Santa Sangre (Alexandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
[originally posted 3Apr2000]
I’m not sure I have the language to describe this film. Room is being made on my 100-best list for it as we speak. [ed. Note: as of this writing—13Aug2013–it sits at #11.] I was stunned, astounded, left with my mouth hanging open. Okay, so I’m usually more fooled by the twist ending than most people, and that may be the case again here, but… wow.
Fenix (Jodorowsky’s son Axel) is a young man confined to a mental institution after witnessing the gruesome mutilation of his mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra) by his father, Orgo (Guy Stockwell– yes, he’s Dean’s brother) after Concha catches Orgo with another woman (Thelma Tixou). After committing the disfigurement, Orgo kills himself. Fenix is witness to all this, and we see it in an extended flashback. As well, Fenix is falling in love with Alma, who’s the daughter of the other woman– and so, when the other woman flees, she takes Alma with her.
The present, in movie time, is twelve years afterwards. While on an outing with others from the institution, Fenix happens to see the other woman in a crowd of prostitutes, and the next morning, his mother comes to see him at the institution, and effects his escape. His mother, who is without arms thanks to his father, uses Fenix’s arms in order to exact revenge. And it only gets weirder from there.
Many people seem to consider Santa Sangre a horror film. I’m not exactly sure why this is. There are elements of the horror film in it, but there are just as many elements of other genres (most notable psychodrama and black comedy, but others as well). In the end, it’s pretty much unclassifiable, and that’s much of the reason the film works as well as it does; it’s impossible to pin down, lending even more to the atmosphere of disjointedness, “otherness,” that the events themselves open up.
The casting is immaculate, even if it does show the hand of nepotism inherent in Jodorowsky’s films. Axel looks like a demented cross between Alexandro himself and Bronson Pinchot, and is at his best when playing his role as “less is more.” Jodorowsky has that seemingly rare gift of being able to say more with facial expression than with words, and he does it quite capably here. Guerra, Stockwell, and Tixou all perform exceptionally well. But ultimately, it is Axel Jodorowsky and the stunning Sabrina Dennison– in her only film role, as the adult Alma—who carry this film.
Love it or hate it, it is impossible to walk away from this film unaffected. See it at your earliest opportunity, and go to whatever lengths you need to. It’s that good. *****
Trailer, subbed in Japanese.
Bonus! Where the subtitle comes from: