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At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)

Synapse Films
DVD Released: 1/31/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/7/2017

If you know me, then you know that I'm always begging to see a movie with original ideas. Well, once again, be careful what you wish for. For years, I've read about the "Coffin Joe" movies, a series of horror films from Brazil, featuring an iconic undertaker character. While these movies are the stuff of legend in the realm of horror films, they are also somewhat obscure, and I'd never run across them until now. The first one, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, drove home two ideas -- A) the descriptions which I'd read for the movie didn't begin to describe it, and B) truly weird movies are not a modern invention.

Again, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul introduces us to "Coffin Joe" (played by Writer/Director Jose Mojica Marins), an undertaker who wears a cape, a top hat, and has long fingernails (gross). Coffin Joe lords over his small town and the locals live in fear of him. Joe's greatest desire is to have a son to carry on his bloodline, but his wife, Lenita (Valeria Vasquez), is unable to conceive. So, Joe kills her, making it look like an accident, and begins to pursue Terezinha (Magda Mei), letting nothing stand in his way. However, Joe will certain learn that his evil deeds do have consequences.

As noted above, I'd read about the "Coffin Joe" movies for years, but had never seen them until now. The descriptions of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul were always consistent, as they discussed that "Coffin Joe" is an undertaker who is search of a mate. While the movie does contain this plotline, it's really not the true focus of the film. The movie's raison d'etre seems to be showing two facets of Joe's personality. First of all, he surprisingly philosophical, as he's constantly talking about the meaning of life and how having an heir is the only way to ensure immortality. These little speeches occur at random throughout the movie. Also, Joe is a raging atheist and he takes any opportunity to spout blasphemy and insult the religious beliefs of others. Why, in the first few minutes, we see him openly eating meat on a Friday in front of a parade of parishioners. (And itís easy to assume that these opinions come directly from Writer/Director Marins.) The other thing that At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul clearly wants us to know is that Joe is a jerk. Itís never made completely clear why the townspeople live in fear of the guy who runs the funeral home, but they do, and Joe really takes advantage of this, bullying everyone, objectifying women, and generally being mean to everyone in sight. Yes, he kills several people in the movie, but more than a murderer, he comes across as an asshole.

Which brings us to the strangest aspect of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul --- the main character is the villain. Iím sure that some would argue that heís an anti-hero, but that is simply wrong. ďCoffin JoeĒ is an evil man who is cruel to nearly everyone he meets, cheats and swindles people, and kills indiscriminately. Between these behaviors and his constant speeches, itís very difficult to get behind as a main character. And yet, the movie is oddly hypnotic. Itís so foreign, not only in origin, but in presentation, that most would be hard-pressed to say that theyíve seen anything like it, especially from this era. Yes, Marins was definitely ahead of his time with his presentation of controversial beliefs and an avant garde approach to the material. At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is a very low-budget movie and the acting is questionable at times, but Marins never pulls any punches straight through to the bizarre finale. I canít say that this is a good movie, but those who are looking for the bizarre and macabre owe it to themselves to check it out.

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul could have used some nail clippers on DVD courtesy of Synapse Films. The film is framed at 1.33:1. We all know that the guys at Synapse do great work with transfers, and this one was done from a 35mm negative with the help of Marins. However, the negative used had clearly been used and viewed several times in the last 50+ years, and there are abundant scratches and white dots. These issues can't be ignored and we can't blame the transfer on them. But, the black & white photography has a notable crispness to it and some scenes show notable clarity. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital Mono audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There is some very mild hiss in places, but otherwise the track works well. The dialogue is never overwhelmed by the dialogue and subtitles are easy to read.

The At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul DVD contains a handful of extra features. "The Making of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul" (10 minutes) is an interview with Marins in which he reminisces about the film's production and provides some details of his motivations. "Jose Mojica Marins Discusses His short film Reino Sangrento (1952)" (9 minutes) includes some very damaged footage from the work. "Interview with Jose Mojica Marins" (7 minutes) allows the director to talk about his life and work. "New Scene Filmed in 2002" (7 minutes) is a scene, which is in color, which is meant to fill a gap in the original film. The extras are rounded out by the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER and a RARE PROMOTIONAL TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long