When it comes to the world of ‘cult horror,’ many names and films are tossed around as being ‘The Real Deal,’ yet only writer/director Jose Mojica Marins can lay claim to possess one of the most unique, iconic personas in cinematic villain history.
Marins’ character of ‘Coffin Joe’—with his sharpened, elongated fingernails, gravedigger’s coat and top hat—has haunted fans from his Brazilian homeland for over forty years, since the character’s1964 film debut At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul. Ever on the search for a perfect woman with which to bear his unholy spawn, Coffin Joe would return three years later in Marin’s 1967 sequel, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse, certifying the writer/director’s vision for horror immortality with its brilliant storytelling and forward-thinking visual effects.
Fast forward to 2011, and we have Synapse Films’ loving release of Marins’ third ‘official’ Coffin Joe film, 2008’s Embodiment of Evil, on Blu-Ray and DVD combo pack. Despite writing and directing other efforts during the years after the release of Corpse, Embodiment of Evil represents a true culmination of the Coffin Joe story, while simultaneously dragging the genre legend kicking and screaming into the modern day horror pantheon.
Indeed, this is one grisly film, at times echoing the ‘torture porn’ aesthetic of Eli Roth’s Hostel series via a number of gritty, dark dungeon sequences, the likes of which could turn even the heartiest of stomachs. It’s in these set pieces where we are offered a glimpse into Marins’ bloodthirsty vision and unique approach to horror, for the artistic sentiment is never lost, even as the audience is graced with shot after shot of vicious, torturous violence.
Whereas both At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse were products of the sixties—capturing just as much of the day’s kitsch as it did mean-spirited blasphemy—Embodiment of Evil holds nothing back in terms of grim, up-front storytelling. Having just been released from a forty year prison term, Coffin Joe’s determination is at a frothing, manic level; the morbid one is up against the clock in this film, as well as the continuing pursuit of his past victims, whose souls haunt his days and nights with tortured, frenzied visions.
These hallucinatory sequences are all shot with evocative style; particularly the piece where Joe—echoing a similar scene from This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse—is dragged to hell and shown what awaits him in a truly horrifying, gruesome sight. With the visions happening more frequently, and the police and townspeople—including a particularly demented, masochistic priest—hot on his trail, the fervor of Coffin Joe reaches a feverish, boiling pitch during the film’s latter half, keeping an edge-of-your-seat sense of pacing to go along with the Joe’s nauseating killing spree.
Yet, Embodiment of Evil doesn’t only work on gut-level viscera, but transcends the simply morbid via Marins’ enthusiastic philosophizing and solid, smart direction. This final nail in the Coffin Joe may differ a bit in tone from the first two films, but this doesn’t make Embodiment of Evil any less essential for both fans of the series, or those curious to enter Jose Mojica Marins’ dark, foreboding world.
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