Tuesday, May 18, 2021

SANTA SANGRE (1989) (Severin Films 4K UHD Review)

4-Disc Limited Edition Digipack Edition
4K UHD + Blu-ray + CD

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 123 Minutes
Video: 2160p UHD Widescreen (1.85:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, English, Spanish and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cast: Guy Stockwell, Blanca Guerra, Axel Jodorowsky, Faviola Elenka, Adán Jodorowsky, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison

Santa Sangre (1989) from director Alejandro Jodorowsky (Holy Mountain) might be the most-straight laced film the avant-grade director ever made, but its still supremely weird. It all begins with a young man named Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky, the director's son) at an asylum perched atop a makeshift tree that has been set-up in his room. He's completely nude, disheveled, and has an eagle tattooed across his chest, and the asylum staff are attempting to lure him from his perch with a meal of raw fish. It's a weird beginning to a film that only gets significantly weirder from here on out. 

The story then moves back in time to to when he was a adolescent boy, now played by Adán Jodorowsky, the director's other son. Fenix's father, 
Orgo (Guy Stockwell, 
It’s Alive!), is the operator of an offbeat circus, where he is a knife-thrower, while Fenix's mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra), is a hair-hanger, and Fenix is the child-magician opening act. His mother also dabbles in a bizarre religion called Santa Sangria (translated to English as Holy Blood), whose patron saint is a young girl who was raped and had her arms cut off by her rapists. Near the start of the film we see the make-shift church of the Santa Sangre being bulldozed after the local Catholic monsignor visits the place and is both shocked and appalled, declaring it a blasphemous place. 

At the circus Orgo lusts after his new assistant, The Tattooed Woman, played by the thick and curvy Thelma Tixou, who is part of his knife-throwing act, and lusts after Orgo as well, she is definitely hot for his dagger, if you what I mean. When Concha catches her husband not so subtlety flirting with The Tattooed Woman she threatens to the kill the woman with a knife held to her throat, but Orgo temporarily diffuses the tense situation by hypnotizing his wife with a dagger, a strange talent that he has developed. Later when The Tattooed Woman fails to head the threat Concha catches them having sex, angered she throws corrosive acid onto Orgo's cheating flesh-dagger, and he then retaliates by cutting-off his wife's arms, right in front of his Fenix. He then slices his own throat in the street, where stray dogs lap up his blood. In the aftermath The Tattooed Woman grabs her mute daughter, a tightrope walker, named Alma (Faviola Elenka), who Fenix has developed deep feelings for, and leaves the circus under the cover of darkness, while Fenix stares on horrified by what has transpired in front of his very eyes.

Now aware of his shocking backstory we come back to current day and see observe Fenix escaping the asylum, finding his armless mother waiting for him just outside the walls. Reunited he becomes a part of her bizarre cabaret act, performing in the show with her, standing behind her, using his arms as her own, as well as being her arms at all times, feeding her and doing her hair and make-up. Later he discovers that The Tattooed Woman has been prostituting her mute daughter Alma (now played by Sabrina Dennison) in a shady part of town, and at the behest of his vengeful mother is sent to kill her. It's a brutal and bloody assault/ afterwards he discovers that Alma has already escaped her mother's clutches, and is nowhere to be found. 

The Tattooed Woman is not the only person that earns the bloody ire of Fenix's overbearing mother, anyone who threatens her control over her devoted son sooner or later ends up dead, this includes a flirty burlesque dancer who takes a liking to him, a transgendered masked wrestler, and maybe even poor, sweet Alma herself, who eventually comes looking for Fenix. 

As I said before, the basics of the story are quite conventional, there's a lot of Hitchcock's Psycho evident here, but Jodorowsky's film is a hallucinatory ride from the get-go, a candy-colored odyssey that is sprinkled with his particular brand of artful movie magic, with vivid, surreal imagery and haunting nightmare sequences that is quite dazzling. The film was shot by cinematographer Daniele Nannuzz (The Caller) who paints with all the colors and textures at his disposal, the scenes at the circus are splashed with gorgeous color, it's a magnificent display of cinematic artistry, one of Jodorowsky's most visually powerful creations. 

Jodorowsky has never been hard-up for imaginative visuals that deliver shock and awe, and here he offers up plenty of both with a blood-spewing elephant in the throws of death, a macabre nightmare set at the cemetery, the brutal dispatching of The Tattooed Woman, the de-limbing scene, the acid to the genitals, and drug-sniffing Down Syndrome patients give us plenty of shocks, but there's also a few touching scenes of the tender love between Fenix and Alma, both as children and adults. In a lot of ways I find this to be Jodrowsky's most accessible film, the plot is quite linear, but it's still a bat-shit film brimming with gorgeous, often disgusting,  symbolic imagery, every time I watch I am seeing some new peculiarity or decoding the themes. Beneath the veneer of the surreal and the weird there are heady themes of abuse, childhood trauma, love and loss, and a son's connection to his mother that weigh heavily on it, and it all comes together quite nicely.  

Audio/Video: Santa Sangre (1989) arrives in 4K UHD from Severin Films in glorious 2160p UHD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, sourced from a brand new 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative, which was supervised by Alejandro Jodorowsky himself. There is no HDR or Dolby Atmos audio on the UHD release, but fear not, the film looks absolutely stunning. The surreal, painterly visuals captured by cinematographer Daniele Nannuzz (Black Angel) absolutely dazzle with rich, vibrant colors filling each frame. The film grain appears natural and filmic throughout, and the source elements are is fantastic shape with no noticeable frame damage. Comparing this to the 2010 Blu-ray from Severin, which was color-timed by 
cinematographer Daniele Nannuzz, is the difference between night and day. That previous release looks absolutely drab and lifeless when put up against this gorgeous eye-popping restoration, it's one of the most revelatory restorations I think I've ever seen. Here we get lush, vivid color saturation with improved contrast levels and blacks that are quite deep, even without the benefit of HDR this is a luminous presentation. 

Audio on both the UHD and Blu-ray comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, and English, Spanish and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles. I thought the Spanish 2.0 mono was the more robust and direct of the options but the English surround option is more nuanced and does good work spreading the fantastic Simon Boswell (Demons 2) score into the surrounds, but I found myself turning up the volume a bit. 

Extras on the UHD and Blu-ray main features discs are identical and include an archival audio commentary with Alejandro Jodorowsky that is moderated by journalist Alan Jones. Plus we have 8-minutes of deleted scenes without audio with optional director's commentary, which is moderated by Severin's David Gregory. Additionally there's a brand new 32-minute New Blood featurette with Jodorowsky who talks about the new restoration, plus we get the 3-minute theatrical trailer for the film.

Disc three is a Blu-ray dedicated to nothing but extras, starting off with the fantastic 97-minute feature-length documentary Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre, a massive seven-part documentary directed by Severin's David Gregory with participation from co-writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky, actors Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Elenka Tapia, Teo Tapia, co-writer Roberto Leoni, composer Simon Boswell, tattoo designer Sergio Arau and unit publicist Greg Day. This is a no-stone-left-unturned doc that gets into the entire production from start to finish. This was first featured on the previous 2010 Blu-ray from Severin. 

More archival extras come by way of the 18-minute featurette Goyo Cárdenas Spree Killer, a mini-doc about the rea-crime inspiration for Santa Sangre, an 18-minute 
Jodorowsky 2003 Interview, a 26-minute Jodorowsky on Stage Q&A,  the 4-minute Adan Jodorowsky short film ECHECK (2000) with optional commentary, the 8-minute Simon Boswell Interviews Jodorowsky, the 6-minute “Close Your Eyes” Music Video, and the 2-minute short film Blink Jodorowsky by Simon Boswell. The only extra not carried-over from the previous 2010 Severin release is the 33-minute For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky, and the 3-minute Japanese Trailer, so if your an extras completest maybe don't trade-in that previous Blu-ray. 

Severin as usual go above and beyond, teaming-up with Freak-O-Rama Productions to produce a ton of new interviews for this release. New stuff start with the 38-minute Like A Phoenix – Interview with Producer Claudio Argento, the 42-minute Holy Blood with Cinematographer Danielle Nannuzzi, Mexican Magic - Interview with Executive Producer Angelo Iacono which runs 36-minutesand the 10-minute Santa Sangre 30th Anniversary Celebration at Morbido Festival, Mexico City, the 21-minite Language of Editing with Editor Mauro Bonanni. The last of the new batch of extras is the 29-minute Innocence in Horror – Interview with Screenwriter Roberto Leoni.

The final disc on this four-disc set is a 10-track CD featuring the complete Simon Boswell (Stagefright) score that runs about 27-minutes. The 4-disc limited edition set arrives in a fold-out digipack with hard plastic trays that hold the discs. Each panel of the digipack is adorned with a cool image of one of the four main characters seen in the film, and disc themselves feature different images of the same characters. There are also eight postcard-sized lobby card reproductions tucked away inside. All of this is arrives inside an attractively designed slipbox with embossed elements on the cover. 

Special Features:
Disc 1: 4K UHD + Special Features
- Audio Commentary with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Journalist Alan Jones
- NEW! New Blood – Alejandro Jodorowsky on the restoration of SANTA SANGRE (32 min)
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary (8 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
Disc 2: Blu-ray + Special Features
- Audio Commentary with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Journalist Alan Jones
- New Blood – Alejandro Jodorowsky on the restoration of SANTA SANGRE (32 min)
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary (8 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
Disc 3: Additional Special Features
- Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre - a seven-part documentary Directed by David Gregory with Co-Writer / Director Alejandro Jodorowsky, Actors Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Elenka Tapia, Teo Tapia, Co-Writer Roberto Leoni, Composer Simon Boswell, Tattoo Designer Sergio Arau and Unit Publicist Greg Day. (97 min)
- NEW! Like A Phoenix – Interview with Producer Claudio Argento (38 min)
- NEW! Holy Blood – Interview with Cinematographer Danielle Nannuzzi (42 min)
- NEW! Mexican Magic – Interview with Executive Producer Angelo Iacono (36 min)
- NEW! The Language of Editing – Interview with Editor Mauro Bonanni (21 min)
- NEW! Innocence in Horror – Interview with Screenwriter Roberto Leoni (29 min)
- Santa Sangre 30th Anniversary Celebration at Morbido Festival, Mexico City (10 min)
- Goyo Cárdenas Spree Killer – Documentary on the Real Life Inspiration for SANTA SANGRE (18 min)
- Jodorowsky 2003 Interview (38 min)
- Jodorowsky on Stage Q & A (26 min)
- ECHECK (2000) – Adan Jodorowsky Short Film with Optional Director's Commentary (4 min)
- Simon Boswell Interviews Jodorowsky (8 min)
- “Close Your Eyes” Simon Boswell Music Video (6 min)
- Blink Jodorowsky - Short Film By Simon Boswell (2 min)
Disc 4: Original CD Soundtrack (10 tracks, 27 minutes)

Santa Sangre (1989) is a gorgeous bit of twisted mommy-issue mayhem, Severin have outdone themselves with this magnificent restoration, plus we get a wonderful compliment of extras and attractive packaging with plenty of shelf appeal. This limited edition set is guaranteed to be one of my favorites at the end of the year, highly recommended. 

Screenshot Comparison:
Top: Severin Films Blu-ray (2010)
Bottom: Severin Films Blu-ray (2021) 

More screenshots from the Severin Blu-ray: 


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