Friday, September 11, 2009

Hellish Flesh

(Brazil, 1977, 85 min.)

Starring José Mojica Marins, Luely Figueiró, Oswaldo De Souza, Lirio Bertelli, Helena Ramos.

Screenplay by Rubens Francisco Luchetti from a story by José Mojica Marins,

Directed by José Mojica Marins.

This is a movie about a scream. And I wish I meant that in the poetic, critically analytical way that it sounds, but, no, I’m being literal. The scream of one of the characters is featured in so many scenes, it practically deserves a cast credit of its own. That scream belongs to Dr. Jorge Medeiros (writer/director/producer Marins, best known for his Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe) movies, about a weird sort of anti-hero who revels in the philosophy as well as the practice of evil). Dr. Medeiros is a scientist who dabbles in acid, the kind that makes things dissolve as opposed to the kind that just makes things look like they’re dissolving. One night he sees his wife Raquel (Figueiró) off to a concert she’s attending with their friend Oliver (De Souza), expressing his regret that he can’t take her himself, or for that matter that he can’t seem to take her anywhere, owing to his “experiences.” Raquel herself mentions that she’s gotten used to not seeing him much owing to the importance of his “experiences.” I have to admit I was beginning to wonder why they couldn’t ever share these “experiences,” but then I’m no expert on marriage.

It is revealed soon after that Raquel and Oliver are more than friends – much, much more. It was also revealed around this time that, as I had begun to suspect, the English subtitles were not translated by a native speaker. The “experiences” that kept being mentioned were in fact Jorge’s experiments, most of which seem to involve him putting his face as close as possible to his test tubes. This production error turned out to be somewhat par for the course as numerous typos appeared throughout, and, as with the “experiences,” the occasional flagrant mistranslation. This had the distracting effect of causing my brain to spontaneously make up its own Malapropian subtitles for the ones they got right, my favorite example being Raquel telling the police on the phone that, “There’s been an applesauce at my husband’s leg!”

Which brings us to what happens next. Raquel and Oliver have decided that they can’t stand the situation anymore, the situation being the two of them sneaking around behind the back of what appears to be a perfectly nice man, albeit one with Marins’ trademark creepy-ass affectations, including the long, curly fingernails he always sports. The two philanderers want to eliminate Jorge and live off his fortune, so they come up with a cunning plan. Well, a plan anyway. The whole thing seems to be that Raquel will go into Jorge’s leg- I mean, lab, and throw acid in his face while Oliver fixes them drinks. This doesn’t kill him immediately and he ends up thrashing around screaming at the top of his lungs. Raquel is quite put off by the noise, so Oliver puts down his caipirinha and goes to set the lab on fire, which is when Raquel calls the cops to report the applesauce. I mean- you know what I mean.

Problem for them is, Jorge is one tough bastard and despite the acid and the fire, he still doesn’t die. Raquel and Oliver decide to run off with what money is on hand, while Jorge undergoes facial reconstruction, which brings us a sequence that alternates shots of the two of them dining with footage of what appears to be genuine eye surgery, decidedly upping the ick factor. Jorge is now confined to wearing a mask to hide his injuries and yet he employs a policeman friend of his (Bertelli) not only to keep tabs on Raquel to make sure she’s safe but also to bring her whatever money she needs. And she needs a lot since Jorge’s survival means she isn’t inheriting anything and slacker Oliver is burning through what they stole like, well, like acid through the flesh of an unsuspecting scientist.

Yeah, that had to hurt. But just in case you weren’t able to figure that out for yourself, Marins drives the point home by having the memory of Jorge’s screams piped in to scene after scene after scene. He does use it to interesting effect in one moment late in the film, that is if I’m reading his intentions correctly, but much of the time it mostly serves as a reminder that Marins is rarely hesitant to lay it on as thick as frosting. But at least here it’s somewhat clearer as to what ends. Unlike the Coffin Joe films I’ve seen, which play like twisted carnival shows either repudiating or affirming Catholic belief depending on where you come in, Hellish Flesh, made with only touches of the hallucinatory vibe Marins loves to employ, is kind of like a telenovela version of an EC Comics horror story, narratives gruesome and lurid enough to blind more censorious types to the fact that what they were witnessing were morality plays. Not a perfect description of the brain-scrambling films that Marins makes, but damn close when to comes to Hellish Flesh.


Blogger Cliffie, The Lemming Girl said...

Reminds me of a certain Spanish-language film in which the werewolf is marked pver his heart, not with a pentaGRAM, but with a pentaGON.

5:57 AM  

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