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Awakening of the Beast
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Awakening of the Beast (1970)

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Plot Summary:
"Psychiatrist experiments LSD on 4 volunteers, to investigate Coffin Joe's influence over them. Each patient presents a different reaction, involving sex, perversion and sadism."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 17 October 2011 My Rating: out of 5


Working somewhere in between mockumentary and horror anthology this film deals with several tales of moral depravity and drug-taking. The most important is the final one in which a psychiatrist conducts tests on a group of volunteers who are administered LSD, and shown the films of Jose Mojica Marins and his blaspheming villain character Zé do Caixao. The mixture of hallucinogenic drugs and nightmarish horror imagery seems to terrorise the test subjects.

This bizarro, ultimately unsuccessful 1969 offering (but only released in the 90s after long being banned) from cult Brazilian filmmaker Jose Mojica Marins really only has loose association with the so-called ‘Coffin Joe’ (Zé do Caixao) series that first introduced us to Marins’ mesmerising Zé do Caixao character (beginning with the excellent “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” and followed by the exceptionally weird “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse”). As a curio, it’s interesting, but not exactly ‘fun’ in any sense that I personally recognise. I don’t regret having seen it, but I don’t think I’ll be watching it again, either.

It’s strangely watchable in a sleazy (yet somewhat chaste by today’s standards) way, but I just don’t share Marins’ seeming panty-sniffing perversion, I’m afraid, and the film doesn’t really work. The wraparound scenes where Marins (essentially as himself) discusses the backlash against the films with critics take too long to be woven into the rest of the film (which is a very loose anthology), and it’s annoying given how brief these wraparound scenes actually are. For the longest time it doesn’t make much sense how the LSD stuff is related to the wraparound scenes, and even by the end I felt like Marins was trying to shoehorn criticism about his films into an LSD film. Rather than a debate about the effects of violent films on people, it seemed more like a self-indulgent, self-serving rebuttal/whinge session masquerading as a legit feature film.

Like I said, it has a curio factor (especially for Marins fans), but poorly done and not especially ‘fun’ or shocking. Brazilians, on the evidence of this film, have some very strange and curiously juvenile fetishes like kicking women in the behind and sniffing underwear. I just wish these fetishes were entertaining to me, but largely they aren’t. The constant moaning and screaming doesn’t help, I mean, it’s not a porno, Jose! They’re not even especially kinky, certainly nothing like the ‘wild orgy’ alluded to in the film. Yes, there’s a woman being violated with a stuck and a scene where smoke comes out of bottom cheeks with faces painted on them, but that last one is more WTF than kinky (I’ve heard Marins say that the painted faces were meant to be a cheap way to create ‘Martians’. What, from the planet Uranus?). I really didn’t know what to make of it at times, nor will most other viewers.

The camerawork is good, with some inventive angles and shots for an obviously ultra low-budget film. There is some nice composition and a lovely mixture of expressionistic lighting and technicolour weirdness (the film is in both B&W and colour at different stages).

The title is certainly pretty clever, but overall, this isn’t especially well-done and seems to be a private joke by Marins himself. I’m not sure if it’s anything more than a curio at best.

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