentional realism to the scene.
The second title in the Coffin Joe trilogy (the disappointing third installment, Embodiment of Evil, was released in 2008) manages to satisfactorily reprise the story of the original, while expanding on its themes and visuals. Not unlike its enigmatic main character, the Coffin Joe films are a contradiction. Marins doesn’t spare us the horrific imagery, but in the spirit of a warped morality play, reminds us Coffin Joe’s detestable acts have dire consequences. Compared to the previous film, it’s a bit overlong, with some pacing issues that slow the middle part down. The bulk of the film is arguably more of the same, as Coffin Joe tortures and murders his way through the village, but the eye-opening Hell sequence alone is worth the price of admission. This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse presents a strangely charismatic yet loathsome horror villain who has few peers. Marins invites us to follow Coffin Joe and his warped ideology, while reminding us how his merciless pursuit of perfection is a futile one. He also prompts us to consider how anyone, no matter how loathsome, can have their own fan club.