Tuesday, October 12, 2010

AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1963)

And so begins the saga of Zé do Caixão, known stateside as Coffin Joe. AT MIDNIGHT presents a Zé who is less a horror-movie monster and more like the bully in one million billion Westerns, only this time there really isn't a white-hatted hero to stymie his antisocial behaviors.

Zé is the town undertaker and, though I'd guess that lack of etiquette is a recurring problem in the corpse business, he takes it to a new extreme. When he's not mutilating bystanders or forcing them to eat meat on Catholic vegan holidays (I grew up Baptist, I don't know anything about such business), he's trying to plant meat in assorted townswomen in hopes of creating a son to carry on his bloodline. That's pretty much the WHOLE movie until the conclusion, which taps churchy traditions.

This is a sixties film and looks like one, one with a low budget, too. But it was created in Brazil at a time when few were rolling around in puddles filled with doubloons and it makes up for it with gobs of atmosphere and some fleeting and prescient gore. I'd be interested to learn how its Brazilian origins affected the film's plotting, since it's accepted that Zé is a jerk, but the real moments of audience outrage are timed in tandem with his blasphemies and bloviations of disbelief. Modern-day audiences might be inclined to agree in some instances with the Nietzschean beardo, although many would consider his single-minded pursuit of a son to be hopelessly outdated, like Corey Feldman in a denim jacket.

In some ways (the aforementioned religious undertone), way different from other genre stuff of the sixties, but quite often a solid product of the era, when horror was transitioning from cobwebs and castles into the gruesome modern and its concern with individual vs. society at large. It has psychic gypsies and ghosts and all, but also marks its horror as the challenge of the nonbeliever and the skeptic.

It was a fun watch and I'd not hesitate to delve further into the world of Coffin Joe.


Where, indeed?!?

#14 of 31

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