Alejandro Jodorowksy’s Santa Sangre is a film I watched for the first time in my mid-20s during a Jodorowsky kick. We all have one. Or we should. There are few filmmakers like him, so deeply devoted to surrealism but capable of making it engaging. Unlike a lot of imitators, Jodorowsky doesn’t obfuscate his imagery with unnecessary sound design and fancy camera angles. He shoots what he’s shooting. The disorientation in the audience comes from discomfort and recognition. A disquieting, unspoken familiarity. Sometimes Jodorowsky even says something meaningful in the process. Sometimes. What young man hasn’t seen a pretty woman and been so immediately consumed with lust that his dick might as well slither out of his pants like a giant Boa constrictor to suffocate him?
Despite their violence, rape, murder and degradation, Jodorowsky’s films are fun to watch, and funny, too.
Like a lot of people my age, I came to his work via Jodorowsky’s Dune, the 2013 documentary about his failed adaptation of the sci-fi classic. Talk is cheap. The movie itself would’ve been as unwatchable as David Lynch’s version that replaced Jodorowsky’s, but the documentary about the failure was pretty wonderful and led me to find copies of El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre, which were relatively difficult to find back then. Last year, I rewatched Jodorowsky’s newest and probably final film, Psychomagic: A Healing Art, basically an infomercial for his sketchy new-age psychobabble therapy for the artistically inclined. Psychomagic ain’t great, but it functions as a durable example of a filmmaker’s personality cult developing into something more tactile than positive reviews, glowing essays and the ability to Kickstart a two-part autobiographical odyssey (The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry). For what it’s worth, I think The Dance of Reality is his best film.
Santa Sangre is a decent second place, though. The story is about a troupe of circus performers in Mexico City, a blood cult centered around an armless girl and Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky), a traumatized performer who can’t seem to stop murdering women to whom he’s attracted. It has all the hallmarks of Jodorowsky’s earlier work: graphic depictions of adolescent sexual frustration, weird asides, an obsession with using performers with a diversity of body types that may or may not be exploitative depending on how you look at it. There’s a scene I always forget where Fenix and a few fellow patients from his insane asylum, who happen to have Down syndrome, get amped up on cocaine and dance through the streets. I don’t know what to think about it.
The first half of Santa Sangre is much more devoted to strange diversions and weird shit than the second half, which functions as a more interesting murder-mystery about Fenix and his armless mother, to whom he lends his own arms by standing behind her in their everyday life. This is where Jodorowsky’s unique eye shines. He captures the rhythms of their synced movements in a unique, almost melodic way. It’s all performative within the movie, and it’s performative for the filmmaker, who is simply doing what he does best — capturing unexpected and evocative imagery on camera with clarity.
Of all his films, Santa Sangre is probably the most approachable because it contains a clear narrative thrust as it reaches its climax. Good, weird shit, and certainly not the kind of weird shit people make nowadays. Now, if you watched Santa Sangre and told me it was dorky bullshit and that I was full of shit, well, I guess I couldn’t argue with you. There are many things you can say about Jodorowsky, but the one thing everyone can agree upon is that he isn’t for everyone.
The New Set
Severin released Santa Sangre on Blu-ray and DVD back in 2011 with a new commentary by Jodorowsky. Now they’re back, releasing it with an entirely new 4K UHD restoration supervised by Jodorowksy himself. The four-disc deluxe edition includes the film with optional commentary by the filmmaker on a 4K disc, as well as the same on a standard Blu-ray disc. Both the 4K and standard discs include a new documentary about the restoration of the film for this release.
A third disc includes a bevy of special features and interviews, including:
- Like A Phoenix – Interview with producer Claudio Argento
- Holy Blood – Interview with cinematographer Danielle Nannuzzi
- Mexican Magic – Interview with executive producer Angelo Iacono
- The Language of Editing – Interview with editor Mauro Bonanni
- Innocence in Horror – Interview with co-writer Roberto Leoni
- Santa Sangre 30th Anniversary Celebration at Morbido Festival, Mexico City
- Goyo Cárdenas Spree Killer – Documentary on the Real-Life Inspiration for Santa Sangre
- Alejandro Jodorowsky 2003 Interview
- Jodorowsky Onstage Q&A
- ECHECK – Adan Jodorowsky Short Film
- Composer Simon Boswell interviews Alejandro Jodorowsky
- “Close Your Eyes”- Boswell music video
- Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre – A 96-minute documentary directed by David Gregory that features co-writer / director Alejandro Jodorowsky; actors Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Elenka Tapia, and Teo Tapia; co-writer Roberto Leoni; composer Simon Boswell; tattoo designer Sergio Arau; and unit publicist Greg Day.
A fourth disc features the memorable soundtrack to the film.
It’s a compelling set. I actually own the original Severin release, and receiving a review copy of the new edition was a tremendous and welcome surprise. Their team did a fantastic job on the restoration. For a film so full of visual delights and horrors, it’s never looked better, and it’s easily the superior way to experience Santa Sangre anew or again.