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Midnight mass

The return of the legendary El Topo.

Usually viewed through clouds of marijuana smoke, Alejandro Jodorowsky's mystical-hippie western El Topo was the original midnight movie, but it is as famous for not being seen as for being seen. With an endorsement from John Lennon, El Topo ran at midnight - 1.00am on weekends - in a New York cinema in 1970, inaugurating a cult-making approach that would later benefit Pink Flamingos, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead before home video killed the midnight movie.

But who killed El Topo? Lennon connected Jodorowsky with manager Allen Klein, who bankrolled the less-seen but even further-out follow-up, The Holy Mountain (1973), before withdrawing both films for more than 30 years after a spat with their creator. Clearly prone to bouts of self-analysis, Jodorowsky now takes Klein as the symbolic father he had to pick a fight with.

So it's big news that El Topo, and The Holy Mountain, have been released on DVD, digitally cleaned up and with commentary tracks (in Spanish, with subtitles). Crazy, primal, ambitious, El Topo is an only-in-the-60s blend of Nietzsche, Jung and Sergio Leone. Jodorowsky himself plays the black-clad gunslinger who must advance spiritually by defeating four masters in a Mexican desert strewn with drunk bandits, Fellini-esque midgets and amputees and blood-soaked sites of massacres that the camera lovingly lingers on (those who caught Jodorowsky's more widely seen Santa Sangre [1989] will know that he has a real taste for blood).

In this raw and symbolic landscape, religious allusions are everywhere - biblical, eastern, pagan - but the true religion is the director's cult of himself: when the gunslinger makes water spring from a rock in the desert, that rock is modelled on Jodorowsky's phallus. The ego had landed: as he tells us in this disc's present-day interview, during his period of fame he never wanted for drugs and sex.

Kenneth Anger has said that his films are like spells. They're also like dreams. Hence the image next to the disk-tray in this ravishing, long-awaited, meticulously restored DVD release: a teenage Anger, supine on a bed, eyes closed, dreaming hard. It's a still from the earliest of these films, 1947's Fireworks - a black-and-white, night-set, precocious fantasy about sailors, bars and bashings. The other four films here are less realist, more fantastic: the ghostly glamour of old Hollywood in Puce Moment (1949) feeds into the decadent, narcotised, occult pageantry of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). The longest film here at 38 dazzling minutes, Inauguration was psychedelic before there was psychedelia. Partly records of bohemian history, these films are also outside of time, but their influence goes deep: Martin Scorsese, who learnt from Anger's Scorpio Rising - due to appear in Volume Two - writes a fanboy introduction to the 48-page booklet; films like Scorpio and Rabbit's Moon (1950), with their use of pop songs as dream commentary, must have also caught the eye of David Lynch. Anger offers sparse but illuminating explanations of technical issues and decodes symbolism.

The surrealism of Jodorowsky is probably among the influences on the three Spanish-language art-horrors of Guillermo del Toro - Cronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. For Labyrinth, also add some Goya - that painter's Saturn is referred to - and the writer-director's intensive, lifelong research into the history and workings of classic fairy tales. In "The Power of Myth", a short documentary on the second disc of this superb two-disc release, del Toro explains that the Little Red Riding Hood story was one source (so, the stepfather is the wolf, the rebels are the woodsman). The folklorists among us will also be fascinated to learn that, English-language title notwithstanding, the tall, ancient, creaky faun that offers magical assistance to the girl Ofelia is not the nature god Pan - "Pan," del Toro says, "would be too dangerous." This is one of the darkest, richest fantasy films ever made and this edition does justice to its operatic settings, symbolic monsters and dreamlike terror.