|The Plot: Ze do Caixao (Coffin Joe, director and star José Mojica Marins) is a mortician who desperately wants a child to continue on with his name. Unfortunately his wife is barren and unable to provide such a child. Coffin Joe, who has no real moral compass, decides he will do what it takes to have his child and continue his blood. Ze has an affection for the young Terezinha, but she is Coffin Joe’s best friend’s (Antonio) girlfriend. When he makes his move on Terezinha, she is obviously disgusted but reminds him that he has his own wife waiting at home for him. This angers Joe, but he decides she is right and heads out to cure himself of his marriage. After chaining up his wife and forcing a poisonous spider to bite her, Joe is free to pursue Terezinha but he now has to deal with Antonio as well. As Coffin Joe begins his onslaught of terrible acts, he is reminded by the local gypsy woman that even though he may get away with these atrocities for now – at some point the souls of those he has done harm will come back, and at midnight they will surely take his soul!|
Although it has traces of that burgeoning gory style of horror filmmaking (In fact, Blood Feast had only been released one year previous to this film so Marins may not have seen it), the majority of the film is made up of that naive and spooky atmosphere that you might find in many Universal monster movies. The film actually begins with two monologues spoken directly to the camera, as Coffin Joe ponders “what is existence?” while his voice is shrouded in a echo type of effect. After this we meet the gypsy/witch lady who will play a prominent role throughout the movie and she is actually more over the top than even Marins attempted. Her voice too is covered up with an echo-reverb effect and although this sequence is a bit on the cheesy side, I can picture the effect of watching the movie in a large theater with the sound amped up. Some times when an actor or an actress is so committed to their role and willing to simply play that “creepy” card, they can take it past the point of being over the top and come full circle right back to creepy and weird. I think much of what At Midnight… does correct, is based upon this principal.
The character of Coffin Joe is a walking example of this fact. Despite the film apparently taking place in modern times (I have no reason to believe it takes place any earlier than 63), Coffin Joe (or Ze, as everyone refers to him) wears the costume of a mortician from Transylvania circa 1745. The top hat, long fingernails and cape have become synonymous with José Mojica Marins who delves into the role as director/actor with much enthusiasm. On the outside looking in, the character at first seems so artificial that it becomes rather humorous. Who wears a cape in the first place? It is an article of clothing that serves no purpose other than the addition of style, but even at this point in fashion it seems incredibly outdated. There’s also the fact that at this point Coffin Joe has no size to him and rather than an intimidating force, he has the look of a nerdy computer programmer who happened to grow his beard out. Yet, when his eyes turn bloodshot and he feels pushed, the man turns into a monster of sorts. After these first few instances of seeing his rage unleashed, it becomes easier to see how everyone in this small town fears him.
The most interesting thing about the character of Coffin Joe, and this film in general, would probably be the religious ideas expressed throughout. This gives the film some kind of subtext and depth while watching as it seems to ultimately be about man, mortality and faith. Ze is a man who challenges all forms of faith and instead of focusing his attention towards anything that might be above himself, he instead apparently subscribes to a perverse vision of Nietzsche’s Superman concept, similar to that of the famed killers Leopold and Loeb. With no god or supernatural to cause him to question his own moral compass, he instead does whatever he wants and could care less who stands in his way. The film is ultimately about the battle between this cold and calculating reality that Coffin Joe lives in and the world of faith and the supernatural, that essentially all other characters live within. Although the ideas that the movie throws about can be clunky at times, it gives the film a third dimension and makes it that much more engaging.
I have already mentioned it at this point, but the violence on display in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul was certainly harsh for its time. A highly successful film in its native Brazil, where it is claimed to have been the very first local horror movie, people were likely intrigued simply by the onscreen debauchery that could not be found in any other place. Many of the special effects throughout are obviously hokey and bad, but there are a few really stand out moments. The most notable would be a sequence where Coffin Joe removes some poor guy’s fingers with a broken bottle! The scene caught me off guard, because I honestly didn’t expect it to be that graphic despite what I had read about the film previously. This scene would definitely be the goriest of all of the violent sequences, but there is also an eye removal scene later on in the movie that definitely fights for contention. Aside from those two bits of gore, the rest of the movie seems to focus on “violence” rather than “gore”. The savage beating and rape of a young woman by Coffin Joe, somewhere at the half way point, is far more disturbing and grotesque than these two gore sequences could ever dare be.