Brazilian Voices of Cinema: “À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma”

Sunday, May 27, 2012 • 8pm • Artists’ Television Access • 992 Valencia St. (@ 21st St.) • San Francisco • $6 donation • Portuguese w/ English subtitles

À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma [At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul] (José Mojica Marins, 1964, 105 min)

The films of José Mojica Marins were almost completely unknown to English-speaking horror fans until 1993, when Something Weird Video imported several of them from Brazil to North America. Thus genre aficionados in the U.S. were introduced to Marins’ evil character Zé do Caixao (aka Coffin Joe). In Brazil he’d long been the national bogeyman, with not just film and TV show appearances but also comic books and radio shows relating tales of his dark deeds.

Truly atmospheric and way ahead of its time, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is essential viewing for the true horror film buff. Coffin Joe is without a doubt one of the greats of cinematic horror and everyone in the US should without a doubt know the name José Mojica Marins.

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul takes place in a small South American village where Zé do Caixao is the local undertaker. Sporting a top hat and cape, he has an oppressive hold over the inhabitants of the town who fear doing anything to anger him. He demonstrates his cruelty repeatedly by beating and whipping people for no real reason Zé is obsessed with one idea only — to have a son who’ll continue his bloodline.

You’ve got your incredibly charismatic (and frightening) villain in his trademark all black outfit complete with cape, top hat and menacingly long (as well as razor sharp) fingernails. Take into consideration the incredible sets (which are all said to be the same room dressed up!) and inventive yet subdued cinematography.

An incredibly low-budget production, Mojica Marins reportedly had 13 shooting days and 13 rolls of film (less than a 2:1 shooting ratio!), the movie has a similar homemade aesthetic to the 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. His closest antecedent is probably Mario Bava, in the latter’s pre-giallo world.

The Coffin Joe films took cult horror film fans by storm. Truly odd films, they show the influence of the Universal classic monster movies, Republic serials, pulp fiction and romantic melodramas. The idiosyncratic twists of these films are spellbinding. Joe is seen as nearly a force of nature, with no human office capable of stopping or even standing up to his towering will. Marins plays the character himself, adding that much more mystique to the stories.

Since Brazil is a strongly Catholic country some of the very blasphemous things Coffin Joe does are much more horrific to the original audience than to others. But strangely it is this sense of looking at something completely different that may be one of the reasons to enjoy Coffin Joe movies.

Preceded by…

Amor Só de Mãe [Love from Mother Only] (Dennison Ramalho, 2003, Brasil, 21 mins)

Dennison Ramalho is a Brazilian filmmaker who generated cult notice within the horror scene in 2003 with “Amor Só de Mãe” (Love from Mother Only), a tight little 20-minute vision of end times brought about through the act of matricide.

Ramalho’s work is bold and fearless, treading the line between art and exploitation so neatly that proponents of both ends of the spectrum will find reason to take offense. This is art as a grim fusion of craft and brutality in which the physical and spiritual planes warp and twist together to yield uncommon results. Ramalho has a firm grounding of the story within a Brazilian milieu, one that manages to be both believable and slightly surreal.

In recent years Ramalho has won notice as the screenwriter and chief assistant director on Coffin Joe revival picture Embodiment of Evil. He presented his second short “Ninja” to great acclaim at the 2010 FanTasia Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.

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