Santa Sangre

Director - Alejandro Jodorowsky

Cast - Axel Jodorowsky, Bianca Guerra

Country of Origin - Mexico/Italy

Discs - (1/1)

Distributor - Severin Films/Mr. Bongo Films

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

 

The Film (5/5)

   Santa Sangre is one of those truly perfect cinematic visions created by an auteur with such a visionary intensity that the whole film appears to be an absolute realization of director Alejandro Jodorowsky's dreamlike vision. Jodorowsky similar to the Italian master Sergio Leone only directed a handful of features throughout his career, but when he is on fire, his directorial sensibilities match a filmmaker who has worked on double or triple the features. 

   1989's Santa Sangre is at the time of writing (2012) the penultimate narrative feature film from director Jodorwsky.  Over the last decade or so, there have been inklings of an El Topo sequel called King Shot in the works, but nothing has come together, and with the now in his 80's one must wonder if this will be his truly last great film having only followed this film with the less than stellar the Rainbow Thief in 1990.

   Santa Sangre was produced by Claudio Argento, a name most cult film fans will recognize immediately as the brother of, and producer of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. The screenplay for Santa Sangre also attributes a co-writing credit on the film to Claudio Argento alongside Jodorowsky and screenwriter Robert Leoni. The Argento credit on the film is interesting, although Jodorowsky's prior films did not shy away from violent content Santa Sangre could be considered the most cosmetically violent feature from the director.  The film stylistically has many attributes similar to the giallo genre popularized by Dario Argento through the 70's and 80's, and also features a garish lighting scheme that wouldn't be out of place in a film by Mario Bava or Dario Argento. That being said the film does feature heavily into the circus and performing arts, and obviously there is a need for these color schemes, however, considering the pedigree (Argento) and time period (Late 80's Slasher Boom)  it feels slightly more than a coincidence.

   The film features both Axel and Adan Jodorowsky in the character Fenix (Adan plays the young boy variation, Axel the older).  The film opens with Fenix in an asylum being treated for some unknown condition, he is alone in a room with a tree inside of it. The nurses who are treating him come in, and offer him 2 meals a nice steak dinner, and a raw fish.  He accepts the raw fish, much to the nurse's chagrin. After he is done eating the fish (guts and all), he is prompted to get dressed, at which point it is noted that he has a tattoo on his chest of a phoenix.

     Focusing on that Phoenix tattoo we then cut to the films flashback moments, as a bird flies through the streets of a Mexican city, and eventually introduces us to Young Fenix who is currently watching his Mother Concha's protest of the destruction of her beloved Santa Sangre Church. We are then introduced to his family, and their circus. It turns out as a child Fenix was the child magician in his families circus.  Which has a tattooed woman, and her deaf-mute daughter who Fenix even at his young age has fallen for.  After the incident in the chuch, Orgo, Fenix's Father, is caught embracing the tattooed woman by Concha, and is confronted only to he hypnotized by him into servitude, and into having sex with him. We then follow Fenix as he undergoes life experiences such as the sadness he faces after a circus elephant dies, and itís ensuing funeral. This culminates in the hand-tattooed origin of the Phoenix tattoo from the introduction. This section of the film culminates during a circus performance where Orgo is once again caught in the arms of the tattooed woman, and is mutilated by Concha. He then takes her and performs his knife throwing act upon her, relinquishing her of her arms, before stepping out into the street, slitting his own throat and taking his own life.  While that is occurring the tattooed woman escapes with Alma in her VW bus while Fenix is trapped watching from the window in a trailer.

     The film then cuts to the present starting with Fenix's life in the asylum, which he soon breaks out of after his Mother resurfaces outside of his window.  He ends up becoming her arms, and together they form an act where they do things such as play the piano with the illusion that she is actually doing it. This starts innocently enough, but it begins to turn out that Fenix's arms are under his Mother's full control whether he wants them to or not, he will do such things around their new home as knit for her, and eventually he will begin to kill for her. As he begins to put his new act together, and bring people home he starts to kill and torture them under his Mother's power.  And then Alma returns, still in love with Fenix, and now desiring to free him from his Mother's grasp, but she is not willing to let go that easily.

 

Audio/Video (Severin - 4/5) (Mr.Bongo - 4/5)

   Santa Sangre much like a good deal of Jodorowsky's filmography has had a very spotty release history in the U.S.  The fact is until Anchor Bay took up the task of working with Allen Klein half a decade ago we were stuck with bootlegs of many of his films, and now with Severin's release of Santa Sangre on Blu-ray and DVD we not only have the film released stateside to complete what could be called the filmography of Jodorowsky's "Auteur" work, but a stunning transfer that has exceeded all expectations for this release.

   Severin has presented Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre in a simply glorious 1080p/AVC encoded transfer that preserves the films original 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray transfer reproduces the look of the film marvelously, with excellent color reproduction that practically pops from the screen, extremely solid black levels, and flesh tones, and a nice natural look that benefits Jodorowsky's organic, but fluid filmmaking style.  There is a nice healthy grain structure left intact on the transfer.

   The Mr. Bongo films transfer appears to comes from the same or similar source as the Severin films release. Both appear to share the same positive aspects, and I was hard-pressed to find any attributes in this release that either put it in a more negative or positive position than the Severin Region A release of the film.

   Now we get to wear the comparisons begin to really come in handy.  I will admit I was late to the party getting Santa Sangre on Blu-ray. It so happened the very same week I finally secured a copy of the Severin release, I got the Mr. Bongo release. I, being the cine-masochist I am decided to do a marathon run of both Blu-ray's to compare their ups and downs. As far as Video is concerned their both gold.

     However....

   Severin Films have presented Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre with a WHOPPING 4 audio tracks.  An English 2.0 Stereo track, an Italian 2.0 Track, and a Spanish Mono track. The 4th track is a commentary between Jodorowsky, and Film Journalist and Profondo Argento author Alan Jones.  The Mr. Bongo Blu-ray release contains 2 tracks the same commentary and the 2.0 English track.  On my viewing of the Severin release I primarily utilized the Spanish mono track, as that was what I envisioned the native language of the film to be, but switched between the other 2 dialogue tracks for comparison.  All are quite solid with dialogue being crisp and clear throughout the films running time. The music and effects are mixed well together, and I did not detect and audio defects on the track. The English language 2.0 track on the Mr. Bongo release  is similarly solid with clear dialogue, no instances of pops cracks or hissing, and everything sounds well-balanced.

Extras (4.5 - Severin) (3.5 Mr. Bongo)

   Severin Films with their Blu-ray release ended up putting together a nice extras laded package for Santa Sangre.  Their release kicks off with the documentary exclusive Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre. This is a detailed documentary account of the film from inception through it's production, and beyond is definitely required viewing for fans of the film. This is followed by the aforementioned Alan Jones/Jodorowsky commentary track.  We then have For One Week Only : Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Jonathan Ross documentary about Jodorowsky's work. This is followed up by Goya Cardenas Spree Killer, a short documentary about the killer whose crimes inspired the screenplay for Santa Sangre.  We then have an on stage Q & A with Jodorowsky, a 2003 interview iwth the filmmaker, and an interview with Jodorowsky by the films composer Simon Boswell. There is a short film by Simon Boswell entitled Blink Jodorowsky, a music video that pertains to Santa Sangre called Close Your Eyes, and Echeck a short film by Adan Jodorowsky.  The disc is rounded off by the films theatrical trailer, and deleted scenes featuring commentary by Jones and Jodorowsky.

     The Mr. Bongo films release kicks off with the Alan Jones/Jodorowsky commentary track. We then get 2 documentaries that are more specific to the career of Jodorowsky than Santa Sangre itself. The first is Alejandro Jodorowsky's Cult Cinema, and the 2nd is Louis Marchet's 1994 film  La Constellation Jodorowsky.  We then have the same set of deleted scenes with commentary, and Echeck the film by Adan Jodorowsky rounding the disc off.

Overall

   Out of what I would call Jodorowsky's auteur works Santa Sangre is considered his most accessible.  That being said it is truly a glorious piece of filmmaking, and if you haven't seen it one of these Blu-ray's is certainly not a bad way to go about it. The A/V quality is quite nice on both, however for diversities sake (in the audio department), and the sheer volume of extras included the upper hand has to go to the Severin Films release. Both the Mr. Bongo and Severin films release come HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.