Sunday, August 12, 2018

AWAKENING OF THE BEAST (1970) - Coffin Joe Rides Again

It's wasn't until the 21st century that José Mojica Marins was able to get a third full-blooded Coffin Joe film off the ground. Before that movie was finally made we got The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe and this strange little piece, originally titled Ritual Of The Sadist. I guess the best way to look at AWAKENING OF THE BEAST is to consider it an anthology film of several small, depraved tales bracketed by a contrived wraparound story. Although I find some parts of the film to be very interesting, I don't like the movie as a whole. It's disjointed, silly, slow and at times boring. And when you can say a movie involving Coffin Joe is boring, you know something went wrong!

I'm not really sure that the short tales presented in the film were originally made to be a part of a Coffin Joe film. I think it's more likely that the pieces were fit into a framework Marins came up with to craft a feature inexpensively. Although Marins claims to love this movie and thinks of it as one of his best I very much disagree. He seems to be proud of it because of the 'social commentary' elements in the various stories but it's those very bits that drag the movie down and provoke yawns from me. There're few things more boring than being preached at when all you're looking for is an entertaining movie. This is easily the least of Coffin Joe films and it's the one I'd advise skipping if funds are short.

The set-up for the wraparound story is a discussion between several intellectuals and academics about the horrible state of the world because of the lack of morality in people. The men relate various absurd, sinister stories to prove their points. The men are obviously just trying to top each other in a kind of 'Who has the more bizarre tale?' contest but they all take it seriously... so maybe we should too. Naaaah! Each story has illegal drugs as its catalyst, with the point being that they "stimulate depravity and promote corruption". That's all well and good but the stories are so damned silly that there's no way I can take them seriously. You'd expect stories that relate awful circumstances of rape, adultery, murder, violence and humiliation to be depressing or at least interesting, but as presented here they're really just dull. And Marins' attempts at symbolism are so obvious and ham-handed (a fat, lecherous businessman turning into a pig; a shot of bull horns when a cheating wife speaks of her husband, etc.) that they cause laughter instead of reflection. As the stories are told we are gradually shown that one of the men in the discussion is Marins, going under the name of Mr. Mojica.

But it's not until the final story that things really get interesting. In this tale a professor relates the details of a highly unethical experiment in which he dosed four drug addicts with LSD and had them focus on images of Zé do Caixao. As the hallucinogen takes hold the film suddenly jumps to color and Marins parades every bizarre idea of psychedelic insanity he possibly can in front of the camera. Set loose from the constricting need to be coherent he splashes bright colors and shock imagery on screen and if you look carefully I'm sure you'll even see a kitchen sink! Of course, this sequence is more often than not ridiculous and silly but there are several moments that are genuinely creepy. Some of the hellish pictures presented during this segment strike an unnerving chord — even though there is no way the sight of a bunch of men's asses painted with faces is ever going to be anything other than unintentionally funny. This section of the film is like watching the unholy merger of a David Lynch film that's been put through Cronenberg's telepod from The Fly with a copy of an Ed Wood masterpiece. Demented? Yeah, but definitely interesting... which is more than I can say for the first hour of the film.

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