• Santa Sangre (Blu-ray)

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: 1/25/2011
    Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky:
    Cast: Guy Stockwell, Blanca Guerra, Axel Jodorowsky
    Year: 1989
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    The Movie:

    Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre is probably the closest thing to a horror movie that the noted surrealist director/writer/magician has directed to date. Produced by Dario Argento’s brother Claudio (who also co-authored the screenplay along with Jodorowsky and Death Walks At Midnight scribe Roberto Leoni), and filmed in Mexico, the film captures an extremely exotic flavor through its use of bold colors and distinct imagery.

    We first meet Fenix (Jodorowsky’s oldest son, Axel), as he is perched atop a tree in a room inside a mental institution. Looking haggard, with his unkempt hair and his bare chest tattooed with a colorful eagle, we have no idea who he is or why he’s there – at least not initially. From here, the film segues through the point of view of an eagle, flying high overtop a distinctly Mexican city, into a prolonged flashback where we learn who Fenix is and how and why he became committed to the institution.

    In his youth, young Fenix (played in these scenes by Jodorowsky’s younger son, Adan) worked as a magician in a circus with his father, a knife thrower named Orgo (Guy Stockwell from Larry Cohen’s killer baby masterpiece, It’s Alive!), and his mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra), who is both a member of the circus and a member of the bizarre religious cult known as Santa Sangre (or, in English, Holy Blood). When a high level Catholic clergy declares their cult to be blasphemous after touring their temple (erected in honor of a woman with no arms, who Blanca declares to be a saint, despite no official sanctimony from the established Church) and dismissing the pool of holy blood as nothing but paint, a bulldozer moves in and destroys it, the cult members enraged.

    Things go from bad to worse for Concha when she finds that Orgo is having a torrid affair with another member of the circus – The Tattooed Lady (the curvaceous Thelma Tixou). She finds out about it the hard way, when during her performance, as she is lifted above the crowed by her hair, she sees them entwined. This causes her to stop her performance and run to them, where he promptly dismisses her. When she discovers it happening again, she douses his crotch with acid, at which point he locks Fenix in the their trailer where the boy watches his father cut off his mother’s arms. Orgo retreats outside the circus, and slits his own throat. When he falls to the ground, the local dogs eat his body, all of this in plain view of his son. And just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, he sees The Tattooed Lady leave the circus post haste with her daughter in tow, the deaf mute Alma, who Fenix loves dearly.

    Cut back to the present day where we see Fenix mingling with the mentally handicapped patients in the institution he has called home for an indefinite amount of time. We also find that Alma has recently escaped from her mother, who was selling her services to the local scumbags claiming ‘you can do whatever you want to her, no one can hear her.’

    When the doctor in charge of Fenix and his fellow patients arranges a trip to the local movie theater, a drug dealer gives them all each a line of cocaine, encouraging those unable to properly decide for themselves to get high. Fenix returns to the hospital and with the help of his armless mother, he escapes and begins to pick up the pieces of his old life. Together they begin performing together at a local burlesque theater where Fenix acts as Concha’s arms. Fenix also seems to be channeling some of Concha’s anger, and their relationship becomes increasingly strange as Fenix, under his mothers control, murders The Tattooed Lady at her request.

    When a stripper who works at the same theater Fenix and Concha do attempts to seduce him, threatening Concha’s control over her son, she too winds up dead, as Fenix reenacts his father’s knife throwing act with her on the board. He buries her, and before covering her with dirt, he paints her corpse white giving her a resemblance of sorts to the way that Alma looked when he knew her back at the circus in his childhood. Anyone else who gets in the way of Concha’s control over her son also winds up dead, including a very manly female luchadore (masked Mexican wrestler) that Fenix becomes inexplicably smitten with.

    Far more conventional than his better known earlier efforts - Fando Y Lis, El Topo and The Holy Mountain - Jodorowsky still works his bizarre touches into the film – though this time it’s more subtle, and in many ways, more effective than in his earlier films. His trademark shock imagery is on parade once more, as in amongst the colors of the circus in which Fenix grows up we witness a dying elephant vomiting blood and writhing in its own feces (the poor beast is later sent down the cliff to the area where the poor inhabitants of the city live, so that they can feast on it’s corpse), we see Orgo tattoo his son using a knife, and of course, the amputation of Concha’s arms and Orgo’s resulting suicide. Also rather odd is the sight of seeing actual Down Syndrome sufferers being subjected to snorting cocaine – a truly unusual image that is a little difficult to forget but one which is in keeping with the director’s earlier use of the disabled in his films. Furthering this cause is the presence of Fenix’s assistant, a midget who accompanies him both in his days at the circus and in his exploits that occur once he’s out of the asylum.

    Thought it’s easier to follow than some of his films, at least in a narrative sense (the story is actually pretty straight forward), Jodorowsky still leaves plenty of opportunity for the viewer to develop his or her own theories as to what all the symbolism in the film is representative of (though in the commentary, he states that everything in the movie is symbolic of whatever the viewer decides it is – something he has said numerous times before about Santa Sangre and his other films as well). The aforementioned elephants, the bird imagery, the painting of the corpse, the costumes, the cult of Santa Sangre – these nuances in the film are all worthy of some thought and examination both during and after the film.

    Simon Boswell’s eclectic musical score accompanies the breathtaking cinematography that comes courtesy of Daniele Nannuzzi, which is, quite simply, beautiful. It is as if every frame of the film was perfectly constructed in terms of composition and color scheme and there was obviously quite a bit of attention and care put into the film’s intended look. The film is, even at its most shocking and grotesque, a truly beautiful work of art, even if it quite obviously borrows not just from Bunuel and Fellini but from Hitchcock as well.

    Performances are sufficiently oddball in the film. Axel Jodorowsky does an admirable job conveying a wide range of emotions, and surprisingly enough, so does his younger brother. In their shared role, they make the viewer care about Fenix, even if we know what he’s doing is wrong. Guerra as Concha is perfectly cold and calculating in her part, and while at times we sympathize with her character (when Orgo is cheating on her), it’s ultimately hard to feel sorry for her once the last half of the film picks up. Her manipulative mother is simultaneously tragic and sinister, and in many ways just as reprehensible as her husband Ogro, played with piggish qualities by Stockwell.


    Severin’s new 1.85.1 AVC encoded high definition widescreen transfer is a pretty impressive improvement over Anchor Bay Entertainment UK’s standard definition release. Colors are far more natural and there are no problems with compression artifacts to complain about. Print damage is rare, and the image is strong, clean and stable throughout. Certain scenes have a slight haziness to them but the film has always looked this way. Skin tones are nice and natural looking and detail and texture are both considerably more impressive than they’ve been before. There are no obvious instances of pesky digital noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about and generally this is a very strong representation of some quirky looking source material.

    Though the packaging states that the disc has an English 2.0 Stereo mix, it’s actually got a DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix, so there is a lossless option here and thankfully it’s quite a good one. There’s some strong channel separation throughout that makes good use of the left and right speakers while the levels remain well balanced throughout. Simon Boswell’s score has power and strength behind it so that it really does a fine job of accenting the horror and emotion of the film when needed. Spanish and Italian language Dolby Digital Mono tracks are also included and the disc has optional English subtitles available.

    Carried over from the Anchor Bay UK DVD (among other things) is a full length running commentary with director Alejandro Jodorowsky, moderated by film journalist Alan Jones. It's a fascinating listen as Jodrowsky discusses all manner of aspects of the film. Jones does an admirable job of keeping the eccentric director in check and tries to keep things from straying too far off topic, and meets with moderate success. Jodrowsky’s commentaries are always interesting and this one is no exception as he speaks about his influences, both cinematic and theological, and discusses working with his sons and the different collaborators involved in this project.

    Exclusive to this Severin release is an amazing feature length documentary entitled Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World Of Santa Sangre, which is a ninety-seven minute seven part documentary that explores different aspects of the film, from Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking to his time in Mexico to how and why he chose to base so much of this film around a circus. He speaks about Thelma Tixou, who is also interviewed (look for some great stills taken when she was a dancer in Mexico) about her part in the film, and he talks about… pretty much everything you could want him to. The involvement of a few other cast and crew members helps to round this out as does the generous selection of stills and clips used to illustrate various points throughout. All in all, a very well made piece and quite an informative one at that.

    For One Week Only: Alejendro Jodorowsky Courtesy Of Channel X Ltd. is a documentary made in 1990 for British television that covers the director’s work. At thirty two minutes it too is quite detailed and while it covers some of the same ground as the lengthier featurette, it’s nice to see it included here and host Jonathan Ross does a good job of peeling back some of the layers of the director’s work and explaining his importance and his appeal. Also quite interesting is an eighteen minute piece called Goyo Cardenas Spree Killer, which is a documentary on the real life crimes of a serial killer who inspired Jodorowsky to make Santa Sangre. Cardenas killed some prostitutes in the forties, was locked up in prison, escaped and then made a name for himself in the media. Jodorowsky met him in a bar and Santa Sangre was born.

    Want more? Simon Boswell Interviews Jodorowsky is an eight minute interview in which the composer of the film’s score picks the director’s brain, delving into his comic book work and his thoughts on the Tarot, while the 2003 Interview With Jodorowsky is a good half hour of input from the man about the Hollywood system, his own beliefs when it comes to filmmaking, his directorial style and his influences.

    In addition, there’s also a short film directed by Adan Jodorowsky entitled Echek (2:32 in length!) included here as well, and it comes with an optional commentary track. It’s a playful silent film that includes some text in French only that covers the tale of a strongman who sets out to win the heart of a beautiful woman by moving the Eiffel Tower. Simon Boswell also contributes a short film called Blink Jodorowsky, which is quite literally a couple of minutes of Jodorowsky blinking. Odd, that one.

    Jodorowsky On Stage was produced by Blue Underground and clocks in at about twenty-four minutes in length. It captures the eccentric, well, on stage after a screening of Santa Sangre from 2002 in London, England. It’s essentially a lively question and answer session, with Jodorowsky fielding questions from audience members and discussing current popular cinema, his hatred of Quentin Tarantino, and his older films like El Topo.

    A couple of deleted scenes from Santa Sangre can be found, presented without sound (as it was never included and therefore never dubbed), and instead another Jodorowsky commentary is included where he discusses why the scenes were excised from the final cut of the film. A Simon Boswell music video for the song Close Your Eyes, a still gallery and trailers for both the feature and a few other Severin properties round out the disc. You really couldn’t ask for a better supplemental package than the one that Severin has supplied here.

    The Final Word:

    Severin really has rolled out the red carpet for this release, giving the film the treatment it deserves with excellent audio and video quality and a massive array of extras both interesting and informative. The film itself holds up as a fantastic piece of work and this Blu-ray debut absolutely does the film and its director justice. Amazing stuff.
    Click the screen caps below for high res Blu-ray captures!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Goldberg's Avatar
      Goldberg -
      This looks fruckn AWESOME! I'll hafta wait until another DDD sale to buy it! How are you taking HD screen shots?
    1. Gory's Avatar
      Gory -
      I haven't seen this one but it looks great. I think it's worth making the blind buy. Great review Ian!
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Thanks, it's worth every penny.