"I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs" - Alejandro Jodorowsky
I suspect that artists welcome positive or negative reactions to their work regardless of the outcome. As long as they receive a reaction rather than pure indifference. And make no mistake about it, this is a body of work by an artist. Don't be put off by the "artist" description, this hugely entertaining Alejandro Jodorowsky film was commissioned by Claudio Argento (Dario's producer brother) as a horror or at least a film containing the violent murders of women. Claudio gave Jodorowsky complete control over this project. It's tough to review a film like this without mentioning significant spoilers. And I would hate to merely provide a spoiler ridden film analysis instead of a thumbs up or down.
Santa Sangre stars Alejandro's son, Axel Jodorowsky who gives a brilliant performance in a role that he spent a staggering 3 years preparing for (training with the famous mime artist Marcel Marceau). Axel plays Fenix, the son of circus performers with a tattoo of an eagle displayed across his chest. Fenix is currently held in an asylum where he imitates the actions and behaviour of a bird rather than a man!
A lengthy flashback shows us how Fenix came to be this way before we see him escaping into the outside world after breaking his odd bird mindset. When Fenix escapes and is re-united with his mother (whose arms were sliced off by his adulterous knife throwing performer father many years ago), they embark upon a murderous spree. Sounds odd eh? Trust me, it is...but fabulous.
The film contains numerous and incredible visual set piece moments. The sequence where a backlit Fenix walks into a deserted theatre to rendezvous with a stripper set to Simon Boswell's impressive score or the extremely brutal knife murder of a former acquaintance from the circus were probably my two favourite moments. But it's so hard to choose!
At times, the symbolism of this abstract horror is easy to follow (for example, the hallucination of a very large python emerging from Fenix's trousers when he is aroused) but sometimes, it's too abstract for me to understand. That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch or experience though. And it's certainly not off-putting plot-wise either.
Alejandro's use of a real deaf-mute actress, down syndrome adolescents (plotwise, they're given cocaine and a sex session with a fat prostitute!), prostitutes, drag queens and people with real deformities might be distasteful to some but I didn't have a problem with it. Is it exploitation? Not really, it just adds a touch of realism, I seriously doubt that anyone here was forced to do something against their wishes.
There are also digs at religion which could quite possibly offend some viewers. A catholic priest flatly rejects a cult's "holy blood" as merely paint (whilst presumably not having a problem with the wine and crackers symbolising the blood and body of Christ in his own faith), and we also see Fenix dressed up as Christ surrounded by scores of chickens in one bizarre hallucinatory scene.
Take my word for it, this is one of the most unusual, brilliant, visually based, dreamlike, violent films that I have ever seen. And definitely the most unusual horror film in my collection. I haven't seen anything like this since I discovered Dario Argento and Michele Soavi. Fans of the euro horror genre should make this an essential buy for their collection.
Whilst the film is certainly not packed with gore sequences, there are some excessively violent deaths that easily earn the film a high gore rating. Oh, and the film also has a very healthy sense of humour which is always appreciated by me! Santa Sangre certainly lives up to its reputation, this is an all time cult classic of the genre. Kudos to Anchor Bay UK for seizing the opportunity to unleash it on a DVD, and AB UK have even released this as a two disc set with great extras.
The anamorphic picture quality of the widescreen print is very good indeed!! Rich colours, sharp and clear images and with little or no signs of any damage. Sadly the 5.1 audio is pretty non-existent, there's just a lazy slight transference of the sound from front to rear. It's so bland and un-noticeable, that you might as well just keep the sound on 2.0 Dolby, you certainly won't hear much difference (if any). So Santa Sangre has great picture quality but only 2.0 sound really, don't be fooled by the claim on the packaging.
The print quality and extras make this a fabulous release from AB UK. We receive:
- A wonderfully entertaining commentary track from Alejandro Jodorowsky and journalist fanboy Alan Jones.
- A short film (4 mins) called "Echek" directed by one of Jodorowsky's sons with an optional commentary by Alejandro.
- A four and a half min deleted scene (without sound) with commentary from Alejandro and Alan.
- An excellent 87 minute French documentary (subtitled) featuring a lot of Alejandro explaining his work and attitudes to life, together with contributions from Marcel Marceau, Peter Gabriel, and comic book artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud amongst others. It also has clips from Alejandro's other films (some of which are still unavailable) and from his early work in the mime profession.
- A 25 minute interview and discussion with the likeable and charismatic Alejandro after a screening of Santa Sangre in London. This is a lot of fun! The director discusses himself and numerous other directors and films - from Evil Dead to Starship Troopers, from Tarantino to Takashii Mike.
- A Jodorowsky biography by David Flint, a stills gallery containing posters and press cuttings, and animated menus.
AB UK's Santa Sangre is a prime candidate for the DVD release of the year! Multi-region DVD owners from around the globe and UK residents who love the more unusual side of the horror genre should make this an essential purchase. Other than the 2.0 sound only (that 5.1 mention is a wind-up), I can't fault this two disc set or the film itself. Excellent.