Tuesday, 22 May 2012

This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse

1967
Dir. José Mojica Marins

After the success of Coffin Joe’s first outing, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, his creator José Mojica Marins (who also portrays him onscreen) decided to resurrect him for further misadventures. This Night picks up straight after the events of At Midnight, as it is revealed that Joe didn’t actually die in the crypt, though he was severely wounded and traumatised by his ordeal. Soon after he is released from hospital and acquitted of his crimes due to lack of evidence, and he’s up to his old tricks again, kidnapping a slew of beautiful women and subjecting them to horrific tortures in order to find a woman worthy of bearing his child.

Made four years after At Midnight, what is immediately obvious about This Night is how much Mojica Marins has honed his skills as a filmmaker. Technically speaking, this film is more accomplished than its predecessor, the script is tighter, the pace more fluid and it is much more visually appealing - moody lighting and black and white photography render This Night a striking, gothic-drenched trip. In terms of onscreen sadism and the depiction of Coffin Joe’s gradual psychological deterioration, this one really ups the ante, too. What is also surprising is the further characterisation afforded Joe. Here, his sinister charm and mischievous charisma arguably pre-empt that of one Freddy Kreuger. This isn’t to say that Joe spouts dreadful puns as he offs his victims, but he certainly emerges to form a fully fleshed out anti-hero we sorta kinda love to hate. Joe is a monster who is all too human. Further adding complex flesh to his bones is the scene in which he saves a young child from being knocked down. Joe’s touching affinity with youngsters is short lived though as he soon quips that they grow up to be idiots.



As soon as he is released from custody, he and his hunchbacked manservant Bruno (!) set about abducting women from the town. Soon after he explains his diabolical scheme to the scantily clad ladies, Joe unleashes a horde of large tarantulas into the rather tastefully decorated boudoir where his sleeping beauties soundly slumber. The elegantly lensed shots of sleeping maidens, resplendent in diaphanous nightgowns no less, juxtaposed with the unnerving sight of large spiders creeping into the room lends proceedings a sort of morbid giddiness. There is something quite juvenile, comical even, about the notion of a self-righteous little man with fiendish fingernails and a bad attitude who terrorises captive lovelies with big spiders. This is a well handled scene though, as the mounting terror of the women and the sheer abundance of arachnids becomes quite unsettling. This set piece eventually bleeds into a much darker moment as Joe and his chosen bride copulate to the screaming of the unsuccessful Mrs Coffin candidates, who are chucked into a pit with writhing snakes. Nice. Another vilely sadistic and uncomfortable scene unfolds as Joe ridicules his bride’s brother, strapping him under a large boulder and urging him to pray for help. The scene ends with the man’s head crushed under the rock…

When Joe realises that one of his victims was actually pregnant – and also the woman who placed the titular curse upon him – he staggers into a spiral of guilt and depression that not only signals his downfall – and a few of his characteristic theological/philosophical rants - but also beckons him into one of the most memorable moments of This Night. Awakening from a restless, nightmare-ridden sleep, our hapless undertaker finds a tall, dark, faceless figure standing at the end of his bed which proceeds to drag him from his house into a graveyard and then down into the bowels of Hell itself. As soon as we enter Hell, the film becomes awash with lurid colour and the disturbing imagery depicting the tormented souls of the damned simply seeps from the screen. Typical of Marins’ warped and unconventional vision though, this is a Hell of ice and day-glo desolation. The production design, while obviously the result of a low budget, is still insidiously effective as we catch glimpses of mutilated body parts and still-live people trapped and protruding out from frost-white walls and ceilings. When Joe meets the devil himself, he appears in Joe’s image and mocks his atheism.

The final scenes set in a studio-bound swamp and mist enshrouded forest, are draped with a heavy gothic feel. The use of religious symbolism in these moments recalls the expressionistic leanings of earlier Universal horror films. Also echoing classic Universal horror flicks is the revelation of Joe’s mad-scientist laboratory complete with hunchback assistant! While no less raw than the first outing, the climax of This Night packs a much stronger punch as Joe is pursued into the swamps by angry villagers and slowly drowns as he adamantly denounces God.  

This Night was described by the Aurum Encyclopaedia of Horror as “an endless orgy of gore and torture, which produces the occasional surreal scene but more often leaves an impression of a very sick man’s home movies.”


Coffin Joe may be a crazed madman, but his creator José Mojica Marins is surely a unique, visionary director and one who has exhibited a singular vision quite unlike anything else that exists in the realms of horror cinema. He is a vastly underrated master of the macabre and This Night is surely one of the most bizarre, wonderfully deranged and unconventional horror films you’re ever likely to see.

8 comments:

The Vicar of VHS said...

I had just commented about the possible Universal influences on your previous post. :) This was actually the first Coffin Joe movie I watched, and I was immediately hooked. After AT MIDNIGHT... it's clear that this is the flick where Mojica really found and solidified the character; and over and above his obvious natural skills as a director, he also shows that in front of the lens he has charisma to burn. Who knew a little man in old-fashioned clothes could be so incredibly menacing, and devilishly compelling?

This is also a wonderfully quotable film--my favorite is a tie between: "There is nothing more perfect than a child...it's a pity they grow up to become idiots!" and the prescient exclamation, "I don't like drama!" :)

James Gracey said...

Just read those comments about Universal, Vicar. I agree with you - while it is evident in certain scenes - like the cemetery scenes - Marins was working firmly from his own model of horror. He really stands out on his own. Arguably peerless, in fact.
I also loved the quote about kids growing up to be idiots. That Ze. He's such a devilish rogue! ;)

Jon T said...

Excellent review, James. I watched this for the first time a couple of weeks ago without knowing any of the background, so your review has made a lot of things clearer. I agree that the character is still shocking - what a villain! It's the first Coffin Joe I've seen but there's something archetypal about him, something familiar that spans the cultures. It felt like I 'knew' him somehow...
I was also very impressed by Marin filming many of the scenes in one take, I thought it gave the film a very fluid, nightmarish feel, sucking you in. It sort of reminded me of some of Bunuel's Mexican films.

Jose said...

Sadly I have yet to see any of the Coffin Joe flicks, despite having read both the Vicar's own marvelous reviews of the films in addition to yours. His whole aesthetic of exotic-Mr. Hyde-debauchery is extremely appealing to my tastes, and there aren't many other things I love more than a good Hell montage. Great work!

James Gracey said...

Jon I also just watched the Coffin Joe films (back to back) a few weeks ago. I was hooked from the beginning - they're so strange and lurid. Deranged even! I read that Marins worked with a lot of friends and people he'd just met on the streets, which also gives some of the scenes, particularly those scenes with the spiders and snakes, a very unnerving edge.

Jose I love a good Hell montage too! And I love how you described the character as having an "exotic Mr Hyde debauchery." So true. Hope you get to check out these films soon; and that you'll love 'em as much as I did. :)

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

An all too rare example of a sequel that stands up to comparison to the first. It'd be interesting to read your thoughts on some of the more challenging films of Marins' filmography; THE AWAKENING OF THE BEAST, FINIS HOMINIS. I read an extremely unconvincing piece in an academic journal some years back, which attempted to argue that Marins was an auteur. Naturally they wrote extensively about the Coffin Joe films, but oddly omitted any mention of the hard core porn films (replete with bestiality) that he made throughout the late 70's and 1980's.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Oh and also forgot to mention my favourite movie depiction of hell. It has to be the protracted finale to the Japanese horror movie JIGOKU (1960)...you must seriously check this one out if you get the chance James. Also Pasolini's depiction of hell at the end of THE CANTERBURY TALES is pretty neat.

James Gracey said...

Shaun I completely agree with you that as a sequel This Night really stands up to comparison with the original - in fact, I'd go as far as saying it surpasses it in many regards.
There's a documentary about Marins in the box set I have and I think that's where I heard that his 'auteurship' is murky because of the slew of porn films he made. I know he made a lot of comedic soft porn flicks, but I wasn't aware of the hardcore stuff!

Thanks recommending Jigoku - I wasn't aware of it but you've certainly piqued my interest!