Saturday, October 10, 2009

À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma (1964)

...aka: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

Directed by:
José Mojica Marins

The very first outing for Brazilian horror king Marins (who self-financed the project by selling his home and car!) has a nastier edge than most of what was coming out during the same time period, though when you widdle away the excess you'll find the framework of a classic morality tale. Bearded, black-clad, caped and tophat sporting mortician Zé de Caixão (aka "Coffin Joe;" played by the director) is a cruel, sadistic piece of work who seems to get much joy out of terrorizing and bullying others. An atheist, Zé scoffs at local religious customs (eating lamb while others fast) and believes he's intellectually superior to the superstitious, simple-minded townspeople. Zé also takes what he wants. If anyone resists, he quickly becomes violent. At a local pub, Zé gropes a young female barmaid in front of her father, cuts off a guys fingers with a broken bottle when he doesn't want to fork over money he lost in a card game, whips another guy and, in the most startling bit, removes a jagged crown of thorns from a Jesus statue and slams it into a guys face!

Conceiving a son seems of utmost important to Zé, but his wife Lenita (Valéria Vasquez) has yet to bear any children. Fed up with her infertility (or perhaps his own), Ze decides to just get rid of his old lady by giving her some ether, tying her down to a bed and letting a huge spider bite her until she dies. Ze then sets his sights on his best friend Antonio's (Nivaldo Lima) girlfriend Terezinha (Magda Mei, who co-scripted with the director). One evening while they're alone, Ze knocks Antonio out, beats his head off the side of a bathtub and drowns him. When he goes after an unwilling Terezinha, he slaps her around and then rapes her. She ends up killing herself and when a doctor (Ilídio Martins Simões) threatens to expose him, Zé uses his long, sharpened fingernails to poke out his eyeballs, then coats him with liquor and sets him on fire! Karma finally catches up to Zé during the Day of the Dead while he's out near a graveyard... walking alone... at midnight.

Despite the extremely low budget, mixed technical work (including some wobbly graveyard and catacomb sets right out of Plan 9 from Outer Space) and mostly bad acting, the film is worth seeing for the invigoratingly violent and nasty scenes, a few eye-raising sacriligious moments and some interesting surrealistic moments toward the end. There's a zombie surrounded by a glow of glitter, a floating ghost woman, maggot-covered corpses, loads of candles and a funeral "Procession of the Dead" seen in negative where Ze sees his own funeral taking place. Shot in black-and-white in a fittingly crude way that often recalls silent cinema.


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