Saturday, April 6, 2013

At Midnight I'll take Your Soul: "I'm going to the graveyard. Anyone care to come along?"

The opening credits of At Midnight I'll take Your Soul (1963) roll as haunted house sound effects play- the screams and moans and laughter of the damned.  Then we’re treated to an over-the-top witch lady who speaks directly to the audience “Don’t watch this movie.  Go home.”

Coffin Joe, the sadistic undertaker, is a nasty little bully of a man, terrifying the townsfolk with his black clothes, top hat, cape, and long, sharp nails.  He eats meat on holy days and casually attacks people.  “Want me to measure your coffin?” is his common threat.  He's a blasphemer, an atheist, and somewhat of a philosopher, disbelieving in god and devil alike.  He is kind to children, but casually psychopathic towards everyone else.  His eyes go all wide and veiny when he’s about to do violence- a little like Popeye’s muscles when he eats spinach.  This and other special effects, especially an eye-gouging and a setting on fire, look primitive and painful- it’s likely the actors really suffered for their art (I use the word "art" lightly, as well as the word "actors").

Obsessed with carrying on his bloodline, Coffin Joe decides to etherize his barren wife Lenita and kill her with a tarantula in hopes that the lovely Terezinha will consent to his wishes.  Unfortunately for Joe, things are not so simple and he must kill and kill again.  He taunts the spirits and disrespects the witch lady, never a good idea.  Such an unpleasant character must surely get his comeuppance.

“AliMENto des VERRmis!”  A lot of Coffin Joe’s impassioned soliloquies are overdubbed and this is somehow quite effective.  José Mojica Marins does well with a melodramatic portrayal of a crazed killer, almost like a silent film villain in scope, with grotesque twisted features and much leering and rolling of eyes.

At Midnight I'll take Your Soul is one of those movies that- well- it isn’t GOOD good, but it inspires a certain fondness.  The over the top melodrama, the spiders and maggots and cemeteries, the maniacal laughter and ghostly wailing on the soundtrack, the glitter meticulously glued on the negative to denote a ghost, the title itself, all are endearing.  It's a good one to watch late at night without devoting your full attention to it.

This film is available on YouTube, but I saw it on DVD.  The DVD includes an interview with the director/star, and a trailer for the higher-budget sequel, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse.  After seeing the trailer, nobody can resist, and I’m looking forward to tracking this down and continuing the saga of Zé do Caixão.    

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