At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma) poster

Subjects which many people struggle to find meaningful answers to or try to avoid thinking about altogether, it is perhaps inevitable that an undertaker will find themselves pondering the big questions of life, death, existence and their own legacy, Zé do Caixão (“Coffin Joe”) frustrated that his wife Lenita has been unable to bear him the children he desires but determined that there must be a “continuity of the blood.”

A menacing, unsympathetic man who is disliked by the superstitious townsfolk, in Terezhina he sees a potential mother for his children, but she is married to his best friend, so first Zé do Caixão must dispose of Lenita then Antônio before he makes his move to comfort the grieving widow, but seeing through his schemes Terezhina rejects him, saying she would sooner kill herself and then return as a ghost to haunt him, promising “at midnight I’ll take your soul.”

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma); Lenita (Valéria Vasquez) takes comfort from Zé do Caixão (José Mojica Marins), unaware he is already planning to kill her.

The film in which Brazilian writer, director and actor José Mojica Marins launched the alter-ego of Coffin Joe with which he would become synonymous, iconic and defiant in his black cape and top hat as he ignores the heat, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma) was originally released in 1964, far more transgressive and daring than anything produced by American International or Hammer, the studios who by default dominated the mainstream American and British horror markets of the time.

Immediately setting out its culturally specific stall of horror with smoke, skulls and screaming and the warnings of the gypsy fortune teller (Eucaris Moraes) who will later refuse payment when she has foreseen death, refusing money something Coffin Joe could never conceive of, she serves almost as a carnival barker, promising the thrills that are come and challenging the viewer, suggesting those who are too timid should turn away.

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma); dressed in black cape and top hat, Zé do Caixão (José Mojica Marins) makes the graveyard his domain.

A carnival ride of a movie and regarded as Brazil’s first horror film, at its heart is the prevalence of superstition, religious observations and rituals such as the abstinence from meat on Fridays and the Día de los Muertos procession while on the periphery there is the incongruity of modern cars and trucks passing by in the background, the town unable to move forward and in thrall to Zé do Caixão who takes what he wants through violence and intimidation, maiming a card player who cannot cover his bet then magnanimously offering to pay the medical bills.

The townsfolk wary but none daring to take action, the death of Lenita (Valéria Vasquez) made to look like an accident but Antônio (Nivaldo Lima) beaten to unconsciousness then drowned and Doctor Rodolfo (Ilídio Martins Simões) killed when he attempts to investigate, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul offers no respite or falsely comforting conclusion with only Terezinha (co-writer Magda Mei) having any agency, such as it is, in her suicide and no intervention from the law, only from beyond, as those wronged by Zé do Caixão take their inevitable revenge as predicted by the witch.

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul will be available on the Arrow platform from Monday 15th January

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma); Terezinha, Zé do Caixão and Antônio (Magda Mei, José Mojica Marins and Nivaldo Lima) consult with the old witch (Eucaris Moraes).



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