Featured: Top of Home Page

Spitting in the Face of God: Coffin Joe and 'Embodiment of Evil' (Blu-ray)

(This film is)a brilliant wrap-up to an equally impressive career.


The Embodiment of Evil (Encarnação do Demônio)

Director: José Mojica Marins
Cast: Jose Mojica Marins, Milhem Cortaz, Rui Rizende, Jece Valadão
Rated: R
Studio: Synapse Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2011-03-29 (Limited Release)
UK date: 2011-03-29 (General release)
Website
Trailer

At 75, he remains an icon in his native Brazil, a bold and brash filmmaker who takes the norms of society (and the country's reliance on religion) and attacks them with anarchic glee. He's a true eccentric, his off camera persona matching his onscreen façade right down to the overlong fingernails and sinister goatee. As the classic character Zé do Caixão, otherwise known as 'Coffin Joe', he introduced South America to true movie macabre, and as a writer/director, he's dabbled in every genre from sexploitation to the Western. Now, Jose Mojica Marins has returned to his legendary undertaker character to conclude his long planned trilogy, and while Embodiment of Evil (now on DVD and Blu-ray from Synapse Films) can be enjoyed by anyone curious about the foreign fright master, those who've followed the character since its inception will be richly rewarded.

After spending 40 years in an prison asylum, the craven killer known as Coffin Joe is finally being released. With the help of a lawyer, who just happens to be the wife of a policeman that the villain blinded decades before, he reconnects with his assistant Bruno and sets up shop in the slums of São Paulo. There, he "deputizes" some new followers and begins his ultimate quest - to gain immortality via finding the "perfect woman" to continue his bloodline and bear his son. There are several candidates among the disenfranchised and destitute, but Joe insists on finding just the right one. During the search, he is tormented by the past, seeing ghostly visions of those he has wronged. As the law comes closer and closer to capturing him, Coffin Joe must avoid local superstition and forces from the Underworld, each one desperate to see him fail.

It's so satisfying to see that little has change in the near half century since Jose Mojica Marins first unleashed this heretical undertaker on the God-fearing populace of Brazil. Still angry, still vehemently humanist, and still ready to blaspheme and belittle everything - from the Saints to the State, Coffin Joe has become even more relevant in the new century. He's like a dissident distributing death, not a call for change. In his top hat and cape, he's a case of nasty nostalgia, a reminder of what we used to fight for and an illustration of why said struggles are far from over. Draped in lots of gruesome atmosphere and some amazing special effects, Marins turns this final chapter in the character's quest for everlasting life into a Grand Guignol geek show, complete with shocking sequences of vivisection, cannibalism and sexual sadism.

But it’s the message that's much more important to Marins than the splatter. This is a movie that challenges the conventional wisdom, that argues for a man "higher than God and lower than Satan". At any opportunity, from a minor moment interacting with his potential minions to major clashes with authority, Coffin Joe spews his "man first" mantras. It's a philosophy based in freedom, self-actualization and fulfillment, anti-establishment stances, and most importantly, a rejection of faith. Clearly, Marins sees the Church as the root of all evil. He constantly challenges it necessity and own hypocrisy, even offering up a priest character who, while seeking revenge, has a few questionably kinky habits all his own. In Coffin Joe's world, life is all that matters - and a life free of the restraints and unrealistic demands of The Bible is the most important of all.

This doesn't mean that Embodiment of Evil skimps on the splatter, however. Like Dario Argento's finale for his Three Mothers series, this is a film that relishes the repulsive nature of post-modern gore in all its ingenious facets. There are scenes that simply stun you in their cruelty, including one particular moment when Marins' "blinds" a subject with her own scalp. Yes, it's as nasty as it sounds. Perhaps the most disturbing scene is the trip into Purgatory, Coffin Joe confronting the keeper of said dominion as acts of horrific physical depravity play out in the background. Like the filmmakers he's most influenced by - Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger - Marins believes in the power of images. Even if they don't make much sense, we can still appreciate the artistry, impact, and vision involved.

And thanks to the callbacks to his previous films, tying everything together with an attempted narrative flow, Embodiment of Evil keeps everyone happy. Newcomers to the series can pick up the plot almost instantly while enjoying the up to date gruesomeness, while fans familiar with Joe's insane ravings will get a healthy dose of said screeds. There are times when things seem purposefully confrontational and the actors playing the policemen occasionally come across as stodgy and amateurish. Indeed, one frequently feels that the cast can't quite get a handle of Marins' motives. Sometimes, they sync up with him quite nicely. At other instances, it's like their starring in a parody of his impassioned secular scarefests. Sadly, the Blu-ray package (which presents the film in a stunning HD transfer) doesn't offer a lot of context. We get a nice Making-of, and some film festival footage, but what one would really like is a commentary. If there's a filmmaker in the world of horror who needs to explain himself, it's Marins.

Still, unlike many former masters who return to the territory that made them famous, this is one filmmaker that truly delivers with Embodiment of Evil. While it doesn't have the daft deranged darkness of his first few films, or the intellectualized assault of his pseudo-documentaries, it's a brilliant wrap-up to an equally impressive career. Indeed, it's rare when someone can be both revered and reviled in his own country, a legend to some, a legitimate threat to others. Though a lot of his issues within Brazil stem directly for the way he thumbs his nose at their convictions, Jose Mojica Marins wouldn't be so important if he wasn't so good at what he does. After nearly five decades delivering the kind of foreign fright flick shivers that turn the curious into obsessives, his latest is a triumph of tenacity and temerity. If ever a filmmaker lived up to his own self-created reputation, it's Jose Mojica Marins. He doesn't just make Coffin Joe movies - he lives them. And a world of scary movie mavens is happier for it.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.