Coffin Joe comes to the LA Film Festival! For those unacquainted with this legend, Encarnação do Demônio may prove something of a bafflement, though longterm fans will be well used to that. Briefly, José Mojica Marins was once the most famous man in Brazil thanks to his creation and alter ego Zé de Caixão, star of film, comic books and even a limited edition Volkswagen. Clad in top hat, black cloak and wicked 4-inch fingernails (Mojica’s own), Joe is beyond good, evil, God and the Devil (though he tends to the last), the embodiment of amoral existentialism with a strong streak of sadism, railing against the oppressions of society (chiefly drugs and the police) whilst merrily beating, raping and murdering in pursuit of a suitable mate to perpetuate his bloodline.
Brazilian cinema had known no horror films before the Mojica/Joe explosion in the mid-sixties, but even in the torture porn-sated 21st century he can still conjure the transgressive. Released from prison after 40 years he sets up a torture dungeon where police and women are subjected to ever more horrific ordeals (the worst being reserved for policewomen). Not even the most extreme is the sight of a woman being blindfolded with the back of her own scalp pulled over her skull (though that did prompt spontaneous applause in some quarters).
Meanwhile, Joe’s haunted by flashbacks and visions of his past victims, a device previously used but now given extra weight by Mojica’s palpable agedness (he’s 73) and a more-than-ever believable sense of mental disturbance. Add to this a pair of blind gurning witches, plenty of blood-covered naked women, a deranged one-eyed cop (from the end of At Midnight I Will Posess Your Corpse), an even more deranged priest (son a victim from At Midnight I Will Possess Your Soul) and a blood-soaked copulation that leaves Angel Heart standing and results in a hallucinatory trip to some Pasolini-esque purgatory and you’ve got a barrel of lunacy.
With sharp photography, fluid camera movement and exemplary special effects (smartly aided by various body-modifying performers), much of the charm of the low-budget 60s offerings has worn off; the social commentary is as broadly drawn as ever (Joe objects to the police and poverty, though is no avenging angel beyond the service of his own desires and whims) and a certain amount of business about images and watching remains superficial. The ontology is still muddy, but its great to hear Mojica’s stentorian voiceover intoning the tenets of his idiosyncratic worldview: a welcome return, as committedly amoral and startlingly individual as ever, and if it is now rather more nasty than fun. One is tempted to assume that Mojica would have had it so in the first place if given today’s technological resources and jaded viewers back in the sixties.
RATING: 7.35 out of 1o
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