At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

09/21/2023 08:22

Film: At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (Á Meia Noite Levarei Sua Alma)

Year: 1964

Director: José Mojica Marins

Writers: José Mojica Marins and Magda Mei

Starring: José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei and Nivaldo Lima



This is a movie that I didn’t know existed until listening to horror movie podcasts. It went on a list after the 22 Shots of Moodz and Horror covered this trilogy. I picked up the box set during a sale and knew that I would check it out eventually. This moved up as the sequel falls in a year that I’m covering on the Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Challenge Series so I figured I’d see this first just in case there are elements I need to know.

Synopsis: a gravedigger prowls the city in search of a female to bear him a son.

That is a watered-down version of what this movie is, but it is also good to not spoil things. We start this off with Zé do Caixão (José Mojica Marins) talking to the audience. From this point on, I’m going to refer to him by the name that gets associated with the character of Coffin Joe. That isn’t uttered in the movie though. We then see the credits before a witch pops up on the screen and warns us about what we will see.

We are following Coffin Joe who is the local undertaker. He is also a fiend. The best way to describe him is that he is Mr. Hyde, without a good side. He is married to Lenita (Valéria Vasquez). She loves him, but since she is unable to give him children, Coffin Joe doesn’t reciprocate the feelings. We see that she is religious, like most in this town. Coffin Joe isn’t and says blasphemous things.

His best friend is Antônio (Nivaldo Lima). We see him stop by the house before going out to this religious procession. It is odd that I watched this the day before Good Friday, since these opening events take place on that day. Antônio is engaged to marry Terezinha (Magda Mei), but Coffin Joe is interested in her. She won’t entertain them due to Antônio as well as the fact that she is friendly with Lenita.

Coffin Joe terrifies people around the village. We see that he plays cards with a group, takes all their money and when someone speaks out against him, he cuts their finger off with a broken bottle. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what he does. People fear him and want to run him out of town when he’s not around. Murder isn’t out of the question to get what he wants.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction. Where I’m going to start is with this main character. It is interesting that we are following the villain. I’m also shocked that we don’t see redeeming qualities for him. Bringing back up what I said earlier, he seems like Mr. Hyde, without Dr. Jekyll side. As I was doing this review, he also seems to be like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. It is also interesting that originally Marins wasn’t going to play this role. The actor dropped out right before filming started so he stepped in. It would be intriguing to see this played by someone else, especially since this is an iconic role now. Marins is great here. Should also say the Mr. Hyde/Heathcliffe reference is partially due to the top hat and cape he wears.

I’ll come back to the story, but I needed to shift over to filmmaking. The reason is that I didn’t expect the effects to be as brutal as they were. Cinematography also helps here as they cut away and can hide things. It doesn’t have the biggest budget, but the practical things they did look great. It is also shocking that this came out in the 1960s. Movies were still a bit tame that I’ve seen so seeing what this Brazilian film did was impressive. I do need to say that there are in the camera effects that don’t look great. There is a charm there that I have a soft spot for so it works. I’ll also credit the soundtrack here as it helps build this atmosphere.

Then to finish out with the story elements. We don’t get much of a story and it is quite basic. We have Coffin Joe who is a bully. No one in town will stand up to him. They say things when he’s not around, but no one will do anything. It isn’t until he starts killing those that stand in the way of him getting what he wants. His blasphemous nature also comes back to bite him. Now as someone who is not religious, I like this angle. Things end up on the Day of the Dead. Coffin Joe isn’t bothered by the holiday, but that’s not to say the spirits aren’t. The lore that gets brought up was good to me, especially since it seems to be a variation that I’m not familiar with. How things end is fitting for everything leading up to it.

I think then the last thing to go over would be the rest of the cast. Mei and Lima are good as this couple that is standing in the way of Coffin Joe from getting what he wants. I think they’re both solid. I feel bad for Vasquez. She cannot help her situation and who can say that it is her fault? This is a patriarchal way of looking at things like Henry VIII. She does well in her role as Lenita. There is also Ilídio Martins Simões who is solid as Dr. Rodolfo. Other than that, the rest of the cast is good as townspeople to round this out for what was needed.

In conclusion, this is a solid film from Brazil. What is shocking is that I read this is the first one from this country. It is interesting that writer/director Marins almost didn’t take on this iconic character. He carries this movie with how villainous he is. The rest of the cast around him are solid. There were effects that I didn’t expect to go as far with them as they did. This is a well-made movie and one that is under seen which is a shame. I would recommend giving this one a view for sure. Be advised that it is foreign and from the 1960s. That means it is black and white as well as subtitled. If you can get past that, this is worth a viewing.


My Rating: 8 out of 10