The brilliantly titled At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is a very important horror film for a number of reasons. Firstly it marked the debut to feature filmmaking of actor/writer/director Jose Mojica Marins. Marins was able to create a very distinctive visual and thematic universe throughout his career and his preoccupation with exploring religion, poverty, and counter-culture would result in favourable comparisons to that other South American agent provocateur Alejandro Jodorowsky. The quest to bestow the status of auteur on Marins is fraught with difficulty however. His notorious departure into the realm of hardcore pornography in the hard up late 1970’s and 1980’s damages any attempt to romanticise his troubled career. But the films he made featuring the character Coffin Joe are unmistakably his and at least showed that when he had sufficient freedom and funding his world view was imperative to the proceedings.
The controversy generated by the film lies in the blasphemy and casual sadism of Coffin Joe (Jose Mojica Marins). Sporting a black cape, top hat, beard and abnormally long fingernails Joe is the local gravedigger who has the indigenous populace quivering in fear at his every utterance. Joe rejects the doctrines of catholic society and is a figure of revulsion and subversion as a result. This is illustrated early in the film by his gleeful eating of meat on a holy day which precludes such an act. Joe is also resolutely opposed to any notion of the supernatural, and lives his life in a manner according to someone who believes entirely in nature and the flesh. His obsession is the continuation of his blood line which leads to his search for suitable brides. This naturally results in a number of corpses being stacked up in his search. The set piece sequences are boundary pushing and its clear Marins is taking a certain amount of glee in sticking two fingers up at censorship boards and pressure groups. What makes them particularly troubling is the sadistic delight Joe takes in the debasement, cruelty, and torture he makes his victims endure. Joe is further separated from his community by an implied wealth. Confirming that questions of poverty, hunger, and survival are close to the surface. Because he isn’t short of cash Joe doesn’t require the succour of catholic faith and he mercilessly mocks those less fortunate than himself who cling to anything to help them through their difficult lives.