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Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Brazil: At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/29/2015 – Brazil: At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma)(1964)
Directed by José Mojica Marins

Though existing for years before (including the French-Brazilian Black Orpheus, the Brazilian film industry definitely became more prominent in the 90’s and 00’s (finally back to that common theme) with the release of films such as Central Station, the Elite Squad films, and one of my all time favorite films City of God. Horror-wise, their best known films remain the three Coffin Joe films the first of which I watched today. It also doubles as their first horror film

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is very much the low budget effort with the special effects having not aged all that well. The cinematography and music are all soundly done with the film feeling very reminiscent of American horror of the 50’s. That being said, thanks to the lousy print and the frequently very dark movie, details weren’t always very clear which probably helped the effects even if it left things looking poorly.

José Mojica Marins also stars in the movie (along with directing) as Coffin Joe/Zé do Caixão and the movie rests on his performance. It’s a talky role, but he is able to exude plenty of menace and despite lacking in any powers, I can almost believe the fear that he elicits from people. Sure, it’s hard to believe how they can’t find evidence on someone who openly assaults people in public and is merely the undertaker for a town (do Brazilian undertakers run the towns or is it just that he is rather rich?), but I’m willing to accept it for the movie to exist. His character may be just the worst raping and killing without impunity while ordering the town around for most of the film, but he’s always so very compulsively watchable with his smooth talking and casual threats. He’s almost a Universal monster of his own and he makes the film a quite enjoyable little surprise.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #20 – United States: Crimson Peak (2015)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

I finally got around to one of my most anticipated films and even if it couldn’t live up to those lofty expectations (though based on reviews I had adjust them appropriately down, I was still rather entertained. Del Toro has bounced between the US and Mexico making three horror movies with one great (The Devil’s Backbone), one very mediocre (Mimic), and one disappointing considering its hype (Cronos) not to mention his more famous recent non-horror works including another of my favorite films Pan’s LabryinthThe Devil’s Backbone though is the film I kept flashing back to while watching the film and certainly the most similar.

BRIEF SPOILERS Both films featured a single ghost who menaced but did not mean our protagonist harm while instead pointing to the person who murdered them. Hell there is even a similar well like thing with body floating up END OF SPOILERS. While the film has been pegged by marketing as horror and by word of reputation of being a gothic romance, the film jumps around between a number of genres starting by swapping between a late Victorian romance/melodrama (the kind that were made by the dozens in the first few decades of the sound era) and a menacing ghost horror (of the style of many recent horror movies) before taking a turn into some mix of The ShiningThe Devil’s Backbone, a 50’s era suspense thriller, and a different, more unsavory type of melodrama. As a whole, these genres are usually meshed together well but they are not all create equal.

The ghost does look significantly better than say the one in the del Toro produced Mama and generally looks good overall, but less is more, and after a while the ghost loses its impact well before it should. These scenes tend to be fairly basic stuff, but the decaying mansion makes for a great set with some beautiful cinematography from Dan Laustsen (who also shot the earlier covered Nightwatch and when we aren’t looking at and listening to the jump scare loving ghost, the suspense is wonderfully done. The ghostly horror also feels the most awkwardly shoehorned into the movie tonally as if someone told del Toro that he needs to put in something to appeal to the horror audience if that is who he going after.

The melodrama throughout is thoroughly predictable and as by the numbers as you can get and it’s almost impossible not to have the entire film worked out about 15 minutes in almost beat for beat. It is certainly boosted by the abilities of the Only Lovers Left Alive reunion of Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleson to go along with the always great Jessica Chastain and the ever reliable Jim Beaver with younger Val Kilmer look alike Charlie Hunnam doing fine as well. SPOILERS I understand del Toro why the white/black visual dichotomy is useful in film and it certainly works real well in the snow but you are really selling the movie short when you make things too obvious who’s good an who’s bad END OF SPOILERS.

To compare the film to The Shining might not be completely fair, but it does have the knowing support character head through the snow to a giant mansion/hotel sensing the lead needs helped only to be quickly attacked with a bladed weapon. I guess the other comparisons with the snow, long hallway shots, etc. are to be expected though considering the winter season and setting. This is easily the best part of the movie though building on all of del Toro’s strengths. Crimson Peak is not a perfect film, but I will say it may be his best film since Pan’s Labryinth and certainly a welcome sign that he can make more than enjoyable, but far more simplistic action films when working in English.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #NA-3 – United States: Frankenweenie (1984)
Directed by Tim Burton

While hardly Burton’s first directorial project, Frankenweenie was the last he made before started working on features with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure as well as the end of his career at Disney which was really for the best. While his reputation has suffered as a result of his post-2000 work, it’s important to remember just how great Burton use to be. Burton did direct a Frankenweenieremake/expansion as a stop motion film (don’t see that too often instead of the other way around) in 2012, but it was nothing special and suffered in comparison to the similar stylistically and far superior Coraline and Paranorman, the latter even being released the same year.

The short however is far superior benefiting from a shorter runtime. There is already a good bit of Burton’s style apparent in the short which elevates what is merely Frankenstein with a dog. I enjoyed the plentiful references to the original, but this is hardly deep stuff and can probably considered horror only thematically since it is all generally played for laughs or minor drama.

Up Next: Director’s Cold Prey representing Norway

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