“Tonight I'll Possess Your Corpse, episode two in the Coffin Joe trilogy, more or less reprises the story from the first installment. Zé Do Caixão (José Mojica Marins) resumes his search for a bride who can bear him a child, in order to ensure himself a kind of immortality via future generations. His central criterion: to locate a woman "immune" to terror. Thus, with the help of cracked assistant Bruno, he begins to kidnap girls and exposes one after another to "fear tests," which involve planting tarantulas on their nude bodies and evaluating their responses. Subject after subject caves, until Zé meets Marcia (Nadia Freitas), who seems rather unfazed by the furry, multi-eyed critters. Yet Marcia does balk at Zé's habit of throwing his rejected betrotheds into a snake-filled pit to watch them die. Marcia's attitude induces Zé to break up with her -- he reasons that she isn't quite tough enough (and thus, not a suitable match), but he can let her go without worry, because he feels confident that, bound by love, she will never disclose the secrets of his macabre torture games. Subsequently, Zé and the gorgeous Laura (Tina Wohlers) become sexual partners -- they share a connection of atheism and a contempt for the supernatural. Zé impregnates Laura, but her health conditions demand that the couple choose between the life of the mother and the life of the baby. These developments are too much for Laura's parents and the rest of the villagers, who decide to put a nasty and brutal end to Zé. As Zé struggles to evade capture, the curse issued by one of his prior snake-pit victims (who promised to "possess" his body as she succumbed to death) fills the murderer's ears.” ~ rovi’s AllMovie Guide
“Is life everything, and death nothing? Or is life nothing and death everything?” – Coffin Joe
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23, NABRE
Until the advent of home video, Brazil’s Zé Do Caixão (that’s Coffin Joe to you and me)was only a whispered legend amongst impressionable young American horror fans, his ghoulish antics occasionally garnering a mention in genre magazines or books. But in recent years, the movies featuring José Mojica Marins’ black clad alter ego have become widely available to viewers worldwide and… yeah, the first few of them have pretty much been worth the wait.
For those not familiar with Coffin Joe, the character first appeared in 1963’s “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul.” An undertaker by trade, Joe is an evangelistic atheist who preaches (a lot) that any form of religious belief is a sign of weakness. Believing himself to be the avatar of human perfection, Joe’s singular goal is to find the equally perfect specimen of womanhood and mate with her. Their son (Joe doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility of a daughter) will naturally be a superman destined to usher in a golden age in which mankind finally overthrows the false notions of God and Satan. You just know Richard Dawkins cosplays this guy at home when nobody is looking.
Like any good villain, Coffin Joe is convinced he is in the right, and he wastes no time in trying to convince others of the same. Seriously, at least a third of the running time of any given Coffin Joe film is spent listening to the little megalomaniac rant and rave about his beliefs, or general lack thereof as the case may be. It sounds tedious, but Marins (as both an actor and director) always manages to find a way to make it entertaining. Just when it reaches the point where you don’t think you can listen to another word, Marins sends in the tarantulas or snakes or obligatory scarred hunchback to liven things up.
The centerpiece of “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” and the reason so many name it as their favorite out of all the Coffin Joe flicks, is Joe’s vision of Hell near the end of the movie. You see, it turns out that Joe is completely devoid of conscience except when it comes to one thing. Joe, unrepentant murderer that he is, loves all children, born and unborn (Where did all those kind of atheists go?). So enthralled is he with the purity of the young that he vehemently declares, “Damned are all those who destroy human life!” This may sound odd coming from a man who just tossed five women into a pit full of poisonous snakes, but by Joe’s logic, those who show fear, love or compassion are sub-humans on a level with lab rats, so killing a bunch of frightened women doesn’t really count as murder. Or as Joe explains to one of his victims, “Not sadism, my dear. Science.”
At any rate, once Joe learns that one of the women he killed was pregnant, he is overcome by guilt and dreams he is dragged into Hell. In a weird Wizard of Oz moment, once Joe arrives in Hell, the film switches to color. But because the film stock in Brazil at the time wasn’t all it should be, the color is strangely saturated, and it makes the whole scene feel off-kilter even before it treats us to the torments of the damned. And boy are those torments freaky. Hordes of naked sufferers crawl through fire and ice while men in red leotards jab them with pitchforks. Bodies are halfway fused into walls while demons whip and stab the visible parts. Something is going on under a blanket, and while it remains unseen, it must be horrible based on all the screams. In fact, the constant drone of wails and moans from the damned is probably the most unnerving part of the scenario, and it’s likely what prevents the whole scene from descending into early 60s camp.
It still comes pretty close, though. It has to be admitted, by today’s standards, the vision of Hell presented in “This Night I’ll Possess Your Soul” seems a bit dated what with its prancing devils and all. These days, as we discussed way back in our review of “The Burning Hell,” the Church just sticks to describing Hell as a “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed,” leaving the possibility of lakes of fire and other such gory details to our imaginations. Despite that, however, the Church remains firm in its teachings that Hell, regardless of whatever state of existence it turns out to be (I’ve got serious doubts about the red tights), is horribly real, and people should fear going there.
This doesn’t sit well with lots of modern folks, including many Christian denominations. People should come to God out of love, they say, not out of fear. But as Msgr. Charles Pope wrote…
“Frankly, many are still at a spiritual stage where the fear of punishment is both necessary and salutary. Jesus certainly saw fit to appeal to the fear of punishment, loss, and hell. In fact, it is arguable that this was his main approach and that one would struggle to find very many texts where Jesus appeals more to a perfect contrition and a purely holy fear rooted in love alone as a motive to avoid sin… Now why should we, who are summoned to preach and teach in Jesus’ name, reject a key strategy that he and his chosen apostles employed?… By our silence in this regard we mislead God’s people and become, in effect, deceivers who do not preach the “whole counsel of God” (cf Acts 20:27). While it is true that we can help to lead God’s people from an imperfect contrition (rooted in fear of punishment) to a more perfect contrition (rooted in love for God), it remains a rather clear fact that many of the faithful are at different stages and are not yet at the perfect contrition stage. For this reason the Church has always allowed that imperfect contrition was sufficient to receive absolution… But this act of contrition also helps the penitent recall the journey we ought to make out of the fear of punishment to the deeper and more perfect motive of love of God and neighbor to avoid sin. But for most of us, this is a journey that is underway, and some have made more progress than others. Meanwhile, the preachers of the Church do well to appeal to the fear of punishment among other motives to avoid sin. Jesus and the Apostles never hesitated to recall the fearful results of sinful obstinance. And neither should we who Preach today. Fear of punishment is needed after all.”
That makes sense, really. As a parent myself, I know that if I find reason and compassion aren’t enough to stop a child from doing something to hurt themselves, then I’m not above using the fear of consequences to get the job done. If it saves the child, at least I’ll have the chance later on to help them understand better reasons than just fear to avoid dangerous actions.
Of course, some folks take a lot more scaring than others. Even after Joe challenges God and is immediately struck by a tree felled by lightning, he defiantly screams, “This doesn’t convince me!” It’s only in the very end, as the skeletons of his victims begin to drag him down to Hell for real, that Joe finally admits there is a God, crying out to the Lord for mercy as he sinks below the swampy waters to the strains of Ave Marie. After an hour and a half of half-baked atheist rants, it’s a pretty satisfying ending. Yes, Marins, ruined it forty years later by coming out of retirement and filming a seriously goofy sequel, but as a standalone film, “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” makes a fine addition to our Holy Horrors Film Festival.
(Warning: This trailer is from Brazil where public tastes are different than they are in the States. You might not want your kiddies watching it.)