Friday, November 10, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Brazilian Bloodbath

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Brazilian directors bring horrific urban legends to the screen.


I have been following the career of Brazilian genre filmmaker Rodrigo Aragão for a few years now, and thanks to my Remake Comparison co-writer Priscilla, who lives in Brazil, I have managed to get region free copies of all of his movies - a couple of them directly from Aragão himself. His first feature was Mangue Negro, a.k.a. Mud Zombies, and he has since followed that with A Noite do Chupacabras (The Night of the Chupacabras), Mar Negro (Dark Sea), and this movie, As Fábulas Negras, which shares its name with Aragão's production company.

As Fábulas Negras, or The Black Fables, is an anthology film based on stories from Brazilian folklore, and Aragão recruited other Brazilian filmmakers to direct the different segments. Aragão himself directed two segments, while the other three were directed by Petter Baiestorf, Joel Caetano, and the legendary José Mojica Marins. Also known as Coffin Joe, Marins was the director of the first horror movie ever made in Brazil, 1964's At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul.

The wrap-around story holding all of the segments together involves a group of young boys who have gone out into the wilderness to play superheroes. Taking a break from the play fighting, the boys tell each other scary stories... starting with Aragão's segment O Monstro do Esgoto, or Monster of the Sewer.

Aragão's films tend to have some kind of environment element to them, and Monster of the Sewer is no different. Breaking away from the concept of the stories being based on folklore, this is actually an original tale - one about an unscrupulous mayor who has his city's sewer lines routed into a protected mangrove rather than a treatment plant. When the streets start flooding with sewage, it won't be his problem. It's an election year and he has reached his term limit.

There is a monster in the sewer, and the sewage being dumped in his yard does turn one resident into a diseased madman, but Aragão's main purpose here is to satirize Brazilian bureaucracy, as the man has to call department after department trying to get the sewage issue dealt with while he gradually succumbs to his infection. You'll appreciate this segment more if you've experienced being given the run-around by officials, or have witnessed someone being given the run-around.

The second segment is Petter Baiestorf's Pampa Feroz, or Fierce Plains, and this one is based on folklore - it's the story of the Lobisomem. The Brazilian version of a werewolf.

Although Baiestorf has been directing for more than twenty years and has more than twenty credits to his name, this anthology story was my introduction to his work, and I was impressed by it. Baiestorf crafted an interesting story about werewolf attacks stirring up violent paranoia among people in the remote countryside. When the werewolf isn't tearing people apart, the people are murdering and torturing other people they think are responsible for the deaths.

The werewolf in question looks pretty cool, although the design of its face made me think of the cancerous facial tumors tasmanian devils have been afflicted with in recent years. This is one of those strange instances where the werewolf sheds its entire skin during transformations - when the creature reverts to its human form, the werewolf body collapses to the ground and the human body comes crawling out of it, almost like a grotesque birth. This leaves a pile of bloody werewolf skin on the ground... I've never been able to wrap my head around this sort of transformation. I prefer when the body itself transforms and then goes back to normal. The idea of leaving bloody skins behind all the time is just too much of a logic leap for me.

That's the sort of thing that runs through my head whenever I watch werewolves, so I enjoyed the fact that the kids telling the stories argue over how werewolves transform after the story ends, before they start telling the next tale.

That next tale is José Mojica Marins' O Saci, the segment of the film that is likely to draw horror fans to As Fábulas Negras even if they're not familiar with any of the other actors involved.

There is no translation for O Saci other than The Saci, because "Saci" is the name of the sort of creature this story deals with, a specifically Brazilian character. The Saci is sort of like a one-legged leprechaun; if you capture it it will grant you wishes, but you have to be careful because it's a potentially dangerous prankster. Anything that goes wrong in a person's life can be blamed on the Saci.

O Saci is directly connected to Pampa Feroz through the inclusion of a voodoo-practicing character called Father Pedro and played by Aragão regular Markus Konká - and even though O Saci follows Pampa Feroz in the structure of the film, the events clearly take place at an earlier point in time, given what happens to Father Pedro in the werewolf story. There's some Pulp Fiction structuring going on in here.

The wish-granting aspect of the Saci isn't on display in this story, but the cackling little thing certainly causes some mischief. Aragão's own daughter Carol Aragão plays the lead character, a young girl who is so troubled after running into the Saci in the forest that her parents call for an exorcism. Marins steps in front of the camera to play the priest, still sporting his trademark long nails.

Clocking it at 21 minutes, Joel Caetano's Loira do Banheiro (Blonde of the Bathroom, or as the subtitles translate it, Bloody Blonde) is the longest segment of the film. It's set at a boarding school that's haunted by a ghostly blonde. That's what the legendary loira do banheiro does, she haunts bathrooms at schools. When students in this haunted school turn up dead, the headmistress just buries them on school grounds without notifying anybody... and this isn't the only terrible thing she's done while running this school. The blonde ghost here has a back story and a purpose for haunting this place.

Not only is Loira do Banheiro the longest segment, it's also the darkest and grossest. I found it to be kind of unpleasant to get through, but it is interesting and well shot.

Walking through the forest while telling their stories, the children of the wrap-around segment have found themselves outside a rundown, abandoned old house, and this house - in better days - is the setting of the final story, Aragão's second segment, Casa de Iara. Iara's House.

Kika Oliveira of Mangue Negro, A Noite do Chupacabras, and Mar Negro is Iara, a woman who kills her adulterous husband and his lover and then hooks up with some kind of horned, demonic creature. It is said that Iara still resides within her crumbling home, only leaving at night.

This story is a departure from the Iara of legend, which is a mermaid/siren-like creature. Iara does kill her husband's lover in the water, but she's not a mermaid. She's just a woman scorned. With a connection to a demon.

One of the kids is locked inside Iara's house by his friends as a prank, and he soons finds out whether or not any of the stories that were told had any truth to them.

As Fábulas Negras is a really fun anthology overall; I like the idea of filmmakers from a certain country teaming up to bring some of their homeland's most popular folklore horror stories to the screen (even if those legends were tweaked a bit here). I'd be down to watch anthologies like this from countries all over the world, but I'm especially intrigued by this movie because it's Brazilian and I have a special connection to Brazil. Although I've been there several times now, I'm still fascinated by the place and am always trying to learn more about it. A movie like As Fábulas Negras I find to be both entertaining and educational, as it has taught me about things like the Lobisomem, the Saci, the Loira do Banheiro, and Iara.

With this anthology, Aragão has contributed another solid film to the horror genre and ensured that I will continue following his career and watching his movies.

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