Embodiment of Evil
Coffin Joe is released from a mental institution after forty years of unfettered fingernail growth. Upon release, he resumes his sadistic quest for immortality through the continuance of his blood line; and for that, he needs women.
Embodiment of Evil is a Brazilian horror film, the third in the ‘Coffin Joe’ trilogy starring, written, and directed by Jose Mojica Marins. What’s interesting is that the previous two entries were released in the mid sixties; meaning the forty year imprisonment of Coffin Joe was played out in real time. When Joe is first released from prison, there’s something delightfully anachronistic about him. He has a cape and a top hat, he’s accompanied by booming horror soundtrack right out of a ’30s Universal monster movie, and he’s met at the front gate by a hunchback who takes him to his secret lair.
But once the killing starts, it’s clear that this is not an old-fashioned horror film. This movie is just plain brutal, with some of the most depraved acts of torture you’ll ever see in a quasi-mainstream film. Feeding people their own flesh, drowning them in a barrel of cockroaches, sewing them inside a pig’s carcass, and the thing with the rat and the boiling cheese sauce that I won’t describe. It’s all done with graphic realism, and yet, it’s so out-there and Coffin Joe is such a cartoonish villain that it doesn’t come across as all that dark.
Another mitigating factor for the violence is that the ‘heroes’ of the film, the local police, are just as bad as Joe. Coffin’s first victim is a police captain who moments earlier guns down two children and is chasing after a third when he runs into Joe. The police are shown mercilessly beating suspects or anyone that gets in their way, and generally lead a campaign of terror over the favela. Joe’s torture of a group of officers later in the film has an air of retribution to it. Not so much to make him an antihero (he’s still pretty evil in his own right), but enough to prevent you from empathizing with his victims. There’s no real ‘good’ in the movie.
Some parts of the movie don’t make a lot of sense, most notably an extended fantasy (I think) sequence in which Coffin Joe is transported to some netherworld where a white-haired man shows him a wasteland in which animalistic people tear the flesh off of crucified people. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to represent, and it seems out of place since the rest of the movie is so grounded in the modern world. But it’s only a small part of the movie.
I haven’t seen the two earlier Coffin Joe films, both of which were recently licensed by Synapse Films for release this year, but that didn’t seem to detract from the experience of the third one. There are several scenes from the previous films used as flashbacks to expand on Joe’s mission and past; but really, he’s a simple enough character that it isn’t really needed, though it is neat to see a forty-year-younger Marins.
Embodiment of Evil is a fun movie which transports a classic-horror movie character into the modern world in an authentic and believable way. While drawing from its past, the movie still feels very current, fitting right in with today’s torture porn.
The Blu Ray from Synapse looks and sounds great. It is in Portuguese only with removable English subtitles.