Combustible Celluloid Review - Awakening of the Beast (1970), Rubens Francisco Luchetti, José Mojica Marins, José Mojica Marins, José Mojica Marins, Andréa Bryan, Annik Malvil, Graveto, Ítala Nandi, Lurdes Vanucchi Ribas, Mário Lima, Ozualdo Candeias, Roney Wanderney
Combustible Celluloid
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With: José Mojica Marins, Andréa Bryan, Annik Malvil, Graveto, Ítala Nandi, Lurdes Vanucchi Ribas, Mário Lima, Ozualdo Candeias, Roney Wanderney
Written by: Rubens Francisco Luchetti, José Mojica Marins
Directed by: José Mojica Marins
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Portuguese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 01/01/1970

Awakening of the Beast (1970)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Strange World of Coffin Joe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It was only a matter of time before someone revived the work of one of the world's most bizarre "auteurs," Jose Mojica Marins, otherwise known as Coffin Joe. So who better than San Francisco DVD gurus Fantoma Films, who have so far subsisted on bizarre, unknown classics? Now they add to their canon Marins' three most famous and potent films, now available on brand new stunning DVDs.

In Brazil, Marins is something of a Takeshi Kitano-type, with fingers in many pies. He writes, stars in and directs his own movies, as well as writing and drawing his own comic books, and creating plays, TV shows, and radio programs. His most famous creation, Coffin Joe, is easily recognizable with his black top hat and black cape, his thick, heavy black eyebrows and black beard, and his long, curly, clicking fingernails. Marins is still alive today in his 70s and in an Orson Welles-like of state, trying to get new films made and not succeeding quite as well as he once did. Perhaps now with this new attention lavished upon him, he can get back to business.

Apparently, Marins had originally cast another actor to play Coffin Joe in his film At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964), who quit before shooting began, forcing Marins to take the role himself. Today it's hard to imagine anyone else. Coffin Joe is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever seen, both protagonist and antagonist at the same time. He plays a funeral director who terrorizes his small Brazilian town looking for a woman to bear his child. He holds nothing sacred, eating meat on Sunday, and indulging in all the Deadly Sins as often as possible. He even takes the crown of thorns from a Jesus statue and uses it to smash a man's face in. His big weakness, however, is children, and he goes out of his way to rescue a young child from an abusive father. Marins' screen presence reeks with power and potency -- you can tell why people must have fallen for his charms, yet you don't want him to succeed at his evil plans. You root against him while you're rooting for him, and this conflict keeps you riveted.

Marins killed off Coffin Joe in that first film, but after its rousing success -- playing to packed houses despite the Brazilian Censorship Board's fury -- he brought him back to life for his more ambitious sequel, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1966). In this film, Coffin Joe continues on his sinister quest to sire a child, going so far as to kidnap several young women, get them drunk, and sic poisonous spiders and snakes on them to see who will "pass the test." The film's high point, though, is when a phantom dressed all in black drags Coffin Joe through the ground and into hell itself. This hell, presented in dazzling full color, is cold as opposed to hot and features the various body parts of the damned sticking out of the walls and ceilings. And guess who plays the devil himself?

For the third film in the set, Awakening of the Beast (1969), Marins set his sights even higher. This film explores different scenes of debauchery and sin, sneaking looks at hippies who grope under a young woman's dress, a sleazy movie producer, drug users, perverts, and other lowlifes. The point is to "collect" specimens for a special LSD test to find out how much Marins himself was responsible for such behavior. Like This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, the film contains a dazzling color sequence for the LSD trip. Awakening of the Beast was so controversial and bizarre that it was never actually released in Brazil, so this DVD marks some kind of official debut.

The black-and-white negatives for all three films were found in poor condition, especially at the points where dissolves were used instead of straight cuts. Ian Hendrie of Fantoma says that though these negatives were the best in the world, the Fantoma crew was unable to remove them from the Brazil Cinematheque that holds them for any kind of restoration work. In any case, despite a few scratches, the pictures are quite clear, the colors in the brief sequences are strong, and the new subtitles are very good. (And it's not as if these films had a huge budget in the first place.)

Each of the three DVDs contains trailers for all three films, and short, fascinating present-day interviews with Marins. He tells some amazing stories, like shooting At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul on a soundstage no bigger than a garage, and almost losing one young woman to a boa constrictor on This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse. But best of all, each DVD contains a miniature reproduction of a Coffin Joe comic book, which are as bizarre and mesmerizing as the films themselves. I would recommend checking out the first of these films, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, to see if you can stomach the Strange World of Coffin Joe. If you can, then I highly recommend all three, as they nicely compliment each other. With luck, this new Marins revival will inspire more frighteningly, intensely personal filmmakers. We need them more than ever.

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