Friday, August 28, 2009

Film Review: Embodiment of Evil (2008)

By: Chris Ward

For those who have been a follower of Josefel Zanatas, otherwise known as Coffin Joe, for the past forty-five years, the arrival of this movie - the third in a trilogy that began in 1964 with 'At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul' and continued with 1967's 'This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse' - will be nothing short of the second coming. To those who aren't up to speed on their Brazilian horror movies and have never heard of him, it may take a bit of selling.

In short, Coffin Joe (played by writer/director José Mojica Marins) is an undertaker whose wife was unable to bear him a son to carry on his bloodline. After killing her, he set about finding the perfect woman to have his child, which usually involved forcing himself upon women and doing very horrific things to them. In 'Embodiment...' we catch up with Coffin Joe as he is released from prison after forty years for his murderous crimes, where he meets up with his faithful assistant Bruno (Rui Resende) and a small gang of worshippers, and begins his quest for the perfect womb once again. On his trail, though, are the Military Police, and a vengeful priest, who will stop at nothing to put an end to Coffin Joe once and for all.

It all sounds straightforward when put on paper, but there really are a lot of subtexts going on in this movie, the most prominent being Coffin Joe's overly-Atheist insistence on being free from any sort of belief, a theme that pops up over and over again. There is also a lot of surrealist imagery - like the scene where Coffin Joe is inside the woman he has just had sex with and meets a character called The Mystifier, who shows him purgatory and death...sort of like 'A Christmas Carol' but a bit more twisted!

But in all the subliminal goings on, there is the gore - and plenty of it! We get to see a woman getting fed one of her own buttocks (!), one poor chap getting hung up by the flesh on his back, a woman getting hot cheese poured over her and a hungry rat let loose between her legs and various other stabbings and impalings. And surprisingly, in spite of the trashy feel to the movie, it's all done rather well and never looks false. There's also some cool flashback sequences to earlier events, starring a younger Coffin Joe lookalike, that add to the mayhem going on and never seem tacked on. Mix that with Coffin Joe's ability to fill the screen and totally command every scene he's in (and he's in most of them!) and the sheer scale of Marins' deranged inventiveness really comes through, already marking this movie out as a cult classic.

Overall, this is as trashy as movies get, but trashy in the good sense. It's one of those movies that would be great to watch in a packed cinema where ninety percent of the audience have no clue who Coffin Joe is or any sense of what's going on. Coffin Joe is a cultural icon in his native Brazil, and although his movies don't always make sense, they're always fun and based on that, 'Embodiment of Evil' is a winner.


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