The era of the Midnight Movie is long gone, but if you want a taste of the heady counter-culture ethos that cinematic phenomenon represented, you need only see Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1970s western El Topo. Best summarised as A Fistful Of Dollars meets Freaks, this surreal, allegorical oddity tells of an implacable, black-clad gunslinger, whose quest for spiritual enlightenment takes him on a phantasmagorical journey that defies rational explanation.
Roughly divided into two halves believed to represent the Old and New Testaments respectively, the story begins relatively conventionally with the titular gunfighter, played by Jodorowsky himself and accompanied by his buck-naked son (the director's own child Brontis), coming upon a village whose inhabitants have been brutally murdered by a band of outlaws. Having tracked down and killed the perpetrators, El Topo leaves his boy with an order of Franciscan monks and heads off into the desert to confront the four masters of pistol duelling - a mission that ends with him holed up underground with a subterranean community of dwarves...
"LOOKS LAUGHABLY RAMSHACKLE"
Sufficed to say that brief precis only scratches the surface of a bizarre and unsettling odyssey, whose deployment of Christian imagery, Buddhist philosophy and extremely graphic violence made it a near-permanent fixture on the late-night film circuit of the 1970s. Without the aid of mind-expanding narcotics though, El Topo can't help looking laughably ramshackle, the combination of bad dubbing, shoddy camerawork and over-the-top performances making it pretty much unwatchable by modern standards.
El Topo (The Mole) is released in UK cinemas on Friday 6th April 2007.