In 1942, Goyo Cárdenas went on a killing spree, taking the lives of four teenage women, three of whom were underage prostitutes. After stabbing his victims to death, Cárdenas bound the girls’ wrists and ankles, placed their underwear over their faces and buried their bodies in his backyard, one on top of the other. It was shortly after disposing of his fourth victim that police caught Cárdenas, when investigating officers found body parts sticking up from the ground in his backyard. Committed to an asylum, Cárdenas quickly became a psychological and media darling, as both newspapers and psychologists studied Goyo in hopes of uncovering a reason for his actions. Goyo would continue to mystify therapists and captivate the public’s curiosity throughout his incarceration as his demeanor and behavior gradually began to show signs of rehabilitation. So much so that he was eventually released from prison after being deemed no longer a threat to society. Years later, a chance encounter at a bar would provide cult film maverick Alejandro Jodorowsky the inspiration to return to cinema after a decade-long absence. Jodorowsky was fascinated by Cárdenas' story and wished to explore the idea of what would drive a man to kill so many women, only to one day awaken and become a fully functional member of society.
As a young man growing up in the circus, Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky) was witness to feats both magical and malicious. His father, Orgo (Guy Stockwell) was an overweight gringo whose knife throwing act was as deadly as his drinking was heavy. His mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra) was a religious fanatic who performed acrobatic dances while suspended in air by her hair. Together the pair made for an unbalanced parenting duo that pushed poor Fenix from one extreme to another. His father wanted only to teach his son how to be a man. His mother wanted her boy to understand and respect her spirituality. Both parents would however only show their son a path toward madness. One night while spying on his father, Fenix watches as his poppa succumbs to the temptation of the carnival's newcomer, the Tattooed Woman (Thelma Tixou). Adorned from head to toe with ornate works of fantasy art that wrapped around her like a mountain road, the Tattooed Woman gives herself to Orgo in a display that could be called anything but subtle. Walking in on the act, Concha snaps at the sight of her husband on top of another woman and lashes out in anger by ripping off Orgo’s wig and throwing acid on his on privates! Orgo, shocked and scarred, retaliates by cutting of Concha’s arms, before stumbling into the streets and dying. Having witnessed the violent death and dismemberment of his parents, Fenix is sent to an asylum where he grows to adulthood in isolation.
Years later, an adult Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) is persuaded out of his secluded asylum cell in order to attend a field trip into town. What was supposed to be a night out at the movies however turns into a venture far more risqué, as Fenix and his intellectually handicapped companions are lead astray by a pimp (Teo Jodorowsky) who treats his new friends to a touch of cocaine and a rather accommodating and overweight prostitute. Breaking away from the pack, Fenix wanders through the back alleyways of Mexico, mystified by the underworld antics that surround him. It is there that he happens upon the Tattooed Woman, selling her body to a trio of service men. The very sight of the woman who tore his family apart fills Fenix with a rush of memories that consume his mind to the point of murder. Having taken the life of the Tattooed Woman, Fenix continues down a dark and disturbing path, engaging in a surreal killing spree whose motives lay within the seemingly unattainable acceptance of his mother.
It’s fitting that Jodorowsky would team up with producer Claudio Argento to make SANTA SANGRE, after all, who better to help make a movie about a killer running around stabbing women than the younger brother and producing partner of Dario Argento. Taking this association one step further, it would not be too inappropriate to categorize SANTA SANGRE as a giallo. From the reoccurring phallic imagery to its central figure, an unbalanced killer who likes to stab women with knifes while wearing gloves, albeit ones of ornate design, SANTA SANGRE has much in common with the unique horror/thriller sub-genre. But in all fairness SANTA SANGRE is no more a giallo that EL TOPO is simply a western. There is so much more at play. Jodorowsky peppers SANTA SANGRE with as many inimitable ideas as he does striking locations and background players, lending to it multiple interruptions. By the director's own admission, there are several sequences present that are there simply because, at that moment in time, they happened to present themselves. It's hard to believe that such randomness would be anything but productive, yet somehow when brought together as a whole, these moments add weight to the picture. In using locals as actors and real world environments to decorate his story, Jodorowsky is able to ground his tale of oedipal madness into an experience that makes the hallucinatory oddly tangible. And that may be the best way to describe SANTA SANGRE, as an experience. Mind you it’s certainly not for everyone. Labels of blasphemy, misogyny and narcissism are by no means unfounded, but it’s hard to deny the poetic current that runs though the picture, be it there by chance or design.
Grab a thesaurus and look up the word “stunning”. If you were to apply every synonym listed you still wouldn’t come close to describing how amazing Severin’s presentation of SANTA SANGRE is. It simply defies proper description. While the film has been released on VHS and laserdisc, both by Republic Pictures Home Video, SANTA SANGRE has eluded DVD since the format's inception, at least in America. Severin Films have thankfully rectified this by releasing the film on both Blu-ray and DVD with an accompanying collection of special features that are as bountiful as the Tattooed Woman's bosom. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p full HD resolution, the picture quality is second to none. The print is flawless, the colors are striking and bold and the overall depth and feel of the film is engrossing. Audio is equally impressive and is presented in 3 tracks, a 2.0 Stereo English language track, a mono Italian language track and a mono Spanish language track. The preferred HD English track pays particular service to Simon Boswell’s phenomenal score.
Ensuring that this release would be go down as definitive, Severin has supplemented Jodorowsky’s feature with over five hours of bonus material. Between an audio commentary with Jodorowsky and journalist Alan Jones and FORGET EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN, a feature length documentary on the film, every possible aspect of the production is examined and discussed. The documentary in particular, which is exclusive to this release – the commentary track has been ported over from the PAL Anchor Bay UK release –, is very enjoyable and provides in and of its self as a perfect supplement to its feature. But the extras don’t stop there. Also included are two deleted scenes with commentary by Jodorowsky, a short documentary on the aforementioned Goyo Cárdenas and “For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky”, a 30-minute British television special on the director hosted by Jonathan Ross. Extras continue with a 2003 interview with Alejandro and a highly entertaining Q&A session filmed in London in 2002. During the Q&A session Jodorowsky, who is never short for words, speaks on a variety of topics including the films of Takashi Miike and the superiority of EVIL DEAD 2 to EVIL DEAD.
A short film titled ECHEK is also included. Directed by Jodorowsky's son Adan, the black and white short is silent with French title cards and features an optional commentary track by Adan’s father. Simon Boswell turns up behind the camera for a couple of extras, including a music video for his song “close your eyes”, which features Jodorowsky, as well as a short film titled BLINK JODOROWSKY. Rounding out the over five hours of extras are SANTA SANGRE’s Japanese and original American theatrical trailers as well as trailers for other Severin releases, including THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND, HARDWARE and PSYCHOMANIA.
Clearly, I feel in love with this release and would give it my highest recommendation. Truthfully, I’m not sure Severin can top this one, but I’m damn excited to see them try. (Jason McElreath)
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