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By Travis Mullis

Regarded as a washed-up addict at his untimely death in 1984, the director Sam Peckinpah tested the studio system’s 1970s-era belief in dynamic genius directors. His was the type of talent you want to see only one of in an industry already notorious for difficult men. As hard as he was to work with — he once refused to leave his trailer for hours while thousands of extras and hundreds of horses waited — his talent was undeniable. His gift was for the tired genres of Westerns and action flicks. He didn’t revive those genres so much as blow them up in the handful of memorable films he made between 1962 and 1980.

“Bloody Sam” was always fighting the studios for creative control of his films. The only movie he considered truly his was Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garciawhich screens at IPH starting Tuesday, January 16, as part of the Wanderers of the Lost Highways series. Alfredo Garcia (1974) is the last Peckinpah film that displayed his full talents before the booze, drugs and lack of studio funding and faith started to undermine his artistic vision. 

Besides its obvious cool factor, the title tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the plot. Bennie, played by Warren Oates at his grizzled, sunglass-wearing zenith, is a booze-soaked piano player and barfly drinking his life away down in Mexico when two men come looking for a man named Alfredo Garcia, who has impregnated the daughter of El Jefe, a Mexican crime lord (played by Emilio “El Indio” Fernández). El Jefe offers $1 million to whoever brings him the head of the man who violated his daughter. It turns out Bennie’s girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), was cheating on him with Garcia just the week before, and she knows something that El Jefe and his henchmen don’t: Alfredo Garcia has been killed in a drunk-driving accident. After a little grave-digging and decapitation, Bennie sets out on a road trip across Mexico to deliver “Al’s” cranium for a big payday, while simultaneously journeying to the edge of mental and physical madness. Upon initial release, the film was a critical and commercial flop, but 50 years later, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has become both a critical darling and a cult classic.

Peckinpah poured all his creative energy and directing talent into it, creating a dark, violent, poetic masterpiece that’s remarkable to behold. David Weddle, author of the Peckinpah biography If They Move … Kill ’ Em!, describes the production: “Something happened to this strange little morality play as Sam shot it in and around Mexico City and Cuernavaca. The scenes grew even weirder, warped by the psychological obsessions that emanated from both Peckinpah and Mexico itself. The imagery, the characters, and the plot twists began unfolding like the distorted visions of a mescal-drenched fever dream.” 

For three screenings only, lucky cinephiles can see this Peckinpah masterpiece on the big screen. Like all the films in the Wanderers of the Lost Highways series, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is much more than a modern Western or road flick. Curator Sam Shapiro describes the series this way: “As the road unfurls, you’ll contemplate not only the vast physical landscape but the interior depths of lost souls searching for meaning, identity, connection and sometimes bloody revenge.”

Don’t miss this opportunity to see Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and get ready to experience a singular film of the 1970s, a decade when filmmakers forever changed the direction of the medium, Sam Peckinpah chief among them.


Travis Mullis is a Charlotte native and freelance writer always on the lookout for a good meal and a good film.
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