I've quoted this passage from Caetano Veloso's memoir, Tropical Truth, before:
In 1967, people were talking about a Brazilian B movie that Glauber Rocha had liked, A meia-noite levarei tua alma (I'll Take Your Soul At Midnight), directed by the Paulista José Mojica Marins. In him Glauber sensed a primitive Nietzsche, although the production was a horror movie made on the sort of precarious budget typical of a small-town Brazilian circus. The director went around wearing the same black cape and long nails of the character he had created in the film (and in others afterwards). Marins was—in every sense—popular. In the film, he both exposed our poverty and attacked the religious conventions that were inimical to a bold individual will. The Catholic imagination appeared mixed with the pornography of terror, laughable visual effects, and dialogues on the edge of street language. Torquato [Neto, Brazilian journalist and poet] insisted that it was pure charm on Glauber's (and my) part to show aesthetic interest in such a pile of trash. He did not believe that I could see in the film a radical version of what Glauber had tried to do in Land of Anguish. But it was truly difficult, at that time, to admit to a critical posture that, soon after, would become commonplace. (It would be inspired again by the old black-and-white version [sic] of The Fly, Freaks, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, all of which delighted me at the Electric Cinema when I arrived in London in 1969; and Torquato himself to this day is remembered for his participation in Nosferatu no Brasil [Nosferatu in Brazil], a film made in the seventies by Ivan Cordoso, which gave rise to a cult of Mojica Marins and kindred figures[...])
I've been thinking of Mojica Marins and Ze de Caijao (Coffin Joe), about whom I first wrote for this blog here, because I just got the Synapse Films Blu-ray of 2008's Encarnação do Demônio (Embodiment of Evil) Marins' rather improbable-seeming comeback film for the character. Or at least I figured it was improbable, in large part due to the fact that Mojica Marins, 14 years after that 1994 Chiller theatre Expo appearance, was rather likely to cut an even less-imposing figure than the not-very-formidable one he did then.
But I underestimated Mojica Marins' intelligence, not to mention inspiration. At the beginning of Embodiment, just as Coffin Joe is about to be released from prison after a 40-year term (and this indeed syncs up nicely with the conclusion of the last "proper" Coffin Joe film, '67s Esta Noite Encarnerai no Teu Cadaver [This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse]—if I'm not mistaken, while Mojica Marins appeared as Coffin Joe in many subsequent films, those pictures were about the character's impact as a pop culture figure rather than installments in his saga, so to speak), one of the many officials who's balking at his proposed release rationalizes things by insisting that the guy is just "a crazy old man." And indeed, except for those weird-ass long fingernails, there's nothing particularly fearsome about the guy; the top hat, cape and medallion all produce a vaguely comic effect. Waiting for him at the prison gate is his wide-eyed Loyal Henchman, who is actually called, pace Woody Tobias Jr., "Bruno," and played with disquieting conviction by Rui Rezende. Quite the anachronistically ridiculous pair the two make, prowling the streets of Sao Paolo by night. But in the shot from which the above screen capture is taken, the two characters are about to stop and behold a couple of street urchins, each no more than ten years old each, sitting in a doorway huffing glue from paper bags. "He exposed our poverty," Veloso recalled. "Ain't a damn thing changed, " Method Man said. Such is the atmosphere in which Mojica Marins' deranged character, obsessed with propagating, as it were, the "purity" of his "bloodline," thrives. And when he's returned to his longtime lair, he finds that Bruno's got a small cadre of pierced and tattooed young people ready to earn the fruits of Coffin Joe's weltanschauung, such as they are and such as it is.
"Nothing can affect a mind that believes nothing," a wise and beautiful young gypsy woman advises Joe during the ensuing orgy of blasphemous hallucinations and appalling tortures. You'd think after Fear Factor that scenes in which young lovelies have their heads dunked into large bowls full of squirming live insects might lose some of their punch. But as it happens the film has a lot of the crude power that the older picture has, and Mojica Marins takes full advantage of what he can get away with. Which is to say, don't be fooled by the crazy old man bit—this is "authentic sadistic cinema" to the bone, not "funsy" stuff. You have been warned. But for those with the stomach for it, there's something in Embodiment of Evil that is genuinely radical in a way that the creators of such meretricious gunk as the Hostel and Saw films can't even conceive of. What's that thing that Lynne Gorman's character says in Videodrome? "It has a philosophy. And that's what makes it dangerous."