Alejandro Jodorowsky possesses what could modestly be described as an indisputably singular vision. The writer, playwright, comic book artist and filmmaker creates works that often defy description and could hardly be confused with the work of anyone else. His surrealist cult favorites El Topo and The Holy Mountain established Jodorowsky as a cinematic figure to watch in the ’70s and 1989 saw the release of Santa Sangre, an engrossing work of beauty and ugliness that has been tied up with rights issues for years.
Now, Severin Films has finally given the film the proper home video release that it deserves. Combining the surrealism and perversity of Luis Buñuel, the whimsy and larger-than-life imagery of Federico Fellini, and Jodorowsky’s own sense of striking visual poetry, Santa Sangre is all but guaranteed to plant itself into your mind and stay there for a long time.
Jodorowsky’s son Axel Jodorowsky stars as Fenix, a young man who begins the film confined to a mental institution. Flashbacks reveal to us the reason for his state. As a child, Fenix (played as a young boy by Jodorowsky’s other son, Adan) worked as a magician in the circus run by his parents, knife-thrower Orgo (Guy Stockwell) and trapeze artist Concha (Blanca Guerra). The shy boy is friends with deaf mime Alma (Faviola Elenka Tapia), but his world is shattered when Orgo’s affair with a woman tattooed from head to toe (Thelma Tixou) leads to a brutal attack on his mother. Concha is the leader of a heretical cult that worships an armless girl, and she befalls the same fate, with Orgo slicing off her arms before killing himself.
Having witnessed the whole thing, Fenix languishes in a state of stunned silence until one day, when his mother appears to him outside his window. He goes to her and is transformed into her servant, acting as the arms for his mother as she embarks on a murderous, revenge-fueled rampage. Redemption may be available to him though in the person of former friend Alma (Sabrina Dennison), who comes to his side in his moment of greatest turmoil.
Santa Sangre certainly has more narrative pull than other Jodorowsky films, and its plot owes a debt to classic horror (one scene shows Fenix imitating Claude Rains in The Invisible Man), but the film finds its identity in a steady stream of images that reside somewhere in the realm of dream or nightmare. Jodorowsky gives us elephant funerals, demented parades, seedy red light districts and haunted graveyards — each serving as a window into the fractured soul of the tormented Fenix.