Santa Sangre 4K UHD Limited Edition Box Set Review: Jodorowsky’s True Vision

Alejandro Jodorowsky is the quintessential Renaissance man, although he’s most widely known as a feature film director. His true definition is “artist”, as he’s excelled in numerous artistic fields throughout his blessed long life, including novelist, prolific graphic novel writer, musician, philosopher, actor, and even mime. In short, he has a distinct vision, and he is totally dedicated to it without any other considerations. His unique take on a serial killer story is now available in a brand new 4K release, but even that simple genre definition is too reductive to fully capture his concept here that is truly like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The story opens in a circus in Mexico City, where a young boy named Fenix enjoys assisting his performing parents and pining after a young girl performer. His mother also moonlights as the spiritual leader of a church that worships an armless female saint, before the local cardinal finds their church blasphemous and orders it demolished. With her outside interest destroyed, she returns her attention to her cheating husband and confronts him in the act, leading to a deadly skirmish that results in the mother losing her arms and Fenix ending up in an asylum for mentally disabled individuals until his early twenties. When his mother seemingly tracks him down and he escapes to serve as her surrogate arms as she hunts down other philanderers, he also reconnects with his childhood love interest, the two opposing female forces in his life acting as good and evil.

While Jodorowsky gained notoriety as a surrealist with his trippy 1970s films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, he mostly plays within conventional bounds here in a largely linear story that will make sense to even casual viewers. The film is ostensibly about a serial killer, but told in a way that makes him a totally sympathetic character. There are murders with a fair amount of gore, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a horror film, as it’s more a character study of a conflicted young man and the forces that created him. Jodorowsky packs the film with exquisite imagery that leaves a lasting impact and helps to elevate the work far above genre standards. Above all, it’s a fascinating story, especially with a fun twist that rewrites our understanding of the events that lead to its conclusion.

The casting was very much a family affair, with four of Jodorowsky’s sons appearing in the film. Two are just supporting characters, but the other two play the lead character as a boy and a young man with equal effectiveness. The older son is a talented mime and exhibited his skill acting as the arms for the mother played by Blanca Guerra. She is exceptional in her role, exhibiting fiery rage as she seeks to keep her men in line even as she’s falling apart. The rest of the cast includes a girl (Faviola Tapia) and young woman (Sabrina Dennison) who play the innocent deaf mute object of Fenix’s affection and possible salvation, with Dennison being revealed as actually deaf in her bonus feature interview footage. Other key players include Fenix’s philandering drunk father (Guy Stockwell) and his trampy conquest, the tattooed lady of the circus (Thelma Tixou). It’s a fascinating cast, and their relative obscurity only enhances the feeling that this film is something we’ve never seen before and never will again.

I was initially apprehensive about any quality gains to be made by a 4K release of this fairly low-budget film, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the spectacular results. The film has been scanned from the original negative and supervised by Jodorowsky to support his vision, which is now presented in pristine eye-popping UHD color only hinted at in previous faded releases. It’s possible to get a sense of the esthetics from the trailer at the bottom of this review, but nothing beats the new 4K presentation in person, seemingly lifting a layer of gauze from the film to reveal its stark underlying beauty. Audio options include the excellent primary English 5.1 surround track, along with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track and a Spanish 2.0 stereo track with subs. Although the film was shot in Mexico, it was almost entirely in English, so the 5.1 track is the ideal audio selection.

The limited edition box set is stuffed with so many extras that it includes a Blu-ray disc solely devoted to bonus features. Chief among those is a 2011 feature-length documentary entitled Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen, absolutely essential viewing that is almost as rewarding as the film itself. Jodorowsky is allowed to ramble at length about his adventures making the film, as well as random thoughts about the artistic process, making for a hugely inspirational experience as he extols the virtues of artistic freedom, championing art for art’s sake without any concerns for finances or public reception. His two sons that played principal roles in the film are also interviewed about their experiences on the film, along with assorted crew and all other principal actors with the exception of the late Guy Stockwell.

Other bonus features include brief individual interviews with the executive producer, producer, cinematographer, editor, and screenwriter, with each offering their memories of the production, none as enlightening as Jodorowsky but still worthwhile for their unique insights. I was more interested in the 30th anniversary footage from a film festival in Mexico City, as it’s always interesting to see the lasting impact of a film many years after the original work. There’s also a brief documentary about the real-life inspiration for the film, serial killer Goyo Cardenas, who Jodorowsky claims to have randomly encountered in public after the killer’s release from prison. The disc also contains more Jodorowsky footage from a 2003 interview, an on-stage Q&A, and an interview composer Simon Boswell conducted with Jodorowsky. His energy and passion remain strong, even as he is now firmly in his 90s. The bonus disc is rounded out with a short film by Adan Jodorowsky, a music video by Boswell, and another short about Jodorowsky by Boswell, basically curiosities but still welcome additions.

But wait, there’s more! The box set is comprised of four total discs, with the full unrated version of the film appearing on both 4K and Blu-ray discs, and the original soundtrack on included on the fourth disc, a CD. It’s a short soundtrack and only includes Simon Boswell’s work, not the native music Jodorowsky sourced on location, but it clearly adds to the value of the box set. Severin Films has graciously made the set region free, so Jodorowsky fans worldwide can easily enjoy the wonders of this superb release. The film is also available as a standard two-disc Blu-ray release that excludes the 4K and soundtrack discs. For the biggest fans, Severin Films also has a very limited bundle on their website that includes the box set along with a t-shirt, temporary tattoo, pins, amulet, and blacklight poster, although the extras can also be purchased individually as needed. After more than 30 years, Jodorowsky’s film finally has the expertly supported release it deserves, all thanks to the fine folks at Severin Films.

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Steve Geise

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