At the World Cinema Showcase, Alejandro Jodorowsky turns shit to gold. By JOE SHEPPARD.

ONCE UPON a time we all had to be satisfied with the Humanoids Press graphic novels (the Incal or the Metabarons) or else risk trawling through the mustiest shelves of the local video shop for the middling Santa Sangre if we wanted to indulge in the epic madness of cult polymath Alejandro Jodorowsky. Some thirty years after they achieved notoriety as midnight movies, his mystical manifestos El Topo and The Holy Mountain are now available on DVD, but the sumptuous visuals of the restored prints really scream out for proper big-screen viewing.

El Topo has long been revered as the bootleg to plan a psychedelic afternoon around. For the first half Jodorowsky plays a cowboy, spiralling through a desert in search of the world’s best gunfighters. He then appears to die, and when resurrected he renounces violence, dons robes and shaves his head in order to help a band of mutated freaks escape their miserable life in a cave. The bizarre array of images that permeate most of Jodorowsky’s great stuff – deformity, for example, or (self-)mutilation and sexual innovation – are all here in spades, as is the customary struggle with / satire of organised religion and the barely coherent plotline that resonates on any number of symbolic levels.

For my money though, The Holy Mountain is the superior flick for the sheer saturation of eccentric and inventive imagery. Whether it’s the frogs in conquistador armour or the fascist parade of gas masks and crucified goats, you can’t fault Jodorowsky for his boldness and imagination. As the Alchemist, Jodorowsky can literally turn shit into gold, and after the pervy ceremony that opens the film, the plot is rarely developed without some new and utterly bonkers ritual attending it. Also showcased are some of the dodgiest accents and dialogue ever, such as the classic ejaculation: ‘Your sacrifice completes my sanctuary of one thousand testicles!’

The ending is a good example of Jodorowsky’s polarising effect – either a classic postmodern cop-out, the final mockery of a long-suffering audience whose sanity has long been shredded, or quite possibly the brilliant masterstroke that pulls every disparate element together and mobilizes the viewers to seek alternative horizons. Depending on your point of view, you will most likely leave alienated and shocked, with every expectation comprehensively frustrated, or else invigorated by the fresh signs and allegories, and any hermeneutic consequences you take home with you.

Jodorowsky’s wears his varied and exotic influences on his sleeve – from mysticism (particularly Gurdjieff, the tarot, and ayahuasca) and religion to mime, underground cinema, post-colonialism and philosophy. His legacy has in turn influenced pop culture from the Beatles and David Lynch to the latest MGMT music video apparently.

El Topo and The Holy Mountain are cruel, exploitative, ultraviolent, kitsch, blasphemous, absurd and utterly barmy. They’re also some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Now that even Robert Rodriguez’s schlock splatterfest Planet Terror has to be released straight to DVD, this writer sincerely hopes that the tarot cards are pointing to a full resurrection of that 90s cult carnival, the Incredibly Strange Film Festival.