Embodiment of Evil – Blu-ray Review

Having not been familiar with Coffin Joe and his two earlier films – At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967) – I jumped online to find out what these two movies were all about. Not long into researching, the word that sends chills down many horror fans spines popped up: “remake”. A few days back, on April 1st, Shock Till You Drop reported that the crew behind the Paranormal Activity series was planning an Americanized remake of the Coffin Joe series, and that Rob Zombie would play the sadistic undertaker, Coffin Joe. As I read the article and thought back on the film I’d just watched, the Coffin Joe/Rob Zombie connection seemed as natural a combination as peanut butter and jelly. I had to wipe the egg off my face at the end, when the article was exposed as an April Fool’s gag, but this is an excellent connection that helps me understand Embodiment of Evil a little better.

Writer/director/star José Mojica Marins resurrects his role as Coffin Joe (or Zé do Caixão, or Josefel Zanatas), an evil, sadistic serial killer who is on a never-ending quest to find the perfect woman to bear his child so that his blood can live on forever. Forty years after being arrested, Brazilian law states that Coffin Joe can go free, much to the chagrin of the guards and corrupt police force. He moves in with his hunchbacked servant Bruno (played originally by Jose Lobo in Possess Your Corpse, but by veteran actor Rui Resende in Embodiment), and his faithful followers that prove themselves loyal to Coffin Joe’s cause. From his new home, Coffin Joe immediately gets back to looking for the perfect woman, but visions and spirits of his past victims start to haunt him.

Embodiment is the third film of the Coffin Joe trilogy, and might prove difficult for some who haven’t seen the first two films to follow. It isn’t that the story is overly complicated, it’s just that a lot of plot points, and how it is arranged, do not make much sense. Joe takes the viewer on a lot of flashback trips, and old black and white footage from what looks like the 1960s prequels are shown (this is actually new footage but was filmed to help clear up the story) so that new viewers are able to see where these spirits and visions stem from. Unfortunately the story never really states why Joe is seeing these visions, or what effect they have on him other than making him upset. These visions and spirits seem like an unimportant way to bring back the old black and white Coffin Joe films, and are done with mostly terrible CGI work (how this film was nominated for Best Visual Effects by Cinema Brazil Grand Prize in 2009, I’ll never understand).

The acting is standard B-movie quality, with no real standouts in the cast. There are quite a few beautiful, naked women, but none are winning any acting awards with their work in Embodiment. José Mojica Marins is much past his prime, and I have a hard time believing that any of these attractive, young women would be willing to disrobe in front of him, let alone mother his child. There are moments in the film that are awkward to sit through because of the ages of the characters. It’s clear how this story of Coffin Joe being a womanizer worked in his older films because the old footage from the prequels shows a much younger, handsome Coffin Joe (played by Raymond Castille, a Marins look alike). As Marins is now, he simply doesn’t fit into the leading man role that is required of a Coffin Joe character. This will only be a problem for those that are new to the series, as the cult fans of the originals will probably be very pleased to see Marins returning as Coffin Joe.

The best part of Embodiment has to be the cinematography by José Roberto Eliezer. There are a lot of creative shots that keep the film moving, and make the most of it’s obviously small budget. There is a startling scene that is filmed wonderfully in a desert setting, but the scene fails to make much sense in the rest of the movie. The same can be said for a lot of the best shots in the movie, and they left me asking “why”.

Eliezer and Marins make a choice to hide a lot of the most disgusting things in the film, probably due to their low budget, but this works, and is consistent with the black and white footage that is supposed to look like it’s from the prequels. There are a couple scenes where the gore is right in the viewer’s face, and these moments are memorable simply because of how disturbing they are. In fact, Embodiment contains one of the most unconventional, alarming, and dare I say creative death scenes I have seen on film which includes a live rat, hot cheese, and a naked woman. It is truly disturbing.

This level of destruction is right up Rob Zombie’s alley, which is why an Americanized remake project begs to be helmed by the torture porn horror director. There are some horror films that do such a nice job with the special effects that the story can be mediocre at best and still warrant a viewing, like some may say of Rob Zombie’s work. Embodiment of Evil does not reach that plateau. Sure, there are a lot of breasts and bloodshed, but the story is so simple and the plot so confusing, unexplained, or pointless depending on which part of the film is playing, that not even breasts can save Embodiment.

Embodiment of Evil was produced for one reason only: José Mojica Marins wanted to give his creation – Coffin Joe – a final resting place. He uses low budget filming techniques and an excellent cinematographer to pay homage to Brazil’s most sadistic gravedigger, which is sure to please his fans. Regrettably there is nothing more to this torture porn than a few depraved death scenes, and anyone who isn’t already a part of the cult, Coffin Joe fan base will do better giving one of Rob Zombie’s film another viewing.

Synapse Films has succeeded again in wowing me with their Blu-ray picture and sound quality. This high-definition transfer was created from the original negative, and was given a 5.1 Portuguese DTS-HD audio option, as well a 2.0 stereo option. The surround sound works as expected and the film makes good use of this setup at various points. The 1080p widescreen presentation is given a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and contains only English subtitles. The picture is exceptionally sharp, especially for a low budget film. The only negative here is that the viewer gets a clearer look at how poorly the CGI effects are implemented. Synapse Films really delivers with the audio and visual quality of Embodiment of Evil.

DVD Version of Embodiment of Evil: This two-disc pack includes the HD Blu-ray Disc and a DVD copy of the film. The DVD has an anamorphic widescreen presentation with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There is a Dolby Digital Portuguese 5.1 Surround audio option and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo option. This also contains only English subtitles. The same special features listed below are available on this DVD version.

“Making Of” Featurette (31:45): This is a comprehensive look at Coffin Joe, and the process of filming Embodiment. It’s amazing to see that the production crew used real tarantulas, roaches and dead animals during filming; I can’t imagine the Screen Actor’s Guild would allow that in the United States. From an actor’s standpoint, I wouldn’t agree to film some of the shots these courageous women were a part of, but that’s what some actors have to endure to make a living. The crew also talks about how they handled actor Jece Valadao’s (playing Coronel Claudiomiro Pontes) death during shooting Embodiment. Only fans of the film will want to sit through this long featurette, but it does contain a lot of interesting information on the movie.

Fantasia Film Festival Premiere Footage (14:21): Incredibly gracious screenwriter Dennison Ramalho and writer/director/star José Mojica Marins introduce their film in front of a rabid fan base at the Fantasia Film Festival. It’s great to see how excited both Ramalho and Marins are at this screening, and the audience helps to feed their energy. After the film, the duo receives a standing ovation and Marins is presented with a Fantasia Lifetime Achievement award. Ramalho works as Marins translator through this unique and worthwhile feature.

Theatrical Trailer (1:40): An effective trailer that would get any horror fan excited to watch Embodiment of Evil. Too bad the trailer is more entertaining than the feature film.

No question, fans of Coffin Joe should run out and pick up the third film of the trilogy. For the rest of us, there’s plenty of other torture porn flicks that beg to be seen before Embodiment of Evil. Synapse Films nails another Blu-ray transfer in terms of sound an audio quality, and though there are only three special features (plus a DVD version of the film), what’s here will make fans happy and are of high quality. There are just too many “why is this happening” moments in Embodiment to recommend it to anyone outside the Coffin Joe fan base.

Synapse Films presents Embodiment of Evil. Directed by: José Mojica Marins. Starring: José Mojica Marins, Jece Valadao and Rui Rezende. Written by: José Mojica Marins and Dennison Ramalho. Running time: 94 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray: March 29, 2011.