At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)
Where to even begin with this one? Written, directed by and starring the inimitable Jose Mojica Marins, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is the film that kickstarted the Coffin Joe franchise. And what a franchise it is: roughly 15 films featuring Coffin Joe, with the majority of them played by Marins. Earlier in the year I ordered the handsome PAL box set which contains eight Joe films plus a documentary entitled The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins (the NTSC set, which contained three films, is long OOP, but we have them at the FBW). How can you not love it? Along with that, I picked up the most recent Joe film, Embodiment of Evil, sadly as-yet-unreleased in NA. But enough about my acquisition fever, let’s get on to the film itself.
AMITYS is such a strange trip. The plot concerns a small town’s sadistic gravedigger who is obsessed with finding a woman to bear his seed and continue his bloodline. But the plot is neither here nor there – we get an evil witch, the walking dead, and a truly trippy vision of vengeful ghosts mixed with all kinds of supernatural strangeness. Coffin Joe is the highlight, of course, and anyone who defies him is dealt with brutal, graphic violence. There are a few scenes sprinkled throughout the film where Joe truly gets to lay bare his bleak world view – there is no life after death, there is no God, there is no Satan, there is only LIFE. And in this one life, Joe has chosen to live it exactly as he desires, indulging in all earthly pleasures. Wine, sex, violence, power; Joe swims in it all, fears no one or no thing, and laughs in the face of religious cowards. Joe is a non-believer, or rather, a believer in the here and now, whatever he can experience through sensual means. Quite simply, Joe is a hero for our times.
The sound mix on the film is incredibly muddy, although there are some near supernatural moments that sound like the actors are delivering their lines inside an echo chamber. Spooky stuff. The cinematography is lurid, but the black and white tones are starkly stunning. This is crude filmmaking, in the very best sense of the word – raw, unrefined, pure. Not much actually happens in the film – between the taverna, Joe’s house, the graveyard, and the windswept woods that connects them all, locations and scenarios are limited, and we find ourselves watching a fairly repetitive film. None of it matters though, because Joe is so deliriously over the top and fun to watch that you forget the film’s shortcomings.
Marins conveys a singular vision that is in no way diluted as the series rolls along – something that can be said of very, very few horror franchises. Coffin Joe may not be as recognizable a name in the horror canon as Jason or Freddy, but he has every right to be. You’ll have a hard time finding a more consistently sadistic, evil character in horror cinema. I’d recommend any of the Coffin Joe films, but AMITYS holds a special place in my heart as it was introduction to the Coffin Joe and has left an indelible imprint on my mind. All hail Jose Mojica Marins!