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Embodiment Of Evil

Synapse Films // Unrated // March 29, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 20, 2011 | E-mail the Author
Plenty of people out there look at their children as their truest legacy...immortalizing themselves through their offspring. Coffin Joe (José Mojica Marins) isn't all that
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different; he's just a little more choosy about who will bear him a child. An unflinchingly brutal murderer, Coffin Joe looks at himself as an exceptional specimen...survival of the fittest and all that. In his quest for a mate to match, he subjects the women he encounters -- sometimes willingly, sometimes not so much -- to the most indescribable torments imaginable. Anyone who emerges more or less intact is deemed a worthy mate. The only problem...? Even with as many women as Coffin Joe hacked apart throughout his reign of terror in Brazil in the 1960s, not a single one survived. Locked away in the mental ward of a dark, dank prison for the past four decades, he hasn't had all that many chances to try to spread his seed again since. His term is up, though, and Coffin Joe quickly makes up for lost time. Coffin Joe carves off the asscheck of one of his acolytes and feeds it to her in a drug-induced stupor. He scatters his minions across São Paolo to drag back women suitable for him to test, and one is dipped into a barrel drum overflowing with blood and human remains. Another is sewn inside the carcass of a pig. Another still is strapped in stirrups, slathered in melted cheese, and looks on helplessly as a rat burrows its way through her lady parts all the way up into her birth canal. A few select people are all too aware that this is precisely the sort of thing Coffin Joe is capable of, and they're not going to rest until his head is skewered on a pike.

Even with as infamous as the first two installments in the Coffin Joe series -- 1964's At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and 1967's This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse -- are in Brazil, four decades weren't enough to steel the film's crew when shooting this long-in-coming sequel. Some of the torture showcased here is so depraved that quite a few members of the crew nearly walked off the set of Embodiment of Evil in disgust. It kind of goes without saying that this isn't exactly a movie for all tastes. Of course, that's kind of the beauty of it too. Embodiment of Evil is so strange -- so extreme -- that there's really nothing else at all like it on Blu-ray at the moment.

I have to admit to being almost completely unfamiliar with Coffin Joe beforehand, and walking
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blindly into the final chapter of this trilogy wound up putting me at a pretty severe disadvantage. To be fair, writers Dennison Rumalho and José Mojica Marins are fully aware that right at four decades had passed since the release of the last real Coffin Joe movie, and the story's structured in such a way that it's still coherent to the uninitiated. The 'immortality through blood' premise is spelled out in the prologue, several police officials spit in disgust when thinking back to Coffin Joe's past, and sequences from the first two movies are recreated and expanded upon -- in black and white, even! -- so that first-timers will have fairly steady footing. Although I understood what was going on, not having the same familiarity or emotional investment as Marins' legions of rabid fans mean I didn't feel it in quite the same way. Embodiment of Evil immediately establishes that Coffin Joe is stepping out of prison and into a profoundly different world than the one he left...a world in which he's no longer the most unnervingly terrifying thing in it. He's also tormented, very literally, by the ghosts of his past. There are flashbacks to Coffin Joe's atrocities from decades past, and numerous characters speak about what a monster he is, but we don't see that -- not in the present day, at least -- for just over the first third of the film. At first it looks as if Coffin Joe is going to emerge as some kind of urban hero, hacking apart a cruel and unjust police department, but otherwise, he's either cackling his way through another overly dramatic monologue or cowering with fear at the ghosts in his head. It's 33 minutes in before anything truly demented takes place in the here-and-now, and the movie's half over before that unhinged depravity is directed towards anyone who didn't ask for it. There's certainly a part of me that wishes Coffin Joe had done something more chilling early on to establish what a threat he remains in the present day. As it is, though, he's almost a pathetic figure...a man in his seventies cowering at imagined vengeful spirits and, for long stretches of time, seemingly no longer capable of the sorts of atrocities he'd committed so often in years past. I honestly wondered if the small army of acolytes Coffin Joe had amassed would balk at the sight of what he'd regressed into...if they'd either abandon him or step up to replace him themselves. Oh, but once he gets that first taste of blood, Embodiment of Evil revels in its psychosis and never looks back. Whenever you've deluded yourself into thinking that Embodiment of Evil has unleashed the most demented, fucked-up thing you've ever seen in a movie, it'll one-
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up itself a few minutes later.

I don't think I can honestly say that I like Embodiment of Evil, coming in cold the way I did, but I am fascinated by it. I've devoted so much of the past thirty years subjecting myself to American and European horror that seeing something as unique as this really intrigues me. Most of the genre movies I come across revolve largely around the victims or maybe an investigator of some sort, shoving the killer to the sidelines. Coffin Joe, meanwhile, is the driving force of virtually every scene in Embodiment of Evil, and the story unfolds almost entirely from his perspective. Most directors would only unleash its unrelenting killer in the dead of night; on the other hand, José Mojica Marins doesn't hesitate to have Coffin Joe skulk around São Paolo in the bright of day. The movie doesn't shy away from its sexuality at all, and -- not surprisingly, considering that it was filmed in Brazil -- it's overflowing with impossibly gorgeous women. They also no problem writhing around topless in showers of blood or having various body parts lopped off if you're into that sort of thing. As extreme as so much of the imagery throughout Embodiment of Evil is, there's also something kind of classic about its approach too: a disinterest in spastic quick-cutting, a fascination with ghosts and spiders, and using practical effects for all the splatter rather than sweetening it with CGI. It's also impressive that Embodiment of Evil is brazen enough to begin by taking Coffin Joe in such a dramatically different direction, basically neutering him for a sizeable chunk of the movie. Again, though, the downside is that such a stark shift can't be fully appreciated by first-time viewers unfamiliar with Coffin Joe. The uninitiated might have a tough time swallowing Coffin Joe as a whole since he's such a big, theatrical character and looks kind of like Dr. Demento with cartoonishly long fingernails. Definitely an acquired taste. The downside of reviewing stacks of horror is that so many of them start to seem like more of the same after a while, but I certainly can't say that about Embodiment of Evil. You could love the movie or might find it completely unwatchable, but I can guarantee that you will have an intense reaction, and that's more than can be said for a lot of genre flicks. Recommended, but viewers unfamiliar with Coffin Joe should learn from my mistake and take a look at the first two movies in the series beforehand.

Even though
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Embodiment of Evil had already made the rounds on Blu-ray elsewhere around the world, Synapse Films struck a new transfer for their high-def release, sporting an even higher resolution than what other companies had issued previously. Anyone who's been following Synapse's release slate over the years already knows how the rest of this review is going to go, and yup, Embodiment of Evil looks every bit as perfect as I've come to expect from them. Detail and clarity are both first-rate, with José Mojica Marins' exceptionally tight closeups and some very fine patterns -- such as the mesh of the gates outside the penitentiary -- impressing the most. Embodiment of Evil has somewhat of a coarse, gritty texture to it...unintrusive but just enough to give it a natural, filmic look...and none of that's been smeared away through overzealous digital noise reduction. The palette is generally subdued, though in a more artful way than the bleak, desaturated look of most genre movies that come down the pike anymore. Its colors can be startlingly vivid at times, particularly those deep, crimson reds, and the impact is heightened by that sort of contrast. There are no signs of speckling, wear, or damage, and the presentation is similarly free of any sputters or stutters in the authoring.

Embodiment of Evil and its extras are given plenty of room to stretch around on this BD-50 disc. The technical specs are pretty much what you'd expect out of a shiny, new release on Blu-ray too: 1080p24 video, AVC encode, and all that. The second disc in the set is a DVD, and as expected, it's presented in anamorphic widescreen. Both the DVD and Blu-ray disc are very slightly letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

As incredible as Embodiment of Evil looks on Blu-ray, it sounds even better. This disc offers up two lossless soundtracks in the film's original Portuguese: one DTS-HD Master Audio track in stereo and another mixed in 5.1. Doing some toggling back-and-forth, the stereo track sounded pretty meek to my ears, but I can't muster any complaints at all about the six-channel audio. The sound design in the multichannel mix is intensely oriented around directionality. Sometimes it's used to further flesh out a sense of place, from ominous drips of water in an underground lair to how disorienting modern day São Paolo is to the long-imprisoned Coffin Joe. These discrete effects also heighten some of the scares, most memorably some jarringly screeching metal that startled me even more than it did Coffin Joe. Footsteps and sirens also seamlessly shift from speaker to speaker. The subwoofer is constantly snarling too, although even with as chaotic as Embodiment of Evil can get, the Portuguese dialogue never once struggles in the mix. This lossless soundtrack on Embodiment of Evil outclasses a lot of mainstream horror movies with many times its production budget, and Synapse, as expected, has fully done it justice on Blu-ray.

Optional English subtitles are enabled by default. In case anyone's wondering, there aren't any dubs this time around, and there aren't any subtitle streams in any other languages either.

  • Making-of
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    (32 min.; SD): As you could probably guess by its half-hour runtime, Embodiment of Evil's behind-the-scenes featurette is extremely comprehensive. It begins by charting the history of the Coffin Joe film series in the '60s and how many attempts had been made over the years at getting this third installment off the ground. There's also an enormous selection of behind-the-scenes footage, with just about all of Embodiment of Evil's most dementedly memorable setpieces showcased in here somewhere. Pretty much everything you could rattle off is covered: José Mojica Marins' deliberately over-the-top, operatic style, a detailed look at both the practical and digital effects work, a peek at the production design of Coffin Joe's blood-soaked lair, and the headaches in casting a movie that almost the entire Brasilian acting community was too scared to touch. Among the other highlights are filming an awfully itchy spider march, a big chunk of the crew almost walking out after witnessing one particularly depraved gag, recreating scenes from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse with another actor playing Coffin Joe, and Marins' struggles shooting with sync sound. This featurette also explores how the untimely passing of Jece Valadão during filming prompted some drastic changes to quickly be made. This is a really compelling look at the making of Embodiment of Evil, and I feel as if I have at least somewhat of a greater appreciation for the movie having watched it.

    Although the featurette is presented in 1080i, it's clearly been upscaled from standard definition...and letterboxed in non-anamorphic widescreen too. Since I'm sure that's how it was originally produced down in Brazil, I obviously can't consider that a knock against the presentation on this Blu-ray disc.

  • Fantasia Film Festival Premiere Footage (14 min.; SD): The line outside for the Embodiment of Evil premiere is sprawling, and...well, co-writer Dennison Rumalho and star/director/co-writer José Mojica Marins make such a hell of an entrance that the wait is definitely worth it. The featurette picks back up for a Q&A after the screening, with Marins accepting an award honoring his five decades in horror as well as speaking about his next film and offering some advice to budding artists. Don't waltz into this one expecting any insight, but taken purely as a celebration, it's pretty infectious.

    This footage
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    has also been upscaled from a lower resolution source.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def theatrical trailer.
Like Vampire Circus before it, Embodiment of Evil is a combo pack that also includes a DVD, and the same extras are served up on both discs. I was impressed to see a thin layer of foam sandwiched inside the packaging so none of the discs will rattle loose in transit. Oh, and both the DVD and Blu-ray disc are all-region.

The Final Word
I'll admit to having a really mixed reaction to Embodiment of Evil, but at least some of that's because it's the final installment of a decades-long trilogy, and not having seen the first two films means I don't have the same familiarity and investment that Coffin Joe's legions of established fans have had for so many years now. First-timers won't have any trouble following along with the overall premise, but still, for the uninitiated, it's kind of uninvolving to be repeatedly told what a monster Coffin Joe is when he spends so much of the the first half-hour cowering in fear. The impact is a lot less dramatic to someone who hasn't already been subjected to Zé do Caixão's reigns of terror in years have seen how profound his transformation over the past forty years has been. Considering how wildly enthusiastic the crowds at Fantasia were during the premiere of Embodiment of Evil, I'm sure this Blu-ray disc is an easy purchase for longtime fans of Coffin Joe. Those unfamiliar with José Mojica Marins' work may want to opt for a rental first or, better yet, seek out the previous two installments in the trilogy before diving into this one. As ever, I'm thrilled with the work Synapse Films has invested into this release, and there's certainly not much else like Embodiment of Evil on Blu-ray on these shores.
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