It has been forty long years since the man known as Coffin Joe (José Mojica Marins) was put away for life imprisonment thanks to his convictions for a number of ghastly crimes. All he wanted to do was find a woman to bear his child, to give his bloodline immortality in his words, but he has failed miserably in that ambition, mainly because he could not resist his urge to commit torture and murder in the process. Now his jail term is over, and as he is still alive the authorities have opted to release him, much to the chagrin of the prison's director who believes Coffin Joe should be left to rot in his cell until he dies...
Embodiment of Evil, or Encarnação do Demônio if you were Brazilian, was advertised as the long-awaited third and final part of a film series that had started in 1964 with director-writer-star Marins' At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and continued with This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse in 1967, which must have made this instalment the most belated sequel of all time, or at least a contender. Yet Marins had actually been deploying this schtick in movies for decades, usually as his Coffin Joe character, or Zé do Caixão if you spoke Portuguese, so this was less of a groundbreaking return for a minor horror icon than might have been admitted.
No matter, as the man's fans were happy to see he could still carry off his signature moves even in his seventies. There's something amusingly incongruous about seeing Marins all dressed up in black in his top hat, cape and six inch long fingernails lurking around in modern Sao Paolo as if the years had not passed, although his now-grey beard and paunch tell a different story. Indeed, once Coffin Joe is released he heads straight for the nearest shantytown, but is dismayed to see the elaborate horrors he specialised in have been replaced by more prosaic and wide-ranging ones such as drug abuse and gang violence.
Not to mention police corruption, which leaves the audience pondering whether we should be cheering on Joe as an anti-hero who wants a return to more reliable values, even if they are designed to shock, or the authorities out to bring him down who remain resolutely unsympathetic when we see the dubious practices they get up to in upholding the law. In a way, Embodiment of Evil is curiously nostalgic for a far simpler time where the absurd idea of getting a rat to eat a woman from the inside out was more repellent than the more depressing but all too believable problems of modern crime which sees citizens killed off in a less ornate, but far more prevalent manner.
There is a story to this, but it's pretty much the same as the previous films in this trilogy as the bad guy goes about finding a woman to give birth to his son, except now he seems less the epitome of wickedness than a dirty old man eyeing up a handful of nubile actresses. There are flashbacks to the footage of his previous adventures, all in black and white and in a nice touch the dead characters from those reappear in similarly monochrome form as ghosts to torment Coffin Joe's guilty conscience. Eventually, the film descends into one would-be horrifying sequence after another, but these are frequently so ridiculous in their conception (a woman made to eat her own arse, for example) that if there wasn't so much bloodletting this would almost be quaint. If you remember Coffin Joe, you won't want to miss this, but newcomers might be better off with one of his original movies. Music by André Abujamra and Marcio Nigro.