At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul (1964)

As Vincent Price is to America, and Christopher Lee is to England, Jose Mojica Marins is the horror icon of Brazil. Mojica’s film career started in the 1950’s and lasted until the late 1980’s whereupon he had made 35 films, all made in Brazil. Unfortunately, throughout his career, Mojica had to fight a lot with the Brazilian censor board because of the amount of ‘questionable’ content in the films, especially in the 1970’s where Mojica would make films containing brutal violence and drug-use. Brazilian police even shut down Mojica’s filming on occasion because of the controversial content he was filming. However, despite how controversial the content of Mojica’s films may have been, I don’t feel anything he filmed can be considered too extreme for today’s audience, or even audiences of the 1970’s, but the laws of the Brazilian censor board fell upon Mojica like a sledgehammer. It wasn’t until the 1990’s after Mojica had quit making films, that audiences in America became fans of Mojica’s work, and thus prompted him to accept his nickname as “The Master Of Terror”.

At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul marks Mojica’s first full-length horror film, and the birth of his sadistic, nihilistic and misogynistic alter-ego: Coffin Joe (Ze Do Caixao). The character of Coffin Joe would become a staple of Mojica’s career. Coffin Joe appeared in multiple films, television cameos and even had his own line of comic books. Jose Mojica Marins would become the Brazilian equivalent of Vincent Price and Christopher Lee: a character actor who became a living legend in his own country.

Though the character of Coffin Joe would become such an iconic figure, At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul is sadly a prime example of low budget, primitive cinema. Despite sporting very good practical effects for 1964 (understand that At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul was made 4 years before Night Of The Living Dead would revolutionize special effects in horror movies) the film has many problems. The writing is very poor, the movie has terrible pacing and moves too fast for it’s own good. Also, there are many scenes that go nowhere, have no bearing on the plot and feel like they simply exist for Coffin Joe to scream philosophical nonsense at blank space. The climax is the clincher as it feels that the movie doesn’t end, just abruptly stops. Fortunately, Mojica would develop his writing skills as his career went on.

At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul also suffers from terrible editing. Hard cuts and numerous overlays distract from the story that’s trying to be told. The atmosphere that Mojica tried to create was broken by the overuse of editing techniques. It’s a shame really, as the film does have some good points that stand out: settings are very detailed, the lighting is eye-catching and impressive, and Mojica’s acting is wonderfully over the top; at times he’s like a bad Shakespearean actor. However, the movie suffers from so many glaring flaws that the bad qualities oddly balance out the good qualities leaving a sour note to an audience.

However, I feel that a lot of the poor qualities of At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul comes not from poor quality film-making, but from the inexperience of the film-makers and the overall state of Brazilian cinema in 1964. As I have stated previously, the film is incredibly primitive, but I feel that Mojica has done a lot better than other independent film-makers considering what he had to work with at that specific time: namely zero budget, barely any experienced actors and a harsh four-day shooting schedule.

Mojica would go on to become a cultural icon, but At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul, in my opinion, is more of a cultural oddity, and not the horror classic that many believe it is. The film has not stood the test of time at all. However, that being said, I believe At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul is still worth watching because of how influential Jose Mojica Marins would became to horror cinema. Mojico’s performance as Coffin Joe is truly menacing, maniacal and purely deranged, almost like Mojico himself, and the character would go on to inspire cinematic madmen for years to come. The character of Coffin Joe is truly the highlight of the film, making At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul a film worth watching at least once, just be aware that the film could not be further from “perfect”.

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