• Santa Sangre (Severin Films) UHD / Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: April 27th, 2021.
    Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky:
    Cast: Guy Stockwell, Blanca Guerra, Axel Jodorowsky
    Year: 1989
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    Santa Sangre – Movie Review:

    Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre is probably the closest thing to a traditional horror movie that the noted surrealist director/writer/magician has directed to date, though in true Jodorowsky style, it’s hardly a traditional horror movie at all. 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 a young man named 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 mother’s 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 its 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.

    Santa Sangre – UHD/Blu-ray Review:

    Santa Sangre arrives on UHD from Severin Films with a 4k transfer of the original 35mm negative framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p supervised by Alejandro Jodorowsky himself (there is no HDR or Dolby Vision enhancement here). The transfer is, in a word, beautiful. The first thing that you’ll notice is how good the color reproduction is here, it’s a really noticeable improvement over Severin’s Blu-ray release from 2011 (colors on that older release look extremely flat and lifeless by comparison).The primary colors in particular really pop without looking boosted or oversaturated. Detail is really strong as well, in pretty much every shot. You can appreciate the texture in the costumes a lot more here, and the increase depth lets you take in a lot more of the sets and locations used in the production. Black levels are nice and strong, skin tones look lifelike and natural throughout and there aren’t any noticeable issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifact related issues. The image is generally very clean throughout, showing the expected amount of natural film grain but very little actual print damage. Contrast also looks spot on. Severin has done a great job with the transfer.

    Audio options are provided in 24-bit English DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo tracks as well as Spanish and Italian DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with closed caption subtitles that translate the English audio track. Levels seem a little low on the English track but this is easily corrected by turning things up a tad. Unfortunately there is a stretch in the second half of the film where there’s some noticeable sibilance on the English audio. Overall though, the audio is pretty solid here. Boswell’s score has some nice depth to it and once you adjust the volume the levels are generally well balanced. Aside from the sibilance (which seems more common in Blanca’s dialogue than anyone else’s) the track is clean and free of any audible defects. The 5.1 spreads out the score and some of the effects in ways that the 2.0 track obviously can’t, but keeps the dialogue mostly upfront in the mix.

    Extras on the UHD disc start off with a commentary from director Alejandro Jodorowsky, moderated by film journalist Alan Jones. Originally appearing on the Anchor Bay UK two-disc DVD release, this full length running commentary with is 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.

    New Blood – Alejandro Jodorowsky On The restoration of Santa Sangre is a thirty-two-minute documentary that begins with the director's definition of poetry before then allowing him to discuss the differences between making a film for artistic purposes versus commercial purposes, and how surprised he was to see that he finally got to back and see what he'd done with the film while he was working on restoring it. He also covers how the film has no real nationality, the miracles that are inherent in the film, the use of music, how he wound up filming at the house of 'El Indio' Fernandez (a man who had threatened to kill him after the premiere of Fando Y Lis), how he met the famous murderer that inspired him to make the movie, how the film deals with human psychology, producer Claudio Argento's insistence that women be killed in the film, the dubbing in the film, the film's place in Mexican cinema, how his time living and working in the arts in France influenced the movie, working with his family members in the cast of Santa Sangre, his own work in a circus when he was younger and more. Those expecting technical details on the restoration of the film won't find them here, but this does prove to be yet another fascinating interview with the perpetually eccentric Jodorowsky.

    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.

    Rounding out the supplements on the first disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    The extras on disc two, which is a standard region free Blu-ray disc, replicate those found on the UHD disc. That Blu-ray disc offers up a 1080 version of the same new transfer and while it doesn't look as good as the UHD disc does, it's still quite impressive. The audio options appear to be identical on both the UHD and Blu-ray discs included in the set.

    The third disc in the set, also a Blu-ray disc, contains a whole host of additional supplements beginning with the amazing feature length documentary entitled Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World Of Santa Sangre. This 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 (actors Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Elenka Tapia, Teo Tapia, co-writer Roberto Leoni, composer Simon Boswell, tattoo designer Sergio Arau and unit publicist Greg Day) 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.

    Like A Phoenix interviews producer Claudio Argento for thirty-eight-minutes. He starts off by stating that Santa Sangre, despite being considered an Italian production, has nothing in common with Italian cinema. From there, he covers how he and Dario Argento took different paths and how he decided to work with Jodorowsky after his split. He considers the film to be one of the best he's been involved with but did run into problems financing the film. He talks about how he and Robert Leoni had to have Jodorowsky soften the story to make it more viable, what it was like shooting in Mexico and using a lot of locals in the film whenever possible, working with Rene Cardona Jr. on the film and his help assembling the large crew needed for the production, how genuinely revered Jodorowsky was by the Mexican people, Jodorowsky's spiritual side, what the different cast members each brought to their respective roles and plenty more. Lots of great information here and it's interesting to hear about the making of the movie from Argento's point of view.

    Holy Blood interviews cinematographer Danielle Nannuzzi for forty-two-minutes. He talks about how he came to meet Jodorowsky and how they immediately clicked, how nervous he was to work with the man initially and how the director brought him to some challenging places during the shoot. He also notes how the film isn't necessarily meant to portray our reality, how some of the specific scenes were put together, the use of specific colors in the picture and what it was like to work with a crew he describes as 'a crazy bunch.' He also talks about what was changed from the original screenplay, what it was like working in Mexico and some of the extreme poverty that he saw while there, using a jerry-rigged steadicam in one scene for specific effect, memories of some of his favorite scenes from the film and loads more. This is also very interesting and quite worth watching.

    In Mexican Magic we're treated to a thirty-six-minute interview with executive producer Angelo Iacono, who talks about having worked on Argento's Phenomena in Italy before working on some non-Italian films and then starting work on Santa Sangre. He notes how he wanted to go back and work in Mexico, how Claudio Argento brought him on board to help with the production and how he got along with Jodorowsky very well. He also talks about how the film wound up being made in Mexico, working with Cardona Jr., how there was always delicious food on set, getting along with and working with some of the cast members, why they chose not to cast any A-list stars in the movie, the intricacies of the elephant funeral scene and seeing how tragically poor some of the citizens of Mexico City were when shooting it, how fond he became of the dwarf actor who played Aladdin (who was the shortest man in the world), using a real circus for certain scenes, how genuinely lovely all of the extras were to work with, the different skeletons used in parts of the movie and other subjects. Again, this is very interesting stuff and it covers a fair bit of ground that the other supplements do not cover.

    The Language of Editing is a twenty-one-minute interview with editor Mauro Bonanni who talks about how fortuitous it was for him to first meet Jodorowsky before going on to talk about how he loved his earlier films and was amazed to get the chance to work on Santa Sangre thanks to Claudio Argento's involvement. He then goes on to talk about having to prepare to edit the picture, some of the people that he worked with on the project, Jodorowsky's involvement in the editing process, wanting to make sure a healthy working relationship was possible before discussing payment, using methods he first learned while editing
    poliziotteschi films on Santa Sangre, having to get the rhythm just right in some key scenes for them to really have the proper impact and how he feels that Santa Sangre has aged like a fine wine. Again, lots of good info here, it's interesting stuff.

    Screenwriter Roberto Leoni is up next in the twenty-nine-minute Innocence In Horror featurette. He speaks about the power that screenwriters have to manipulate and change the experiences of the audience, what it was like collaborating with Jodorowsky on the writing of the film, where some of the ideas for the story came from as well as where inspiration for some of the movie's key scenes came from and how the story of Santa Sangre came out of his brain and about of Jodorowsky's. He goes on to talk about Jodorowsky's interest in the Tarot, the director's insistence on cooking some of the Italian's on set some pasta, Leoni's insistence that Jodorowsky explain to him the hidden meanings in some of the film so that he could better work on the script, how the movie works on two tracks (innocence and horror), the inspiration of Bunuel and the surrealist movement (the ear scene being cited as an example) and more. Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is another excellent and revealing interview well worth your time.

    The Santa Sangre 30th Anniversary Celebration at Morbido Festival, Mexico City featurette is a ten-minute piece that documents a Q&A with the cast and crew about what it was like working on the film, memories of the shoot, how working in the film was amazing and difficult at the same time, locations that were used and more. From there, we get some quick red carpet type interviews with a few of the cast members and some footage showing a circus performance that was done at the screening as a tribute to the film.

    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.

    The Jodorowsky 2003 Interview featurette is a thirty-three-minute piece shot in English where Jodoworksy talks about making movies outside of the typical American system, how some people see good and evil, literary and artistic influences that have worked their way into his work, his education and studies, his work in different and varied art forms, connecting with Hollywood and his thoughts on the system, how he was able to finance some of his films, some of the meaning behind El Topo and the success of that film, drug use, his relationship with Allen Klein, surrealism, his experiences on Dune, Tusk and The Rainbow Thief, his mime work and more. It's an archival piece, obviously, and it isn't Santa Sangre specific but it is, like most Jodorowsky interviews, quite fascinating.

    Jodorowsky On Stage clocks in at about twenty-six minutes in length. It captures the eccentric on stage (as you’d assume) 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.

    In addition, there’s also a three-minute short film directed by Adan Jodorowsky entitled Echek 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’s weird short film, Blink Jodorowsky, where Jodorowsky basically just blinks in a dimly lit room for two-minutes, is also found on the disc.

    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.

    Finishing up the extras on disc three is a music video for Simon Boswell’s track “Close Your Eyes” along with some nicely designed menus.

    The fourth disc in this collection is the complete Boswell soundtrack included on CD.

    It’s also worth pointing out that Severin has done an excellent job with the packaging on this release. The four discs fit nicely inside a digipak with plastic trays holding each disc in place. The main characters appear on the panel art for each of the opposite disc of the trays. This folds up nicely and fits inside the cover. A collection of eight lobby card reproductions is included inside with the discs, each one postcard sized and printed on thick, glossy cardstock. It’s a very handsome presentation.

    Santa Sangre - The Final Word:

    Santa Sangre is, like most of Jodoworksy’s work, tough to sum up but it’s a beautiful, challenging, moving and at times horrifying picture that defies genre conventions and audience expectations alike. A film like no other, it’s an impressive work of art that rewards repeat viewings and holds up remarkably well. Severin’s UHD/Blu-ray combo release is a thing of beauty, presenting the film in a beautiful presentation and with a massive trove of extra features. Consider this one essential.
    Click on the images below for full sized Santa Sangre Blu-ray screen caps!