Thursday, 19 April 2012

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

1964, Brazil, Directed by José Mojica Marins
B&W, Running Time: 83 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Anchor Bay; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: DD Mono

Zé do Caixão is a funeral director beginning to question the religious formula and foundations that have shaped the basis for everything he does and is surrounded by on a day to day basis. Losing control through a compulsion towards atheism his desire to continue the bloodline begins to take precedence over everything else - his partner is 'impotent' and cannot produce a child, therefore he kills her. The woman he chooses in her place is attached to another, so he dispatches of him too, before attempting to beguile the woman - after rejecting his advances he severely beats (and presumably rapes) her, this traumatic event triggering her suicide. The locals are all scared of him as his sadism and cruelty pushes beyond boundaries, but the spiralling madness and violence are about to come head to head with the very spirit world he rejects.

Made in 1964 At Midnight... is an unbelievably brutal film for its time. Reminding the viewer of Mr Hyde in a real bad mood, José Mojica Marins in the lead role throws his character in the face of everything his Brazilian culture is based on, repelling morality, God and associated religions, citizenship and the apparent weakness of others (reflected in their inability to stand up against the system). He becomes a rebel of the darkest kind as he tramples on everything in his path, primarily in effort to spawn a child, thereby living forever, at least on a genetic level - this itself is of course a scientific rejection of the literal ideas presented from biblical texts, although it could be argued that these texts were merely explaining life and its workings in the only way that mankind could understand. Zé do Caixão violently clashes with almost everyone in the story, pushing one person's eyes into their skull, dropping a horrifically large poisonous spider on to his bound spouse (this is no The Beyond type model, my friends!), slashing a man in the face with a crown of thorns (as if his general verbal blasphemy wasn't enough), beating a woman who dares say 'no' so badly it would have feminist nutters in spasms, etc. Considering at the time mainstream audiences were just about getting accustomed to the bloody vampire stakings at Hammer Studios, this must have been akin to a vision of Hell in comparison, and to be fair it hasn't lost a huge amount of power half a century later. The darkness of the character still 'shines' through and his actions speak at least as loud as his scornful words; strangely, given his innately abhorrent nature, he is watchable and fascinating to study, hence I guess part of the appeal that has brought forth the cult of 'Coffin Joe' over the years (this name essentially being an Americanisation if the South American character's less pronounceable screen name). Stepping as far from the mainstream cinema, and cultures, of the era, At Midnight... stampedes into existence with a sledge hammer, although modern audiences may find the emphatic thespian tendencies difficult to put up with.

After reading a lot about terrible image quality on this Coffin Joe Collection from Anchor Bay, At Midnight... is not as bad as expected. The source looks like 16mm and there are scratches/marks throughout, but in my opinion this rough presentation very much suits the content of the film itself. Hardly sharp and distinct, the fullscreen B&W image has a fairly natural low budget film-like quality, though there are annoying moments of visible interlacing that are thankfully not too frequent. Similarly the mono soundtrack is not stellar but functional - note that the language is Portuguese with burned-in English subtitles helping us along.  Zé do Caixão was to continue his exploits in This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse.

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