Alejandro Jodorowsky is a pure visual stylist — a genius, in fact, of very precise compositions and a master of mise en scène. Like an artist, whose canvas is literally anything in the path of his camera, the Chilean filmmaker arranges and frames wild, vivid spectacles of the grotesque and fantastically absurd. His surreal and utterly bizarre images attract as much as they repel. They are filled with such frantic, unbridled enthusiasm that we're convinced they must represent something deeply profound. But what they signify exactly is difficult to determine and can be interpreted hundreds of ways, depending on the viewer. One thing is clear, however. He knows how to make the monstrous and obscene into something uniquely beautiful and strangely alluring.
Although not mentioned as often as 'The Holy Mountain,' 'Fando y Lis' and 'El Topo,' 'Santa Sangre' is still a masterful piece of film art which hypnotizes with a hugely eccentric tale of love, familial devotion and madness. It's evidence also of Jodorowsky being terribly complex and abstruse even when he is at his most coherent and accessible. It works as a standard revenge plot when an armless circus performer (Blanca Guerra) kills an incredibly voluptuous tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou), who's partly responsible for her physical disability. But even while toiling within a conventional structure, the director splatters the screen with a large array of oddities and freakish delights. Halfway into the story, we see a man remove his right ear for no apparent reason whatsoever or without purpose to the plot.
But in the non-linear world of Jodorowsky — a one of a kind place which thus far has only one inhabitant — such unexplained randomness is to be expected. There's little concern with providing answers to thousands of questions which are sure to arise. What the heck any of it means is probably the most universal. It's the director's way of making his audience work and participate in the story, to be involved with the protagonist and his/her journey towards something outside his/her reality. In all of his surreal films, Jodorowsky is content with simply having viewers raise questions while watching severely flawed people (physically, mentally, spiritually, or what have you) on dreamlike, metaphysical quests for the unattainable and inaccessible.
In 'Santa Sangre,' which translates to "holy blood," Jodorowsky worked with Italian filmmakers Claudio Argento (younger brother to Dario Argento) and Roberto Leoni to explore the notion of redemption in conflict with accountability. Of course, none of this is immediately apparent and definitely up for debate. The film starts with a young man looking very much Christ-like and swinging from a tree like a monkey while living inside a mental institution. After a lengthy flashback reveals the cause of his mental break, Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) — as in the mythological firebird phoenix — embarks on his pilgrimage to understand the affects of his violent childhood. When his mother, the armless circus performer, returns into his life, he is forced to do her will, performing as her missing limbs.
These moments between mother and child, and the flawlessly well-timed performances of the two actors, are some of the film's most uncanny and brilliant spectacles of a fractured psyche. The scenes bring to mind questions on the affects of violent childhoods since Fenix witnessed his mother's brutal dismemberment and his father's suicide. The boy's first crush, a deaf-mute tightrope walker named Alma (Sabrina Dennison), which means "soul" in English, is also the victim of an abusive household, the adopted daughter of the tattooed woman. Alejandro Jodorowsky takes these varied themes and makes them come together for what is truly one of the most unique horror films ever created. 'Santa Sangre' is a visually-arresting nightmare where people suffer in search of salvation from the pain of living.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Severin Films and MPI Media bring 'Santa Sangre' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc. It's housed in a standard blue keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. The disc goes straight to the main menu at startup with music and full-motion clips.
Considering its production budget along with care and age, this Blu-ray presentation of Jodorowsky's 'Santa Sangre' is the best it's ever looked. Certain photographic limitations hinder the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) from making a strong impression.
Contrast is heavily restrained and often dull, giving the picture a rather flat and somewhat boring appearance. The color palette also lacks some pop and vibrancy, yet reds and greens are brightly rendered and energetic. Black levels tend to suffer a bit as well and can fall a tad on the grayer side, but they generally appear accurate and fairly deep in nighttime scenes without taking away minor details in the shadows.
The transfer's best aspects are in the definition and resolution. Objects are quite distinct and clear while faces and clothing are very well textured. The unique Mexican architecture is plainly visible, revealing trivial marks and imperfections in bricks and stones.
All things considered, this surreal cult film looks great in high-def, but not really the sort to dazzle viewers.
As with the video, so too this capable and generally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
The original design shows some limitations — understandable and negligible drawbacks due to a very small budget. The ADR work is apparent enough to be a bit of a distraction, but dialogue is very clear and adequate throughout. Although the mix can seem rather finite at times, the mid-range is precise and surprisingly expansive in several scenes, providing the soundstage with good clarity and an engaging presence. Music spreads across the front channels with strong balance and fidelity. The low end is mild, but sufficient to give the lossless track some depth.
In the end, the stereo presentation is enjoyable and satisfying.
Until now, locating a copy of 'Santa Sangre' wasn't exactly easy. Not counting VHS and laserdisc, the only way to enjoy this wonderful film was by importing the two-disc UK edition or making a risky purchase from eBay. Except for a few notable omissions, like the "La Constellation Jodorowsky" documentary by Louis Mouchet, Severin has been gracious enough to include some of the bonus features from the UK release. They also threw together a few more supplements, making this package a must-own for Jodorowsky fans everywhere.
Though not recognized as a prolific filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky has become a name tantamount with film art, a visual stylist with profound surreal images of horror and philosophical pilgrimages. Of all his movies, 'Santa Sangre' is known as his most accessible with a highly unusual plot of circus performers, yet the story remains mysterious and a challenge to understand in its totality. Severin Films and MPI Media bring the film to Blu-ray with a strong audio and video presentation. Along with a wealth of supplemental features that are sure to keep fans busy for a while, the high-def package is sure bet and must-own for cult enthusiasts and admirers of Jodorowsky's highly original works.