AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964) – The Dungeon Review!
I recently reviewed Awakening Of The Beast which I felt pretty lukewarm about. I could see the villainous potential of Coffin Joe so I gave At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul a chance. I’m glad I did too, because this film is wicked fun! I don’t think any horror fan should go without seeing it! After some delightfully dreadful clips of the horrors to come, you are warned by an old gypsy woman not to watch At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul! She tells you to go home before it is too late! Don’t listen to her! Ignore her mad cackling! Be brave my friends and take the strange, depraved and entertaining journey into the wondrous world of Coffin Joe!
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is Coffin Joe’s introduction to the world. Zé do Caixão (aka Coffin Joe) is an undertaker who wears a cape and top hat and sports gnarly razor-like fingernails. Embittered with life, Zé is arrogant, depraved, violent and is an all around nasty guy. He scoffs at societies laws and is willing to rape, steal and kill to get what he wants. He gets a real kick out of his dirty deeds too; having a good hearty laugh as he proudly reviews what he has done. In one scene he mockingly tears at some meat like a hungry animal in view of a holy man leading a procession past his home on Holy Friday. Eating meat on Holy Friday may sound like no big whoop, but blasphemous attitudes weren’t well tolerated in 1964 particularly in Brazil! I do love me some blasphemy in my horror films!!
When Zé is provoked or angry he becomes possessed with an extra burst of strength and fury and his eyes get all wacky bloodshot. Standing up to Zé can result in a severe beating, loss of fingers, gouged-out eyes or death! Zé believes continuing his bloodline is the reason for life itself. This is how he justifies killing his wife Lenita who is unable to bare him a child. Lenita is the first to die by Zé’s hand but is certainly not the last. He accompanies a friend and his fiancée to have their future told by an old gypsy woman. Apparently the future doesn’t look too good for the couple or Zé, who is warned that he will pay for his misdeeds. But Zé heeds no warning and continues his rotten rampage. I’ve probably given too much away already so I won’t tell you about all of Coffin Joe’s dirty deeds. Let’s just say this guy does some pretty nasty stuff and relishes every second of it! It seems inevitable that his bad mojo is going to catch up with him and indeed it does. This misanthropic character full of disdain and malevolence is one of the most unique horror villains out there.
For a film its age the violence is fairly graphic. Coffin Joe amasses a bit of a body count and leaves a few others nicely maimed. The film is extremely stylish and Marin makes the most of his limited sets. The visuals are pretty ingenious considering the budget Marins had to work with. In one particularly cool scene, Marins has glued glitter on the frame to make the image appear more ghostly. The black and white photography and the use of shadows help set the beautifully oppressive mood. But the real cherry is the film’s climax. A series of signs present themselves to Zé as he is walking through the woods; a black cat crossing his path and the like. Marin does a great job at building the tension here while Zé’s anxiety mounts to hysteria. The film slips into a hallucinatory buffet of images that are a feast for the eyes! The effects do show some age of course, but all things considered, I think At Midnight I’ll take your Soul is an amazing looking film.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is heavy with Catholic imagery and symbolism but is a little light on plot. Fortunately Coffin Joe is an interesting enough character that his theatrics make the film extremely watchable. The film may be a little slower paced than some would care for but I thought the pace worked well and added to the overall oppressive feel of the film. Marins was definitely ahead of his time and created a truly dastardly villain and an effective atmosphere and mood that qualifies At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul as a classic of cult cinema. Highly recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5
Directed By: José Mojica Marins
Starring: José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei, Nivaldo Lima, Valéria Vasquez, Ilídio Martins Simões