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Release Date(s)1989 (January 25, 2011)
Since starting the JET’s Most Wanted project on the Electric Theatre’s Facebook page, I’ve covered a wide spectrum of orphaned movies not yet released on disc. We’ve had everything from silent classics to Oscar winners to direct-to-video schlock. And while I believe every one of these deserves to be released, I will be the first to admit that some of these films are more deserving of a first-class treatment than others. It seems highly unlikely that the 1982 Gary Coleman vehicle Jimmy the Kid will be getting a special edition Blu-ray release any time soon.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre is one of the Most Wanted picks I felt did deserve the royal treatment, so when Severin announced they’d finally be releasing it, I set my standards high. Fortunately, they did too. This is a wonderful release and an early frontrunner as one of the ten best discs of 2011.
Santa Sangre was my introduction to the work of Jodorowsky. Back in the early 90s, his earlier films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain were extremely difficult to see. I had no idea what to expect but it became one of those rare films that sears itself into your mind’s eye. The story itself is relatively straightforward. Fenix (played as a child by Adan Jodorowsky) grows up in a circus with his alcoholic father (Guy Stockwell) and religious zealot mother (Blanca Guerra), his only friend the deaf-mute daughter of the Tattooed Woman (Thelma Tixou). His mother catches dad cheating on her with the Tattooed Woman and exacts a grisly revenge. Furious, Stockwell cuts off her arms before taking his own life. Fenix spends the next decade in a mental institution, now played by another of Jodorowsky’s sons, Axel. When his armless mother reappears, Fenix escapes. The two start a new act with Fenix acting as his mother’s arms... a role that he comes to embody completely.
As with most of Jodorowsky’s films, the actual story is less important than the way in which it’s told. Imagine Federico Fellini, Luis Bunuel, David Lynch and Dario Argento going on a mescaline bender in Mexico and dreaming up a movie and you’ve got a decent jumping off point for Santa Sangre. The film is overflowing with sights and sounds the likes of which you’ve never experienced before and likely never will again. There is a power at work in some of these images that I would say is close to magic. Jodorowsky seems less like a filmmaker than a magus casting a spell. Like all spells, it will not work on everyone. If it does, you’ll find Santa Sangre to be a haunting, transcendent work of art. If it doesn’t, you’ll be shocked, possibly offended and tempted to dismiss the whole thing as pretentious drivel. Make no mistake, Jodorowsky is a polarizing filmmaker. Love it or hate it, you’ll absolutely have a strong visceral reaction to Santa Sangre.
Severin’s long-awaited release comes as either a two-disc DVD or a single-disc Blu-ray. The image looks spectacular in high-definition. The print is in remarkably good condition, clear and vibrant, with a respectful digital transfer that keeps the tactile details intact. English-language audio is presented in a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track (Italian 2.0 and Spanish mono options are also provided) that presents the soundtrack as it was originally intended.
As for extra features, Severin went the extra mile with this release, starting with a terrific new audio commentary by Jodorowsky and journalist Alan Jones. Clocking in at over 90 minutes, the documentary Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre does a thorough job illuminating the production with interviews with key crew members and surviving cast members. I was also delighted by the inclusion of a 1990 episode of Jonathan Ross’ Channel 4 series For One Week Only (slightly altered for copyright reasons, presumably excising clips from El Topo and The Holy Mountain). The episode covers Jodorowsky’s entire career, including interviews with Dennis Hopper, Marcel Marceau, Jean “Moebius” Giraud (who discusses his involvement in Jodorowsky’s legendary failed attempt to film Dune), and Omar Sharif on the set of Jodorowsky’s last movie to date, The Rainbow Thief.
The extras don’t end there. You also get a fascinating featurette about Goyo Cardenas, the Mexican serial killer whose chance meeting with Jodorowsky inspired Santa Sangre. There are additional interviews with Jodorowsky, including an on-stage Q&A from a 2002 screening of Santa Sangre in London, a 2003 interview, and an unusual but somewhat chatty and informal interview conducted by composer Simon Boswell. There are also a few experimental short films: Boswell’s Blink and the music video Close Your Eyes, as well as Adan Jodorowsky’s first film Echek (with a warm audio commentary by his dad). Finally, there are a few deleted scenes (also with commentary by Jodorowsky and Jones), two theatrical trailers and a handful of trailers from other current and upcoming Severin releases, including Roman Polanski’s What? (which I didn’t even realize they were working on).
It’s always exciting when a personal “holy grail” movie receives its long-overdue release but it’s even more thrilling when it’s treated with such care. With catalog announcements in steep decline, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who fondly remembers these unfairly forgotten movies. With their lavish release of Santa Sangre, Severin has insured that the cult for this unforgettable film will continue to grow for years and years to come. It’s the company’s best release to date and another reason to believe the DVD/BD industry still has some surprises left in it.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke