At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is the first film in the Coffin Joe series of horror films created by, directed by, and starring Jose Mojica Marins. Marins has the distinction of crafting the first Brazilian horror film in 1964, but that’s not the only reason why At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul did so well with audiences; the Portuguese thriller takes the religious beliefs and customs of Brazil and blasphemes them with a protagonist/antagonist who doesn’t adhere to the rules, eventually getting his comeuppance when superstition becomes reality.
Marins’ Coffin Joe (Ze de Caixao in Portuguese) is an interesting fellow, draped in a cape, sporting a tall top hat, and gifted with the unnatural ability to grow his nails out to a considerable length. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is Coffin Joe’s premiere film, and Marins wastes little time in showing just how despicable our main character truly is. The heft of the film’s plot takes place in a small town full of religion and superstition, during Good Friday and then again during the Day of the Dead; Marins’ use of these two important holidays highlights Coffin Joe’s godlessness, and not only does Joe rebel against the traditional religious beliefs of the town, he also forces others to partake in the blasphemy.
This is most apparent when Joe forces a couple of guys in a bar to eat meat on Good Friday, a time when worshipers refrain from the act. This makes Joe even more sinister than when the film shows him murdering innocent people simply because he wants to have sex with Terezinha (Magda Mei) – the essence of evil surrounds him, and throughout the first half of At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, Coffin Joe merrily tromps on the beliefs of those he encounters.
The film is successful because of its adoption of Gothic imagery, the settings filled with dark candlelight or decaying graveyards. In truth, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul feels like the visual equivalent of a Halloween scary sounds mixtape, complete with cackling witch, thunderstorms, and tortured bird sounds. It’s a perfect representation of the mood in the film, and Marins rarely breaks from that.
Marins’ direction does suffer from excessive dialogue at points, however, and the improvisational nature of some of Coffin Joe’s destructive moments take too long to develop. It’s most apparent in the film’s final scenes as Coffin Joe makes his way home before midnight, encountering the Procession of the Dead in the process. It’s an elaborate scene, but it tends to plod as Coffin Joe hears the voice of the witch repeating all of the things he’ll see before his soul is damned at midnight.
Still, the rest of At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is rather good, and it’s apparent that the superstitions of the area work their way into the overall moral of the tale. As Coffin Joe encounters the spirits of the dead, he also begins to wish that he had believed more in the supernatural; it’s a morality tale, and much-needed in a film that often seems to revel in the misfortune of others as our protagonist rapes and murders.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is the perfect start to the Coffin Joe tales, and it’s a moody, atmospheric piece of cinema that highlights the ingenuity of Marins’ low-budget filmmaking. This 1964 chiller is still creepy and relevant, and horror fans will certainly want to check out the rest of this series.