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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Awakening the Beast a.k.a O Ritual dos Sádicos (1969).

Awakening the Beast, the third movie from Brazilian horror legend Jose Mojica Marins, was banned in Brazil for nearly 20 years. Showcasing the extreme end of Marins' experimental horror cinema, the film is an insane, disjointed, dizzying and artistic look into drug culture and how it cannot be blamed for the degradation of society.

The synopsis is frighteningly simple. In the films first portion, which is shot in Black and White, Dr. Sergio appears on television on a panel with three other contemporary psychiatrists. Marins also appears on the panel as an expert in depravity. Dr. Sergio claims that he has conducted experiments on four volunteers, drug addicts whom he gives LSD to in order to reinforce his claim that sexual perversion is caused by the use of drugs. As evidence, he shows a series of documented accounts of drug use which leads to sexual and sometimes disturbing behavior. Dr. Sergio gathers the four volunteers again, and after injecting them with LSD, instructs them to stare at a poster of Jose Mojica Marins 'The Strange World of Coffin Joe'. The film then changes from B&W to color, and each of the patients experience is portrayed in hallucinogenic and surreal ways.

This isn't a movie to enjoy if you like a coherent story. It comes over as an anthology movie based on fetishes and drug use, with the wrap around tale being the psychologists and Marins discussing the effects of LSD. There are some genuinely hard to watch scenes in the movie, but everything is eclipsed by the weirdness the film carries with it. This movie feels like a meeting of Russ Meyer and David Lynch. If you can even begin to imagine just how strange a film made by both of those individuals would be, then you might be able to imagine how strange Awakening the Beast is.

While the string of vignettes showcase perversion well, the imagery in the movie is very well realized. We get Coffin Joe walking down a staircase made of human bodies, and a spider with a full grown woman's head  resting on a giant web. As I said previously, the film is the epitome of weirdness. The ending also came as a huge shock, and speaks Jose Mojica Marins' message loud and clear. Whether you agree with that message or not, is another discussion entirely, but the film certainly managed to throw me off completely with it's final reveal.

Few directors back then, and even now would have the guts to do what Marins did with this film. It is a work of bizarre weirdness and depravity, and there simply isn't anything out there that would even begin to rival this work of genius. I urge any fan of exploitation cinema to see this movie. While arguably a horror film, Awakening the Beast is a shocking, bewildering film that also stands as a social statement. One that defends Mojicas' brand of exploitation cinema to the government who have tried to silence the filmmaker again and again.

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