Dir. José Mojica Marins
After the success of Coffin Joe’s first outing, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, his creator José Mojica Marins (who also portrays him onscreen) decided to resurrect him for further misadventures. This Night picks up straight after the events of At Midnight, as it is revealed that Joe didn’t actually die in the crypt, though he was severely wounded and traumatised by his ordeal. Soon after he is released from hospital and acquitted of his crimes due to lack of evidence, and he’s up to his old tricks again, kidnapping a slew of beautiful women and subjecting them to horrific tortures in order to find a woman worthy of bearing his child.
Made four years after At Midnight, what is immediately obvious about This Night is how much Mojica Marins has honed his skills as a filmmaker. Technically speaking, this film is more accomplished than its predecessor, the script is tighter, the pace more fluid and it is much more visually appealing - moody lighting and black and white photography render This Night a striking, gothic-drenched trip. In terms of onscreen sadism and the depiction of Coffin Joe’s gradual psychological deterioration, this one really ups the ante, too. What is also surprising is the further characterisation afforded Joe. Here, his sinister charm and mischievous charisma arguably pre-empt that of one Freddy Kreuger. This isn’t to say that Joe spouts dreadful puns as he offs his victims, but he certainly emerges to form a fully fleshed out anti-hero we sorta kinda love to hate. Joe is a monster who is all too human. Further adding complex flesh to his bones is the scene in which he saves a young child from being knocked down. Joe’s touching affinity with youngsters is short lived though as he soon quips that they grow up to be idiots.
As soon as he is released from custody, he and his hunchbacked manservant Bruno (!) set about abducting women from the town. Soon after he explains his diabolical scheme to the scantily clad ladies, Joe unleashes a horde of large tarantulas into the rather tastefully decorated boudoir where his sleeping beauties soundly slumber. The elegantly lensed shots of sleeping maidens, resplendent in diaphanous nightgowns no less, juxtaposed with the unnerving sight of large spiders creeping into the room lends proceedings a sort of morbid giddiness. There is something quite juvenile, comical even, about the notion of a self-righteous little man with fiendish fingernails and a bad attitude who terrorises captive lovelies with big spiders. This is a well handled scene though, as the mounting terror of the women and the sheer abundance of arachnids becomes quite unsettling. This set piece eventually bleeds into a much darker moment as Joe and his chosen bride copulate to the screaming of the unsuccessful Mrs Coffin candidates, who are chucked into a pit with writhing snakes. Nice. Another vilely sadistic and uncomfortable scene unfolds as Joe ridicules his bride’s brother, strapping him under a large boulder and urging him to pray for help. The scene ends with the man’s head crushed under the rock…
The final scenes set in a studio-bound swamp and mist enshrouded forest, are draped with a heavy gothic feel. The use of religious symbolism in these moments recalls the expressionistic leanings of earlier Universal horror films. Also echoing classic Universal horror flicks is the revelation of Joe’s mad-scientist laboratory complete with hunchback assistant! While no less raw than the first outing, the climax of This Night packs a much stronger punch as Joe is pursued into the swamps by angry villagers and slowly drowns as he adamantly denounces God.
This Night was described by the Aurum Encyclopaedia of Horror as “an endless orgy of gore and torture, which produces the occasional surreal scene but more often leaves an impression of a very sick man’s home movies.”
Coffin Joe may be a crazed madman, but his creator José Mojica Marins is surely a unique, visionary director and one who has exhibited a singular vision quite unlike anything else that exists in the realms of horror cinema. He is a vastly underrated master of the macabre and This Night is surely one of the most bizarre, wonderfully deranged and unconventional horror films you’re ever likely to see.