This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse/Tonight I Will Enter Your Corpse/Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadaver (1966) **½
This is seriously one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse/Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadaver was the first of at least seven sequels to At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul/A Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma, a film generally considered to be the first horror movie ever shot in Brazil, by Brazilians, for a Brazilian audience. That movie introduced the world to Zé do Caixão (or “Coffin Joe,” as he is better known to the few English-speakers who know him at all), a villainous undertaker who seems to have read a bit too much Nietzsche for his own good, and who is obsessed with finding a woman to bear him a son— Caixão’s thinking seems to be that by breeding, he will achieve a kind of immortality, in that his übermensch bloodline will continue into the next generation. One suspects that Caixão’s ideas were very important to writer/director/producer/star José Mojica Marins, whether because he believed in them himself or because he regarded them as something dangerous in the world that must be opposed with all his might, as he returned to both the character and the theme again and again throughout his long career as a filmmaker, even going so far as to cast himself in the pivotal role. Indeed, some have called Zé do Caixão Marins’s evil alter ego. In any case, Marins’s philosophical fixations and potent visual imagination have combined here to create a film whose hallucinatory twistedness rivals the most demented excesses of almost any other filmmaker specializing in the surreal.
This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse picks up literally at the exact moment where At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul left off, with the apparent death of Zé do Caixão. The undertaker proves not to be dead after all, however, and after a stay in the hospital and what we are probably supposed to interpret as a lengthy period of recuperation, he returns to his old village. Nobody but his disfigured hunchback lackey, Bruno (Jose Lobo— playing a character who never appeared in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul), is terribly happy to see Caixão in town again, and the villagers’ displeasure at his homecoming only intensifies when somebody starts kidnapping young women. In fact, it would seem that the abduction spree continues until just about every female in town between the ages of 18 and 30 has been spirited away! Caixão is the obvious suspect, but of course nobody can prove anything, for whoever the culprit is, he has left no evidence at any of the crime scenes.
Then again, even if you haven’t seen At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, you probably won’t be terribly surprised to see Coffin Joe coming home to a mansion full of captive beauties in the very next scene. As he soon explains, Caixão is up to his old tricks again, and he intends to choose one of the abducted girls to bear his “superior” son; he’s not quite sure yet exactly what he’s going to do with the rest of them after he makes his choice. In any event, he can’t just pick one at random. No, Caixão needs to be sure that the mother of his child is elevated as far above the inferior masses of maggot humanity as he is, and for that, he’s going to have to subject his captives to a battery of tests.
The most important of these— the one designed to measure the girls’ courage— involves Bruno releasing dozens of tarantulas into the large room Caixão has designated as his captives’ bedchamber while they’re all asleep. Most of them react exactly as you’d expect, screaming and shrieking and freaking out, but one, a girl named Marcia (Nadia Freitas), has no apparent fear of spiders. She keeps her cool while her fellow prisoners fly into hysterics, and Caixão takes her performance to be indicative of a more general exceptionality. He’s right, as it happens. Marcia proves not just unflappable in the face of spiders, but possessed of a marrow-deep, scheming amorality that Coffin Joe finds absolutely bewitching. But her lack of a moral compass is not quite on the Nietzschian scale that he’s looking for in a mate, and she objects when Caixão tries to make her watch as he disposes of her “competitors” by tossing them into a pit full of snakes both venomous and constricting. Caixão likes Marcia, however, so he lets her go even though she knows all the incriminating details of what he’s done.
Again, Coffin Joe has read Marcia’s character correctly, and she says nothing when she returns to the village the next morning. Though Marcia will cause him no end of trouble in the future, his most important worries for the moment will concern one of the girls he consigned to the snake pit, who had enough fight in her to curse her killer with her dying breath. It turns out this girl was pregnant herself when she died, and when Caixão figures that out, he is startlingly crestfallen. As aberrant as his moral ideas are generally, it seems there’s one issue on which Coffin Joe and the world at large see eye to eye— the inviolability of children. So when he learns that he himself has killed one (or, more to the point, prevented one from ever being born), he takes it pretty hard. This is going to be important later, believe me.
But Zé do Caixão is not so out of sorts that he stops looking for the perfect mate, and he finds her in the daughter of a local luminary, just back from a long trip abroad. Her name is Laura (Tina Wohlers), and not only is she utterly unintimidated by Caixão and his reputation, she agrees with him on all sorts of moral and philosophical points that are of great personal importance to the undertaker. Laura passes her audition, as it were, and she and Caixão almost immediately begin applying themselves with great vigor to the task of getting her knocked up. Needless to say, this doesn’t exactly make Coffin Joe any more friends in the village, especially after he kills Laura’s meddling brother, who tries to bribe Caixão into leaving town.
Meanwhile, two processes are in motion that will bring Caixão to his second sticky end in as many movies. First, he starts having visions of the snake-pit girl, both waking and in dreams, and his already questionable sanity begins coming seriously unraveled under their influence. In the most spectacular of these visions, Caixão dreams that his victims rise from their graves in the floor of the snake pit and drag him down to Hell. Hell is in full color (the rest of the movie is in black and white), and owes much to the visions of Dante Alighieri and Hieronymus Bosch. The bodies of condemned sinners are incorporated into the very architecture of the place, with limbs, heads, and torsos protruding from the walls, floors, and ceilings, and teams of devils wander Hell’s corridors inflicting highly specialized punishments on the damned with a surreal, industrialized regularity. (The pitchfork-poking devil is followed about by the chisel-in-the-forehead devil, and so on.) But in all the dreams and visions, one factor remains constant— the undertaker’s victim reminds her murderer of her curse. The specific curse which the snake-pit girl laid on Caixão was, appropriately, a curse of childlessness, and on the day after Coffin Joe awakens from his nightmare of Hell, Laura inexplicably sickens and dies, taking the unborn überkind with her.
And while all that is going on, Marcia has been intriguing with Truncador, the town strongman (Antonio Fracari), to get her hands on Caixão’s wealth. Eventually, she changes her mind about keeping Coffin Joe’s secret, and denounces him as the kidnapper and murderer of the village’s young women, with predictable results. Not only does Truncador round up a gang of thugs, Laura’s father offers a bounty for Caixão’s capture, and the men of the village band together into a Universal Studios-style torches-and-pitchforks mob. With everyone in the village— both the living and the dead— arrayed against him, time is clearly running out for Zé do Caixão, who ultimately finds himself cornered in a swamp filled with skeletons (of his earlier victims?), and is apparently struck down directly by the God he has spent the whole of the movie denying.
Well... That certainly was something. Frankly, This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse is far more interesting from an aesthetic perspective than it is from an entertainment/exploitation standpoint. The story is extremely hard to follow (though it might help if you spoke Portuguese; the subtitles on the print I saw often vanished into light-colored backgrounds— like people’s white shirts, for example), and the film drags on unnecessarily for nearly 20 minutes after what really ought to have been the ending. Zé do Caixão’s endless oratory about the inferiority of the human race and the immortality of bloodlines also gets old after a while. But this is a movie in which the story is almost beside the point. Watching it is like eavesdropping on somebody’s nightmares— it may not make sense, but this peek into a tortured psyche is pretty compelling nevertheless. It’s also fascinating to see how forward-looking José Mojica Marins’s style of direction is. I generally think of the rapid-fire editing currently in vogue as the fallout from 20 years of MTV, but there are parts of This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse that are every bit as dizzyingly edited as Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and this movie was made more than 15 years before there was such a thing as a music video. It’s not the kind of thing you want to watch if you’re in an 80’s schlock-horror sort of mood, but if you’ve seen all the Lynch and Cronenberg movies, and are hankering for more of the same, give Coffin Joe a try.