Possibly the greatest cult director of them all, Alejandro Jodorowsky has made but a handful of feature films during the last four decades.

FANDO Y LIS was a startling debut, provoking a mini-riot at it's theatrical debut in the late 60s. EL TOPO followed, and won acclaim from none other than John Lennon. More importantly, it was an astonishingly affecting foray into meta-physical western territory - and remains a unique experience to this day. Jodorowsky as gun-toting messiah? Literal rivers of blood? Self-immolation as finale? Yes, all this and more � EL TOPO is a joy.

Within a couple of years, Jodorowsky had been given a ridiculous budget and total artistic license for his next film. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is arguably Jodorowsky's masterpiece. If you haven't yet seen it, then hunt it down pronto. In widescreen, if you can - it's fucking amazing.

But then � the maestro went somewhat off the boil. The less said about his reluctantly aborted attempt at bringing Frank Herbert's DUNE to the screen (pre Lynch, of course) the better. TUSK, on the other hand, did get made. But it was an unmitigated disaster, and the director himself disowned the movie for over two decades.

In 1989 Jodorowsky ended an extended sabbatical from cinema and gave the world his first and only 'horror' film to date � SANTA SANGRE.

Orgo (Guy Stockwell - TOBRUK; IT'S ALIVE!) is the knife throwing ringmaster of Circo Del Gringo - a travelling circus. His wife, Concha (Blanca Guerra) is a religious nut who leads her followers in the worship of an armless female martyr at the church of Santa Sangre ("Holy Blood").

Their son, Fenix, is employed at the circus as a magician. He's besotted by a mute girl - Alma - who is forced to walk a burning tightrope nightly by her mother, the tattooed lady (Thelma Tixou).

Orgo and the illustrated woman are having an affair. Concha discovers this and seeks a decidedly brutal revenge upon her husband. He in turn performs an impromptu spot of ironic dismemberment upon her, before taking his own life. Meanwhile the tattooed mistress drags her mute daughter away and they flee the circus for good �

Unfortunately, young Fenix witnesses the bulk of these atrocities. Perhaps under these circumstances it would be unfair to expect Fenix to wind up anywhere else but in the loony bin.

Sure enough, Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky - his younger brother Adan plays the character as a child) is locked up for many years due to a fairly blatant case of insanity. Until, that is, he escapes, and reunites with his mother for moments of brutal murder, retribution, implied incest and so much more ... which is where the bulk of the film's action takes place.

Everything about SANTA SANGRE works.

Simon Boswell's score is amazing - it truly contributes to the uniqueness you're getting fed onscreen (and is so much better than his contributions on DEMONS etc).

The acting's great. Stockwell leaves a lasting impression of distaste despite disappearing from the screen midway into proceedings. Guerra is both beautiful and terrifying in effortless measures. But it's Jodorowsky's sons that really make an impact. Adan is heartbreaking when witnessing things a child never should, while Axel breathes many facets into his interpretation of mental illness: he's simultaneously funny, sympathetic, threatening, pathetic � he nails the role completely.

Visually, the film is a stunner. Every single scene, every frame � the care and attention to everything you're witnessing is just marvellous. Within the horror genre, there's only Argento that comes close (in his better moments). But look beyond the obvious too, because Jodorowsky has a lot more to say � there are lots of subtle visual nuances and niggling characteristics that may initially mean nothing to you, but upon further viewings will reveal just how clever and multi-layered this film really is.

There's Claudio Argento (Dario's brother) who produced the film. I can just imagine any other producer's face when Jodorowsky approaches them and says he'd like to surround his naked son with 100+ chickens, or demolish a church with bulldozers � full credit then to Argento for indulging the eccentric excesses or Alejandro's warped brain! It can't have come cheap, and it all looks incredible on the screen.

Then there are the themes - the life of the circus; how memories fade once you find the strength to move on; redemption through love � and so many more besides. All of which adds a satisfying depth to the bizarre visuals, mannered performances and ultra-violence that insists on fist-fucking you for 117 minutes!

Overall, the film is deliciously detailed and incredibly prepared (the dead brides returning to life in the nightmarish graveyard scene; the surreal funeral held for an elephant; the opening ariel shots of Mexico's slums, I could go on), just as much as it is baffling, entertaining, disturbing, gory and uplifting.

It's a classic.

Anchor Bay UK has made a special effort with this release, and as a result has produced a very early, very serious contender for genre DVD of the year.

A 2 disc edition (an 11th hour decision made by Anchor Bay UK), what you get essentially is one of the most beautiful horror movies of all time, with extras you could previously have only dreamt of.

Disc 1 gives us the film. Fully uncut, anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1), digitally remastered and looking absolutely stunning. Aside from some very infrequent moments of soft imagery, it's fair to say the film looks like it could've been made yesterday.

Audio-wise, there's the option of listening to the film in it's original 2.0 stereo mix, or remixed exclusively into 5.1 surround. Go for the former. The latter seems contrived and not as well balanced as I'd have hoped.

ABEUK have bestowed the film with 21 chapters, which can be accessed through the attractive animated menus (all of which are accompanied by Boswell's brilliantly original score).

An audio commentary track conducted by journalist Alan Jones and Jodorowsky is a delight to listen to. It may seem slow at times, and perhaps Jones becomes irritatingly insistent on "feeding" the more relaxed Jodorowsky a line upon occasion - but it's simply great to hear the director's insight into such a baroque and multi-textured masterwork.

There's no theatrical trailer included, but, hey.

Disc 2 maintains the high standards set by disc 1.

Check out the deleted scene, with commentary from Jones and Jodorowsky. It's 4-and-a-half minutes of silent footage that's well worth checking out. Jodorowsky complains that a moment of lousy acting and the fact that the scene is too long contributed to it being cut. However, I think this scene would work well in the film - it could even be argued that the sight of Fenix's father teaching him to throw knives and dress like him, followed by the mother throwing her own religious robes onto Fenix moments later and forcing him to join in prayer are a crucial foreshadow of the mental state we will see Fenix develop as an adult (it's also interesting to see Orgo teach his son the art of hypnosis).

Louis Mouchet's LA CONSTELLATION JODOROWSKY is an 87 minute documentary on the great man, focussing on his career prior to the release of SANTA SANGRE. Featuring on-screen interviews with Jodorowsky, Peter Gabriel, Marcel Marceau and so on, it's an often fascinating (if at times exhausting) expose on this genial figure - examining all of his artistic strengths, from film to theatre and mime, through comic strips, seminars and more. Full-frame and seemingly sourced from video elements, the mono soundtrack is aided by non-removable English subtitles. The clips from EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN are unfortunately nowhere near as good quality as the prints used on the UK VHS releases from the 90s (by Nouveaux Pictures and Visual Entertainment respectively). Some may already own this, as it was included as an extra feature on the R1 disc of FANDO Y LIS.

David Flint offers a 13 page text biography on Jodorowsky, largely lamenting the fact that his earlier works remain tied up in legal wrangles (Flint also provides some interesting liner notes for the cool 8 page colour booklet contained within this fantastic package).

ECHEK is a short (4 minutes) black and white film written and directed by Adan Jodorowsky. It's presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1, and tells the tale of a beautiful woman (Valerie Sibilia) who visits the Eiffel Tower and is wooed by two strangers. Performed in the style of an old silent movie, you have the option here of listening to the movie's piano-led soundtrack (penned by Adan) or an audio commentary track from Alejandro. Alas, he runs out of things to say after 90 seconds or so!

A posters/stills gallery is a nice addition and includes a few cuttings of original reviews the movie received upon it's original theatrical release. Unfortunately you may need a telescope to read some of the text! There's also 20 posters/stills that are worth checking out if you're a fan �

Finally, there's a new (Dec 2002) interview with Jodorowsky, filmed at the ICA in London after a rare screening of SANTA SANGRE. It's essentially a Q&A between the audience and him, and although he struggles occasionally to find the English he wants to use, it's another marvellous bonus feature that will - I'm sure - put a smile on almost everyone's face as they're watching it. (20 mins)

Housed in an Amaray-style clear plastic case, and with a cover that reproduces the excellent Graham (EVIL DEAD) Humphries artwork from the original UK Palace video release, the discs are region 0, PAL encoded.

The film is painfully perfect. This release is pretty definitive. Just buy it.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Anchor Bay UK
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras : see main review