Awakening of the Beast (1970)
By: Mr Intolerance on May 23, 2009  | 
Fantoma (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (Non-anamorphic). Portuguese DD 1.0. English Subtitles. 91 Minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jose Mojica Marins
Starring: Jose Mojica Marins, Sergio Hingst, Ozualdo Candeias, Andreia Bryan, Lurdes Ribas, Mario Lima, Roney Wanderney
Screenplay: Rubens Francisco Lucchetti
Country: Brazil
External Links
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Originally entitled Ritual of the Sadists (a name guaranteed to have the censorious Brazilian government look favourably upon it...), Awakening of the Beast was banned for over twenty years by Brazil's military dictatorship. At the time this DVD release appeared (2000), it had never been shown theatrically. Director Marins states that it's one of his favourite films, and that made me go into it with higher hopes than I'd had for the two previous instalments of his Coffin Joe films. Now, it's worthwile noting that this isn't actually part of his Coffin Joe trilogy, which Marins states he has never finished (parts one and two being At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse respectively), and to categorise it as such would be to misrepresent it.

So why the government ban? Well, Awakening of the Beast is a drug film, and even though it's kind of mild by today's standard, government clamp-down on subversive material was a lot stronger back in the Brazil of the 1960s, even during the so-called Summer of Love, than it was in say the United States at the same time, when films like Easy Rider, The Trip or Something Weird were tolerated as lunatic fringe material. Even so many years past such hysteria-laden cautionary tales as Reefer Madness, Cocaine Fiends or Marihuana: The Weed With Roots in Hell, our South American campadres weren't quite so libertarian as to let this kind of thing go by unchecked.

We begin with a montage of jump-cut edited shots of Coffin Joe, who somehow has managed to become even more hammy than before: "My world is strange indeed, but it is worthy to all those that I am willing to accept. And never corrupt as some may want to portray it. It is made up of strange people, though none are stranger than you!" No, I have no idea what his reverb-heavy introduction means either, but I think he just called us all perverts...

Mind you, I think we can all throw that right back at him, as the young woman we see shooting up into her foot for a bunch of elderly voyeurs then strips and takes a squat over a rather disreputable-looking chamber pot, laughing all the while, as the old fellas start getting rather excited about watching someone taking an implied dump. I didn't actually ask to watch that, thank you very much senor Marins.

The next in our series of rather disconnected vignettes features a rather mature-looking school girl taken back to the kind of apartment no self-respecting parent would ever want their daughter venturing into, full of drugged up hippie types. One of the hippies tries to reassure the girl, saying, "Relax, baby. Everybody here is really cool." You know what? Unless being off your face and doing duck impressions is the new cool, I seriously doubt that. Our young lass has a bit of a choof on a joint, and apparently doing one hit is enough to make you lose all kinds of inhibitions. As in, it makes you want to have a bunch of dirty hippies stick their heads up your skirt and somehow, without the use of their hands, remove your bra and panties. Eh? Furthermore, you get so down with the hippy vibe that you let more than half a dozen fellas stick their fingers up your snatch while they all whistle the theme song to Bridge On The River Kwai. Then...well...if I use the term "finger-sniffers" do you see where I'm coming from? The a guy dressed as Moses enters the room and sticks a bloody great staff up her cooze, and wouldn't you know it? The violent vaginal insertion of a six foot long foreign object kills the girl stone dead. Nope, didn't see that coming. I'm sure that some witty point about organised religion has just been made, but I'll be fucked if I understood it, or indeed if I'd even want to understand it.

I lost any interest I might have had in this film at this point. Truth be told I think I was lost at the chamber pot. For some reason the word "Jodorowsky" just kept on running through my mind, and pain occurred. I don't like disjointed imagistic films that lack even the merest semblance of a narrative, I despise hippies and the hippy mentality which seems to sadly inform this film, whether Marins intended it or not, and the idea of making a film to be weird for weird's sake makes me want to kill the director in as painful a way as possible.

Right, so some kind of framing narrative is established with a Doctor expounding his theories on the current social climate amongst young people, at first in the stree, and then on what appears to be a TV talk show with a whole other bunch of egg-heads (apparently all played by Brazilian celebrities, a number of whom play themselves, as do others in the film), blathering on from their own perspective and being patronising about what is happening on the street, because they're too far removed from it. This is not exactly an original statement about generation gap, and even despite that, it's ham-fistedly done.

Next scenario: a bunch of girls in a room (the same room as much of the film was shot in – Marins' office) with a bare-chested guy take off their bras, none of them are wearing shirts, and bending over are kicked in the arse by the fella and then fall on the ground. Next!

Coffin Joe commands a bunch of dope-heads to party until they drop, and then get up and party some more via a diabolical voice-over. I wish Z'e had turned up for more of this film – sure he chews up the scenery, but at least he's entertaining, which is more than can be said for the rest of the actors in the snooze-fest on display here. I don't know what happened to the directorial skills he seemed to be developing in his first two Coffin Joe films, but it seems to have flown out the window.

Some random scenes then ensue of cops rounding up a bunch of dealers and users with some comically inept displays of random violence. I understand that a point is being made here about police bruatlity and how the problems aren't being solved at the root, but rather as a band aid, but again, as there's fuck all in the way of dialogue, I may as well be watching a mime. Part of the film experience is sound, and it's not used to any kind of success here at all. It's either just diagetic thumps and crashes, or tinny transistor radio quality diagetic songs, including a novelty toon featuring Z'e do Caixao.

A rich old lady bids her husband goodnight, dismisses the servants for the evening, spies on her daughter making out with the black butler, and then after liberally powdering her nose...well, the chapter is called "Pony" - you work out who she makes out with.

This is the weakness of the film; through bombarding the audience with a barrage of basically unrelated (at best weakly related via the talking heads sections that punctuate each tale) scenarios with no cohesion, the strength of what Marins is trying to do is nullified and becomes, well, comedic. It ultimately becomes crass and boring, gilded with artistic pretentions the budget and the ideas behind the film simply can't live up to.

The inappropriate and I'm assuming unintentionally hilarious use of stock music is never more cringe inducing than in the episode where a fat businessman (in reality a policeman who arrived at Marins' office to arrest him during the filming) tries to seduce ayoung and pretty woman who has come to apply for a job. First the funeral march while the girl is using her last pesetas to buy the paper to look for a job, then when he spots her in the waiting room, a toreador march. Awful, awful stuff, and the editing of the sound would make a deaf man cringe – for the comedic "boing!" of an erection being let loose, if for no other reason.

Following that we get to see one of the film's most common motifs, that of the woman who hands her bra and panties over to a man, who in this case has no other plans for them but to wash them – unlike some of the other fellas in the movie, he doesn't feel the urge to give them a good hard sniff, or to wear them on his head. A kind of routine story of an adulteress' blues follows, and the lachrymose moment where she declares her guilt while the fella she's with is presumably growling her out is substantially undercut by the addition of 'Auld Lang Syne' on the soundtrack. The stock sound footage of arctic winds wasn't really helping things along either.

From here we move into the only part of the film that has any notion of coherence, and is its only redeeming feature. Z'e, well actually Jose Mojica Marins as himself rather than his nom de weirdness, having to "defend" himself and his art against a peoples' court on TV. This rather ironic in one regard – he gets found innocent on this TV show, but this very film itself was lambasted – the censors in Brazil wanted to make so many cuts to it, it was easier to simply ban it, which is what they did. One of the members of the censorship board wanted the negative destroyed, he found the images so distasteful. A doctor, one of the talking heads in a flashback decides to perform an experiment with LSD, gathering up 4 people of different social classes to take a specified dose and then see what happens given certain stimuli. How does Coffin Joe fit in? Well, I'm glad you asked.

You can almost see the cogs and gears in the doctor's mind turning over as he contemplates the popularity of Coffin Joe, and how he can use our funereal chum as part of the stimulus for his LSD research. Irresponsible research and not at all in line with the Hippocratic oath? I'll say so. I mean, imagine giving someone a whole bunch of acid and sitting them down to experience The Wizard of Gore? Or The Gore Gore Girls? The results would not be pretty – imagine what the Hell scene in This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse would do to them, just keeping it to the Joe-ster's ouevre. "Four straight-jackets, stat!"

We've seen all of the participants before in the lead up stories to this one, making this the slowest burn film in the history of cinema – why not start here and do their (ir)relevant parts in flashback, I'd like to know? It would've made for a more interesting film. Anyway, the doctor takes them off to a risque play (watching this, I knew there was a reason I stopped going to theatre many years ago), and then a night-club where some of the clientele like to nude up on the dance-floor. He's trying to provoke a resonse from some jaded, not to mention straight, at this point, motherfuckers. It ain't working – and the audience is kind of left thinking, what kind of reputable scientific experiement is this anyhow? If this is meant to be measuring reactions, even negative ones, where are all the machines going "ping!"? And then the doctor does something I just suggested – he takes the folks to see This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. What a rotter – that one's mind-bending enough straight – I'd hate to see what it'd do to anyone on hallucinogens. Of course the bit we see is the lead up to the Hell scene, as Z'e is dragged down to the Underworld by the demon and the corpses of the innocent women he's murdered. And of course, the use of the footage is a good way to pad out the run time - did I type that, or just think it?

So then, having watched Coffin Joe as a little bunch of straighty-180s, the gang have deided that he had the greatest effect on them as a whole, and so the doctor decides for sure that he will be the focus of the experiment, and doses all and sundry up with illegal mind-altering drugs. Let the wig-out commence!

Just as with the Hell sequence in This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse, the trip sequence here is in colour, just to add to the lurid nature of the experience. Don't try watching this outside the context of the film, as it will make even less sense than watching it in the context of the film. It's pretty dated, and some of the more cynical viewers out there might even suggest that it's little better than a vanity reel for Marins, and he gets four awesome psycho-babble rants this time around, albeit brief ones. While some of the imagery is a little bizarre, there's nothing to really make you ask, "What the fuck was that?" as in At Midnight... or This Night... (well, with the possible exception of the Martians – can't afford top notch special effects and need Martians in a hurry? Simple really – dress folks in black sheets, cut out a large hole so that their arses are exposed, and draw faces on their arses; how one of them was managing to smoke, I DON'T want to know), and it certainly lacks any of the violent gore that permeates those two films – violence is present, but it's comparatively tame. This film generally prefers to rattle its cages through sex and drugs and the indivisible links Marins seems to see between the two.

Our four acid-heads come out of their respective trips with their world views equal parts validated and challenged by their glimpse into Coffin Joe's world – lord only knows how that'll help the findings of the good doctor. "Take two tabs, stare at this poster and call me when you have the desire for world domination." I mean, realistically, what did he hope to prove? Ah, but therein lies the twist and the ultimate point of the film – I'll leave that for you to uncover; it is revealed, and it made me see the film in a better light; it's a message I partially at least agreed with.

I'm assuming that Marins set out to make a film that was provocative and confrontational – that's all well and good, but really, first and foremost a director should set out to make a film that is good. A bunch of random images of sex, violence and drugs, not to mention lack-lustre comedy, makes a trailer, not a movie.
The picture is nowhere near as battered as that of the previous two films of Marins' I've watched and is reasonably sharp, presented in a barely widescreen non-anamorphic 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
The score over the opening credits, which are interspersed with shots of a young woman shooting up into her foot, reminded me all too much of black metal freakshow Abruptum, who used to make dissonant noises while seriously torturing each other in the studio, resulting in some pretty fiendish howls. Not what you want to listen to first thing on a Sunday morning with a hangover.
Extra Features
Again, there's a neat 37 page reproduction of an original Coffin Joe comic book (it's one that features briefly in this film, by the way, and has some fine and grisly artwork, especially at it's climax; reminded me of Stuart Simpson's fabbo short film Greedy Guts, but nastier), again concerned with voodoo and curses, this time about a photographer who's too stupid to realise that some folks don't want their photo taken, and again with Coffin Joe as the Cryptkeeper figure, with stills of him narrating the story for the likes of you and I. Not so many boobies this time. There's also the same series of Coffin Joe trailers that we've seen on the two previous discs: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse and Awakening of the Beast.

There is also the bonus of another informative and interesting interview with director Jose Mojica Marins. Now apparently he considers this film to be his greatest achievement, which I whole-heartedly disagree with, and a piece of social commentary, which I won't deny, and goes on to tell us that it was banned by the Brazilian government for over twenty years for being subversive and dangerous, which was a surprise to him, having no interest in politics at all. One part of the shoot was rousted by the Death Squad, members of whom Marins managed to fast-talk into becoming actors and consulatants on the film – it didn't stop him from being arrested after the film was finished. Marins claims: "I never had trouble creating weird scenes." Having just watched three of his films back to back, all I can say to that sentence is, "well, duh." Really? You don't say. An affinity for the weird, huh? Never would have guessed it.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The first half of Awakening of the Beast is frankly awful – archly pretentious and arty, not to mention deathly dull. It picks up once the experiment and its back story appears, but that isn't enough to save it, not in the slightest. Of the films featuring Coffin Joe I've seen, it's far and away the weakest, over-laden with padding of all sorts and well-intentioned but poorly executed social commentary. One for fans only, I'm afraid.

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