Monday, June 29, 2009


"Awakening of the Beast" (1969) is the first movie I have seen by Jose Mojica Marins, also known as Coffin Joe. He is an eccentric and dark Brazilian horror movie director and a huge radio, comic book, and TV personality. His films were dark, intense, and well ahead of their time. This movie did not hold up to the high expectations that I had for a Coffin Joe film, however, for reasons I am about to explain below.

"Awakening of the Beast" is more like a documentary of sorts. It is sort of a gritty, real life expose of the evils of drug abuse. It shows the harmful effects drugs can have on society in a very straightforward and brutal fashion. The first half of the movie is akin to John Waters' 'Calvacade of Perversions' in his film "Multiple Maniacs". The only difference is that John Waters' characters' antics of perversion and drug abuse are done in a fun, joking, gross out fashion. Coffin Joe's scenes of drug abuse and sexual perversion are grotesque and leave you wanting to take a shower.

The story centers around a panel discussion of sorts featuring Coffin Joe and a few others. One of the panel members is working on a book about how drug abuse degrades the human being, making him more base and primitive, bringing out his criminal instincts. They come up with a plan to find four addicts, get them high on LSD, and examine their thoughts during their hallucinations. They want to know what makes the mind of an addict tick. This sounds self indulgent of the director, but the addicts are made to watch Coffin Joe movies before their trip. What follows is a highly innovative very long acid trip sequence, where Coffin Joe is their spiritual guide. He is present through all four of these addicts' hallucinations. The imagery in these sequences is highly effective, perverse, and grotesque. After a few minutes, it grows rather pretentious, tiring, and self indulgent, however. After all, the last third of the film is this trip sequence, and it seems very long indeed. The best thing about the hallucination sequences is the vibrant colors. The rest of the movie is in grainy black and white, except for these sequences. The colors literally bleed off of the screen.

Sadly, the LSD segment was the best part of the film, which isn't saying too much. To me, this movie played like an art house, beatnik version of an early John Waters film where all of the actors, including the director took themselves way too seriously. There is some creepy, excellent, Brazilian psych rock scattered through the film, but aside from that, the soundtrack left a lot to be desired as well. Most of it is free jazz and avante noise that seemed remarkably out of place in this movie. The intended effect was to be trippy, I'm sure, but it instead left me with a headache.

With that being said, there are still a few excellent moments in this movie. The best scenes are the ones where the soundtrack and the stark, grainy photography and scenes of depravity really come together. The opening of the film is particularly breathtaking...images of a woman shooting up cut in with the opening credits. The way Coffin Joe pulls this off is breathtaking. Marin does have a great eye, but for me it is for scenes of the macabre only. I get what he was trying to do with "Awakening of the Beast" paint a gritty picture of street life as he saw it, and also to make a great trip sequence. I think he is a bit out of his element here, however, as the film seemed overblown and pretentious to me. I would like to see some of his more straight ahead horror material, such as "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul". From what I've seen of the trailers for these films I really like.

Anyhow, if you're craving something different, well off the beaten path, give "Awakening of the Beast". a try. It may not be a very pleasant movie watching experience, but it will be one you will never forget. Much more creative and daring than 95% of the movies being produced today.
I couldn't find a trailer, but here's the unnerving opening credits of the film. Enjoy.

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