Written by: Dennison Ramalho (screenplay), Josť Mojica Marins (screenplay)
Directed by: Josť Mojica Marins
Starring: Josť Mojica Marins, Jece Valad„o, and Adriano Stuart
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"In the past I did everything possible to find the woman who'd give me immortality. And the continuation of my blood."
Resurrections rarely come as belated and unexpected as the one in Embodiment of Evil. 41 years after last playing Coffin Joe in an official capacity in This Night Iíll Possess Your Corpse, writer/director/provocateur Jose Mojica Marins donned his signature top hat and elongated fingernails for one last outing as Brazilís preeminent horror icon. It was an interesting proposition to say the leastónot only was Coffin Joe returning after a long layoff, but the gap between these two sequels is among the widest of any in the history of film. In fact, it might be the longest to feature a return its primary creative force, as the other examples typically involve other folks altogether picking up the reins to cash in on a legacy.
Embodiment of Evil is no mere cash-in, though, because whatís even more unlikely about the ordeal is just how fucking good it managed to be. Somehow, after not directing a feature since 1979, Marins effortlessly delivers a follow-up thatís more than worthy of the legacy it inherited from two of the greatest cult movies of all-time. You could be forgiven for being skeptical given the long layoff, but Marins obliterates them over the course of another 94 deranged minutes spent with Coffin Joe.
There has never been a franchise or icon quite like Coffin Joe, so itís fitting that he goes out with this unusually belated final entry, which accounts for the 40 years that have passed since the previous film. During that time, Coffin Joe has been incarcerated in a mental ward where heís continued his reign of bloody terror; despite this, however, officials are convinced heís been rehabilitated and can return to society. Upon being picked up at the prison by his loyal servant Bruno (Rui Rezende), Joe immediately sets his sights on resuming his lifelong quest of siring a child so his legacy can live on forever. Yes, after all this time, Joe has not changed muchóif at all, as heís also still just as unhinged as ever.
The world around him certainly has changed, however, and itís one of the first aspects of Embodiment of Evil that you have to adjust to. Something about the previous two Coffin Joe films feel like demented fairy tales, almost as if they were out of any semblance of actual time or reality. On the other hand, this one most definitely unfolds in present-day Brazil, and itís a bit jarring to see Coffin Joe wandering its modern city streets. He initially feels like a fish out of water, and you wonder if Marins will be able to recapture the dark, primal magic of those earlier films couched in such a familiar, almost demystifying milieu. In the previous films, Coffin Joe felt like a mystical force spawned straight from the depths of hell itself; in this one, he feels more like an ordinary man, one thatís been weathered by time and ageóat least at first.
Eventually, though, Marins does tap into the surreal, freak-out energy that has always defined the Coffin Joe franchise. His signature mix of ethereal atmosphere and cruel, grisly violence is more pronounced than ever, especially the latter. Arriving right in the middle of the last decadeís torture phase, Embodiment of Evil feels like Marinsís bemused response to the whole thing. It almost takes on the tenor of the masteróin this case, Marins was a forefather of goreóreturning to show how itís really done, and he doesnít disappoint: Joeís sick outbursts are as gross as ever, as he subjects both his latest victims and his band of followers to various torments. Included among them are scenes where he implores folks to possibly commit suicide, and a bit where he literally cuts flesh off a womanís ass and feeds it to heróand these are the people he likes, so you can imagine what he reserves for the foes that have dared crossed him. (Letís just say that one bit involves butter, a rat, and a vaginaónot for the faint of heart for sure.)
But like the previous films, Embodiment of Evil is no mere gore fest. More than ever, Marins is committed to crafting the kookiest, most off-kilter vibe imaginable, and goes to great lengths to do so. Iím talking Jodorowski-esque lengths here: one scene has Joe visited by a mysterious albino that takes him on a tour through a womanís vagina that ends in an arid, purgatorial wasteland. It makes Joeís previous visit to Hell look quaint by comparison, and itís fueled by the same nightmarish sense of bewilderment. As always, thereís something hallucinatory about the entire experience, almost as if Marins captured a fevered vision quest and committed it to film. Audiences float alongside Joe through this increasingly phantasmal trip through Joeís past, present, and future, all of which are refracted into a climax thatís appropriately set in a literal funhouse. On one level, Marins has always been something of a carnival huckster, so itís fitting that his lifeís work culminates in such a manner.
And itís that sense of history that gives Embodiment of Evil an added dimension of significance. Marins accounts for the weight of all the years encompassing the 45-year Coffin Joe saga. Not only is Joe eventually haunted by past victims (in the form of both stock footage of the previous films and black-and-white specters), but his past catches up to him when an old foe comes seeking revenge. Via a flashback that reveals how Joe actually survived the previous film, we learn that he emerged from the bog and plucked out a police officerís eye; years later, that officer has become a captain who harbors a grudge, and he teams up with the son of another victim (a jacked-up, self-flagellating priest) to finally rid the world of the unhinged gravedigger once and for all. On the other hand, Joe's legend has spawned his share of cultists more than willing to carry out his bidding in his battle against these two. This forms the crux of the conflict in Embodiment of Evil, a film that just feels like the epic conclusion so few horror franchises actually have. Rather than peter out because of poor box office returns, the Coffin Joe saga goes out with a definitive send-off. Itís less a conclusion and more of a reckoning, with Joeís past sins and future hopes colliding in a violent sprawl.
Of course, it wouldnít be a proper Coffin Joe movie without a pronounced defiant streak running through the entire thing. Joe is more unrepentant than everóheís still cursing God and laughing at the folly of anyone who dares to believe. And yet, heís very much the hero of the filmóno, not the anti-hero, but the actual, straight-up hero. Sure, he forms his own death cult, but he also stands up for those in the community victimized by the corrupt police force. Likewise, the religious institutions are represented by their own unhinged spirit of vengeance, allowing Marins to further blur the lines between good and evil. By the end, itís clear which side Marins takes, as Joeís last act of defiance has him spitting in the face of death itself, and you canít help but smile a bit when the film reveals his legacy will endure. Somehow, thereís something comforting about thatóbelieve it or not, heís an endearing figure, as horror iconsóno matter how perverse or deranged they may beóoften are.
But unlike so many of those icons, Joeís swan song feels sincere and authentic. One canít imagine further Coffin Joe movies following this one, not since Marins himself have been so inexorably tied to the role, and, while Iíd certainly welcome another film with him at the helm, it seems quite unlikely. Instead, Embodiment of Evil feels like the rare final chapter that will stick, and fans are left with one of the horror genreís greatestóand perhaps most unlikelyósuccess stories. From the beginning, Coffin Joe has endured despite, well, everything: even though At Midnight Iíll Take Your Soul would have been among the most blasphemous and confrontational dispatches imaginable, Joe (and, by proxy, Marin) went on to become a genuine icon, so much so that even a 40-year layoff couldnít keep him down.
You donít expect to feel such a sense of valediction when dealing with a franchise where the main character has tortured and killed scores of people, but here we are. So ends one of horrorís most depraved, lyrical, and existential horror franchises: always a bundle of contradictions, Coffin Joe left the world with one last disgusting, blasphemous, yet artful transmission, a definitive exclamation mark punctuating the end of a storied career.
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