José Mojica Marins directed movies for six years before making At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, the first appearance of Brazil’s national boogeyman, Zé do Caixão, or Coffin Joe.
Joe is a man with no morals but a devotion to Nietzschian philosophies and absolute hatred for religion with the goal of achieving immortality through the birth of a perfect son. And while he does not believe in the supernatural, he often finds himself walking through visions of the otherworld.
Coffin Joe came to Marins — the man who would often be referred to as the character interchangeably — in a very magic way. “In a dream saw a figure dragging me to a cemetery. Soon he left me in front of a headstone, there were two dates of my birth and my death. People at home were very frightened, called a priest because they thought I was possessed. I woke up screaming, and at that time decided to do a movie unlike anything I had done. He was born at that moment the character would become a legend: Coffin Joe. The character began to take shape in my mind and in my life. The cemetery gave me the name, completed the costume of Joe the cover of voodoo and black hat, which was the symbol of a classic brand of cigarettes. He would be a mortician.”
Awakening of the Beast begins in black and white, as a series of vignettes of the ways that drug users debase themselves are shown in lurid, sweaty detail. A TV panel debates the idea that sexual perversion is caused by the use of illegal drugs, with more stories that illustrate this point. The TV show needs an expert on depravity, so they ask Marins to appear on the show.
Afterward, the doctor who conducted the experiment doses four volunteers and asks for them to stare at a poster of The Strange World of Coffin Joe. Supposedly Marins didn’t know much about using drugs, but he intended this movie to speak against the fact that the uses of drugs are treated worse than the suppliers and that the Brazilian film industry saw him as no better than a long-nailed drug dealer.
The acid trip that follows is highlighted by Coffin Joe, ranting against anyone and everyone. Of course, this film was banned by the very establishment it rails against. So basically, Coffin Joe is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the maniac attacking belief structures created by an artist who only believes in the power of film.
“My world is strange, but it’s worthy to all those who want to accept it, and never corrupt as some want to portray it. Because it’s made up, my friend, of strange people, though none are stranger than you!”