"Forget everything you have ever seen": a tag-line that has accompanied this film since its birth. And, it's particularly apt, as Santa Sangre defies categorisation - love story, horror, fantasy.... Alejandro Jodorowski's cult masterpiece encompasses all of those genres, yet ultimately dances to its own unique tune.
We first encounter Fenix (Axel Jodorowski) perched on top of a stunted tree in a sanitarium cell somewhere in Mexico, as staff feed him on raw fish. Flashbacks then introduce a younger Fenix (Adan Jodorowski); Orga, his brutal, womanising father (Stockwell) and religious fanatic mother Contra, (Guerra);a deaf and mute girl (Alma, played in this incarnation by Topia); her mother, The Tatooed Woman (Tixou) and a troupe of clowns who populate the circus owned by Orga. The reasons for Fenix's mental decline soon become apparent: Orga's harsh hands-on approach to his son's upbringing, and his relationship with The Tatooed Woman – which leads to a bloody showdown with Contra - sowed the seeds for disintigration. Now, Fenix breaks free from his shackles, and is re-united with Contra and Alma (now played by Sabrina Dennison) who has grown into a beautiful woman. What follows is, in part, an orgy of bloodshed, orchestrated by a deranged Contra who decrees her son will never have a lover.
Before Jodorowski agreed to direct, the eventual producer – Claudio Argento – declared he wanted a film that featured a serial killer who murdered women. This theme certainly plays a part, drawing invevitable comparisons with the films of Claudio's famous brother. However, Santa Sangre is far more than 112 minutes of giallo-esque slayings. At times, Santa Sangre bears all the trappings of a most tragic opera, with sets and scenes featuring characters who turn imagined haunted arias into words and deeds which lead to death and destruction: Concha's 'Magic Hands' show (recalling the armless Saint she worships); Alama's walk through skeleton-infested streets on The Day Of The Dead; an unbelievable hypnotism scene during which Fenix is ordered to wake his helpless 'assistant'; his 'jailbreak' where mother and son disappear into an eerie mist, and the last 15 minutes of the film where the whole thing threatens to fall apart, but instead reaches almost poetic heights leading to the saddest slice of gallows humour you are ever likely to see.... the whole is a wonderful piece of filmmaking – challenging in the extreme but also the most accessible feature from this marginal director. Kudos must also go out to Guerra – an immensely strong performance – Axel and Adan Jodorowsky, and also to Sabrina Dennison in her feature debut; it's hard to accept that she would never again grace the screen.
It has to be said that Santa Sangre is extremely unpalatable in places. While never gratuitous, the murder scenes still leave an unpleasant taste, and the sight of Downs Syndrome children actively participating in the film will inevitably provoke outrage from some viewers. The latter is defended in a responsible and articulate manner by Jodorowsky during an audio commentary track with Alan Jones, recorded for Anchor Bay's Region 2 DVD. Jones has very few peers as a critic/interviewer, and must be commended for coaxing Jodorowsky into delivering an informative commentary.
Here, we learn about his hatred for actors; why he elected to shoot scenes in order; his original choice for the role of Orga (One shudders to think what would have gone down had D.H. settled for less money), and a string of anecdotes involving John Lennon, Quentin Tarantino and Guy 'Whisky' Stockwell. There's also an interesting comment on possible influences where Jodorowski states that he'd yet to see Tod Browning's The Unknown, prior to shooting this film; a wholly worthwhile connection made by our very own Darrell Buxton, way back in the mists of time.
This has to go down as one of the best commentaries I've heard, moving from humour ("So, you cast with your balls" – a reference to Jodorowski's coments regarding Thelma Tixou's presence in the film) to great sadness when Jones brings up a tragic death which had prevented Jodorowski from re-visiting this film for a period of seven years.
Anchor Bay have also included a generous range of extras on this double-disc package. There's "Echek" – a 2 min 32s short film by Adan, which is beautifully shot and clearly influenced by Santa Sangre, and a Jodorowsky biography penned by David Flint. A poster gallery unveils some stunning artwork from Japan, Italy, France and the UK, and nostalgia buffs will be thrilled by the inclusion of press cuttings from The Guardian, Time Out and.... the badly-missed Samhain magazine: Graham Rae, take a bow wherever you are.
We get the opportunity to witness a deleted scene from Santa Sangre involving a trumpet and a hooker which extends to take in Orgo's in-house hypnotism and knife-throwing course: this scene can be viewed with an audio track where Jodorowsky discusses his reasons for leaving out the footage.
Another bonus is the presence of Louis Mouchet's 86 minute documentary, "La Constellation Jodorowsky". This excellent feature covers Jodorowsky's background in theatre, puppetry and mime; how the infamous 'Panic Movement' came into being; his recollection of projects such as Dune and The Rainbow Thief, and includes footage shot at seminars, lectures and tarot readings (3 cards is all this guy needs..). With contributions from, amongst others, Marcel Marceau and Peter Gabriel, clips from El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Fando And Lis ("a pure piece of art, without any concession"), together with additional information on the Alan Klein/John Lennon connection, "La Constellation" offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of this maverick director.
There's one final extra to tell you about. An onstage interview with Jodorowski, recorded at London's ICA following a rare screening of Santa Sangre. The 24 minutes of excerpts reveal Jodorowski is still hungry to make films, citing a lack of finance as the main reason for long spells away from the directors chair. The likes of Fudoh and The Isle crop up during frequent bursts of animated humour ( a career in stand-up could well beckon), and there are some valuable anecdotes concerning Lennon, Yoko Ono and Claudio Argento.
Those of you with home cinema systems will appreciate the presence of 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital, and as for image quality...Wow!! Quite simply, Santa Sangre looks absolutely ravishing. It's a riot of gorgeous, undistorted colours and helps to install this two-disc treat as an early contender for DVD Of The Year.