Embodiment of Evil / Encarnação do Demônio

Certificate: 18
Running time: 94 mins
Director: José Mojica Marins
Starring: José Mojica Marins, Jece Valadão, Adriano Stuart, Cristina Aché
Genre: Horror
Country: Brazil

Forty years of incarceration have not mellowed Josefel Zanatas.  For the past four decades the streets of Brazil have been safe as Zé do Caixão (or Coffin Joe) has been metal and concrete  on the psychiatric wing of a Brazilian prison but now, thanks to the help of his lawyer, he is out and able to recommence his search for the woman to carry his child.

When last we saw Joe, in This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse, he has witnessed Laura (the woman chosen to carry his child) and child die in a failed operation to save his heir before appearing to drown in the swamp but now free he sets about his search that was so close to completion.  Once outside his followers flock and Police officer brothers Oswaldo and Claudiomiro take it upon themselves to end Joe's reign of terror forever.

Marins’ final chapter in the Coffin Joe trilogy, though 40 years later, manages to capture some of the atmospheric and darkly traditional aspects of the previous films.  The use of flashback footage, from At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse and newly shot footage with Raymond Castile cleverly cast as young Joe, is something that allows a generation who have grown up out of the dark menacing shadow of Coffin Joe to graduate from the school of frights which he delivered upon the religious Brazilians some four decades previous without losing any of the desired effect from having not seem the previous two chapters.  Similarly it provides the avid fan with not only a clever and seamless weave that manages to book end the years passed but also rewards them with cleverly constructed new aged footage that will sculpt their knowledge of the legend of Coffin Joe.

Marins (as Joe) has not been touched by the advanced years, he is every inch the dominant screen villain, the menacing presence of the atheistic advancement of the modern age.  The haunting nihilism and gratuitously viciousness of a monster determined to live on beyond their years.  If anything the years have only hardened him, gone is the sexual menacing attraction that comes with youth.  What remains in it’s place is a hardened grey and chiselled block of evil that’s infinitely more frightening than he was in the 1960’s and a lot more frightening than Freddy Krueger will be when he’s qualified for a bus pass.  Adriano Stuart (Captain Oswaldo Pontes) is an equally hardened and brooding screen presence, somewhere along the lines of a Charles Bronson spiked with John Saxon.  The loss of his love and the citizens he has sworn to protect all those years ago has led to him building a wall around his emotional core.  When Joe is released he (Oswaldo) swears a vigilante crusade against the dark one in order to finish the business he started forty years earlier in the swamp.

The cinematography of the film is actually incredibly strong and rich, there’s a lot of debate about the torture porn aspects of the violence of the film (which is something we’ll come to), but the use of lighting and shadow in Embodiment of Evil is highly evocative of classic Weimar cinema offerings like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  These are films that have struck such a deep emotional cord with it’s audiences that eighty years later they are still as powerful and profound.  Marins’ understanding of this and his use of chiaroscuro lighting and Joe’s grotesque finger nails allow him to stretch across the screen manipulate the darkness and touch a corner of your psyche that triggers a deep emotional response to a film filled with atmosphere and suspense.  It is these moments that will truly stay with you long after the film has finished.

There’s a level of inconsequential hero worship that comes with a Coffin Joe film.  All too often the films are marked out by moments of extremely and unjustifiably vivid violence.  In the early days these were heavily trimmed by the cinematic censors and in turn contained the vast majority of the criticisms that would be levied towards Embodiment of Evil.  Now in the modern age with a freer medium Marins is able to bring to the screen all the imaginations that have been restrained for so long.  Several scenes, including the rat sequence and meat locker scene take the film beyond the point of likability and into a whole new realm.  Regardless of his atrocities and if you’ve been exposed to the world of Coffin Joe before you will be aware of his atrocities he has always been likable.  The legend would always paint Joe as a lovable rebel even in the most horrifying moments.  In Embodiment of Evil so many of the larger horror set pieces take you beyond the playful, likable, side of Coffin Joe and into a world of grotesque hyper violence for hyper violence’s sake all the while playing the “lovable Joe” card.  The two can not exist comfortably.  It’s not as though violence for violence’s sake or torture porn doesn’t have its place.  Reviews for The Human Centipede [First Sequence], The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence], A Serbian Film and Grotesque will demonstrate that when you can justify heavy visual use of violence there can be a case for it but this is not the place.  It works contradictory to the ethos of the film’s legacy and it even undermines the wonderful visual stylistic that Marins has sculpted through the use of light and shadow.

Embodiment of Evil is a welcomed return for the bogey man of South American cinema, a final chapter forty years in the making which, though is not perfect, is an incredibly strong, atmospheric and haunting rendering of how cinema can transcend geography, generations and language to embody the worst characteristics than man can have.


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