Those familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work know that it’s pretty much impossible to categorize. His work is filled with imagery that is haunting, surreal, beautiful, and funny (often at the same time). The closest thing to a horror film he ever did was this gruesome gem about a boy and his mother and the murder of jealous women.
Sound familiar? Broken down to its simplest materials, Santa Sangre has much in common with Psycho. But anyone who’s seen The Holy Mountain or El Topo (the favorite film of no less notable personalities than John Lennon, David Lynch and Marilyn Manson) know that with Jodorowsky, nothing is ever simple.
Using a method of narrative where there are both flashbacks and flash-forwards, the script (co-written by Claudio Argento, brother of the legendary Dario) delivers a story of a circus performer, Fenix, raised by a sleazy, abusive knife-thrower father and a cult leader mother. When the father’s affair is discovered, Fenix’s mother confronts him and has her arms chopped off for her troubles. Years later, as Fenix is released from a mental institution she takes control and uses him to kill women that make her jealous.
Santa Sangre, like Jodorowsky’s other efforts, could easily be written off as purely a film about style, but like a visual artist, he works to make each image evoke something. The grotesque death of the elephant in the beginning could easily be a metaphor for the death of Fenix’s innocence. The tattoos could represent corruption, as the woman who sets everything in motion is covered in them, and Fenix himself is given a tattoo by his father.
Santa Sangre is certainly Jodorowsky’s most accessible work, but that’s really not saying much. It’s truly bizarre, and as challenging to watch as it is pleasant.
See this movie!