Embodiment of Evil
Dir. José Mojica Marins
At the end of This Night I Shall Possess Your Corpse, the second Coffin Joe film, Joe (Mojica Marins) was cornered in a spooky swamp by torch-bearing villagers who’d had enough of his violent shenanigans. Denouncing God while laughing in their faces, Joe sank into the swamp and apparently drowned. Didn't he? Not so! As a flashback explains, he was pulled up out of the water again and imprisoned for his heinous crimes. 40 years later and he is eventually released from jail, and greeted on the outside by his faithful manservant Bruno. How does Joe celebrate his freedom? Why, he goes in search of a woman worthy of bearing his child of course! Cue much torture, bloodshed, nightmarish visions and a few familiar faces from the past, as José Mojica Marins finally closes the long-awaited last chapter of his Coffin Joe Trilogy.
Embodiment perfectly concludes At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night in terms of its contextual linearity. There is a real sense of continuity. Just like This Night repeated and extended upon the plot from At Midnight, so too does Embodiment, with the story centring on Joe torturing various women to see who will make a suitable mate with whom he can conceive a child. There’s even another trippy and brutal excursion into a parched and desolate Hell, and those furious philosophical ejaculations from ol’ Joe his admirers love so much. Flashbacks to the earlier films pepper the narrative, and Joe is still plagued by the grotesque ghosts of his former victims. The scene depicting his ascent from the murky waters he sank into at the end of This Night is shot in black and white and features lookalike actor Raymond Castile as the young Joe. It seamlessly merges with the other flashbacks and effortlessly boasts the same spooky atmosphere as the prior films. Certain characters from the other instalments also turn up, such as hunchbacked manservant Bruno (Rui Rezende) and Joe’s arch nemesis, corrupt cop Coronel Pontes (Jece Valadão) who teams up with the son of one of Joe’s victims from the first film.
The same gothic trimmings that enshrouded the previous films also pervade Embodiment, and are all the more striking because of the modern urban setting. As Joe is released from prison, he and Bruno make their way through the streets of São Paulo, providing the film with some of its most unusual and arresting shots. The sight of Joe, now a much older man, with his top hat, long cloak and demonically long fingernails is fantastically anachronistic within the context of modern day Brazil. Then again, Joe was always at odds with the world around him, regardless of time or place. Interestingly, Marins allows his camera to linger along the grimy sidewalks and back alleys, capturing images of a city on the verge of economic collapse. Street kids, drug dealers, junkies, homeless people and general squalor and degradation are the sights that greet Joe when he leaves prison. He seems affected by these sights, and Marins works in some sly social-commentary on the state of Brazil’s street culture and corrupt police force, who don’t think twice about shooting street kids in an attempt to ‘clean up’ the city and protect its inhabitants and economy.
The idea of this diabolical yet bedevilled old man attempting to find his way in the world again evokes some sympathy. Still haunted by his past and ranting and raving about free will and self-determination, Joe finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his victims from the prior films (or maybe just his guilt?). The appearance of the cadaverous ghouls is fittingly striking – all black eyes and pallid, grey skin – and one confrontation in particular is most unsettling. Wandering through a darkened park, Joe comes face to face with his first wife Levita, now a decaying torso involuntarily birthing tarantulas from her exposed abdomen. Other rotting spectres who mean Joe harm include Teresinha from At Midnight, who before taking her own life after he raped her, cursed him and vowed to return from the dead to take his soul to Hell, and Lara, the woman from This Night who conceived his child but died along with it during the birth. Further adding to Joe’s complexity as an anti-hero, is the scene in which he saves the life of a young street urchin by cutting up the corrupt cop pursuing him. This moment seems to remind Joe that he needs to spawn a few of his own sprogs if he is to continue his bloodline and gain some semblance of immortality. And its business as usual then as Joe is introduced to a group of kinkily attired people who are so enamoured with the undertaker’s dark humanism they round up a group of women for him to select a suitable mate from.
It’s interesting to see how Marins depicts the violence in this film. While the other two instalments of the trilogy were pretty sadistic and gruesome for their time, they weren’t competing with the current slew of extreme ‘torture-porn’ flicks. Embodiment, with its state of the art effects and make up, bigger budget and vastly superior production values, and use of real people involved with genuine body-modification, boasts some savagely extreme imagery that would make Pinhead weep. While it certainly gives other contemporary horror a run for its money in the gore department, it still exhibits that unique oddball, deranged tone of its predecessors. There are flayings, bloody lashings, fiery brandings and piercings, someone sown up in a pig’s carcass (!) and an utterly vile, Bret Easton Ellis-inspired death involving a rat, molten cheese and forcibly splayed legs… Some of these scenes have an anarchic free-for-all feel that echo, and trump those depicted in Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. Indeed, an interesting parallel can be drawn with Dario Argento who also took many years to wrap up a revered trilogy. Other striking imagery comes courtesy of the showdown which takes place in an empty fairground in the middle of the woods, complete with creepy carousel and House of Horrors.
Embodiment of Evil is as off the wall and utterly unbalanced as horror cinema gets, and its also testament to Marins’ ecstatic and unique brand of filmmaking. He emerges as a filmmaker who still cuts out on his own and still wields the power to shock, provoke, confound and titillate. That Embodiment ends on such a gleeful, weirdly upbeat note – no doubt bringing a touch of the warm and fuzzies to fans of Coffin Joe (including myself), is bizarre proof that this unique character, this human monster with murderous flaws and a bad ‘tude, can still remain so utterly compelling 40 years after he last strut across our screens. Go Joe!