This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-02-19 22:59

This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)
Studio: Synapse Films
Release date: January 31st 2017

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Some questions surround the existence of a Coffin Joe sequel: how viable is it, really, to follow a deranged asshole’s continuing quest to impregnate a woman at any costs? Could star/director Jose Mojica Marins really recapture the ethereal magic of At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul? And, perhaps most importantly, wasn’t Coffin Joe deader than shit at the end of that film? Of course, Marins’s first outing as the character made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t give a fuck about logic, coherence, or taste, so of course he mounted a sequel a few years later in spite of all of these reservations. It’s quite fitting considering Coffin Joe himself exists as a pure engine of spite, a provocateur’s dream, existing only to befuddle and inflame any decent sensibilities. Of course death couldn’t stop such a demonic force from returning to terrorize decorum and dignity everywhere.

In fact, it almost feels like Marins rubs your nose in the implausibility of it all. An opening title insists the events here pick up right at the end of the previous film, going so far as to include its climactic shot of Joe’s mangled, bloodied corpse to reinforce just how dead he’s supposed to be. But it turns out he was just injured, as the opening credits are interspersed with footage of his recovery at a hospital. Not only that, but he also avoids any jail-time since Marins goes out of his way to show a trial that ends with the prosecution citing a lack of evidence against Joe for his horrific crimes. As such, the film properly begins with the gravedigger returning as a ghastly specter of the recent past that causes crowds to scatter when he strolls back into town. He delights in their fear, naturally, before returning to his primary mission in life: to find a woman to bear his child, specifically a son that will sire a new, superior race of man.

So, yes—perhaps in keeping with the perception that sequels need to be bigger and more grandiose, Joe’s delusions of grandeur have somehow grown wilder. No longer content to simply become immortal through his own progeny, he now insists he’ll father a master race altogether, a goal that requires a bit more of a plan beyond “threaten to impregnate every woman that crosses my path.” As such, he abducts about a half dozen girls at once, essentially forcing them to be his concubines while he determines which will actually be lucky enough to have his child. Clearly a man of reason, he even employs a scientific method involving various tests, like unleashing spiders upon the women as they sleep to see which one shows the least fear. You may chuckle, but it proves to be absolutely viable because fuck you, of course it does. That’s secretly the best thing about the Coffin Joe movies: no matter unhinged the title character’s worldview is, it’s constantly validated at nearly every turn.

And so it comes as no surprise that multiple women impossibly fall under his sway before This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse is even halfway through its runtime. In keeping with that more grandiose sequel scope, this follow-up is over 20 minutes longer than its predecessor, resulting in a film that’s both more ambitious and shaggy. Joe’s “experiments” with his would-be brides feels like a perfectly suitable plot for the entire movie, yet it’s only one deranged episode in a parade of utter madness. Because it’s not quite as urgent or focused, it’s hard to argue that This Night… is as consistently masterful as At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul; it is, however, reasonable to argue that its highs are every bit as exhilarating—if not more so. When Marins swings for the fences here, he really takes a swing, and, in many ways, the aforementioned spider sequence is emblematic of his increased ambitions: where the original film features one spider crawling on a victim, this one features dozens.

Likewise, Marins’s sense of showmanship is more outrageous than ever. Just as At Midnight… thrives on a B-movie huckster’s charm, so too does its sequel, as every scene seems to be committed to outdoing the last. And when Joe dispatches five women by tossing them into a pit of snakes about thirty minutes into the runtime, you can rest assured the film certainly has its work cut out for it in this respect. Impossibly, Marins is more than up to the challenge—just when you think the world of Coffin Joe couldn’t get any weirder, you find him torturing a victim before dropping a huge rock on his head and later using the headless body to frame one of his opponents in town. For Marins, the longer runtime (not to mention a bigger budget) just means more opportunities to offend and bewilder the audience, going so far as to literally send Joe to hell at one point.

In what may be this franchise’s most unforgettable moment, a feverish—and guilt-ridden, if you can believe that—Joe has a nightmare that transports him to an unreal underworld. Arms impossibly reach up from cemetery grounds, pulling our anti-hero down into a pastel-tinted abyss whose walls are lined with the tormented and the damned for eternity. Joe’s own doppelganger sits upon the throne here as his minions terrorize the denizens of hell in a show-stopping sequence that approximates what it might look like if a Hell House attraction attempted to recreate Jigoku. Where much of Marins’s work in these first two films recalls the early, black-and-white nightmares of gothic Eurohorror, this sequence evokes the gel-tinged, Technicolor dreamscapes of Hercules in the Haunted World and Kill, Baby, Kill. Further, the hallucinatory vibe to the entire sequence anticipates the free-floating, stylistic phantasmagorias of the 70s, making Marins something of a visionary yet again.

Marins’s talent in front of the camera is more apparent here as well. Having grown more comfortable in Coffin Joe’s skin, his turn here is even more confidently deranged. At all times, his self-proclaimed superiority is evident, whether it’s in the form of outspoken lectures towards the townspeople or the wry side-eye that seemingly stays affixed to his face. No matter how outrageous or unbelievable he may seem, you never question whether or not Joe believes in himself. His conviction—and all its inherent contradictions—is what makes these movies so compulsively watchable. How can a man this awful somehow seems so charming, eloquent, and weirdly romantic? It follows that Marins would take his lead from the Gothic era’s most enduring artifact in Frankenstein (where the previous film had him kind of riffing on Dracula). Joe goes full mad scientist here, right down to having a hunch-backed assistant in his employ as he conducts his insane “experiments.”

But what might be more interesting is how Joe considers himself to be the Monster, too. His worship of children is even more pronounced here, as one of his first deeds in This Night… isn’t taking a life but instead saving one when he keeps a child from being plowed by a motorcycle. His later bout of remorse comes from having learned that one of the women he’s recently murdered was pregnant as a child, thus inspiring the existential crisis that takes him to hell. This self-loathing dimension to Coffin Joe makes him as bizarre as ever, and the film’s climax clearly positions him as Frankenstein’s misunderstood monster when an angry mob takes up its torches and pitchforks to hunt Joe down. A twinge of sadness accompanies the ending here as a cornered Joe is forced to reckon with all of his blasphemous crimes; what should feel like comeuppance is somehow a strange blend of valediction and redemption. In the most impossible and unbelievable turn of events of all, Joe accepts Christ as his savior before sinking into a bog haunted by the skeletons of his victims, a development that’s either profound or ridiculous depending on your persuasion.

Could Marin really be intoning the virtues of religion here, or his he merely highlighting the absurdity of it all? How could an otherwise unrepentant hellspawn like Joe even be considered for grace? The final on-screen title might be words of wisdom insisting that “man will only find truth when he searches for truth,” but even this doesn’t tell us what “truth” actually is. It’s appropriate, then, that the film ends on a bewildering note that leaves the audience with more questions than answers: after all, Coffin Joe—just as he did in his first outing—kicks off this film with existential musings: “is life everything and death nothing; or is life nothing and death everything?” By the end, it’s difficult to say Joe’s found an answer for that any more than if he can rightfully say if he’s a superior man or a misunderstood monster. Fittingly, he’s not quite either: he is simply Coffin Joe, and there can be only one. That much we can know for sure.

The disc:

Like its predecessor, This Night… is finally seeing its first DVD re-release in over a decade courtesy of Synapse Films. It’s another fine disc boasting a 35mm scan supervised by Marin himself, who also appears throughout the supplements. He first appears introducing the film in full Coffin Joe regalia before appearing in a trio of interviews. One is dedicated to the making of This Night…specifically, while another covers his career in general (it’s also the same interview that appears on the At Midnight... release). My favorite of the three has him taking an audience on a brief tour through the Coffin Joe Museum, an establishment dedicated to horror memorabilia. While Joe himself is obviously represented, he appears alongside other horror icons—and rightfully taking his place at that.

What I enjoyed most about this short feature is the context it brings: while Marins is a cult figure here in the States, he is fucking huge in Brazil, as evidenced by the photographs here that capture him with celebrities and various heads of states. In Brazil, Coffin Joe is just as popular as Freddy, Jason, or Michael, which is kind of an insane thing to consider since he’s such a fringe figure elsewhere. Another vintage featurette appearing here (“The Universe of Mojica Marins”) provides further evidence of his fame: Marins was obviously such a big deal that he earned his own biographical documentary, featuring appearances from the man himself (and his mother) as he discusses his wacky filmography.

As cool as it is to see films receive lavish special editions loaded with supplements, the primary mission of any cult release is all about preservation and curation. Just putting these films back into circulation is cause for celebration, and Synapse efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: in the weeks since these releases, I’ve seen increased chatter about Coffin Joe, with several people expressing the desire to finally check these films out. I love that the response to that is clearer than ever—if you’ve never tracked these down before now, it’s now much easier than it has been in recent years thanks to Synapse. Of course, it would be cool if they had recreated the coffin-style packaging of the original DVD release, but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. This is one case where I’m genuinely happy to see films re-released simply so they’ll find a wider audience. More folks are about to visit the strange world of Coffin Joe, meaning Synapse is doing the lord’s work—though I’m pretty sure Joe himself would scoff at that notion.
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