Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1989 film is, somewhat expectedly, a total mind fuck of a movie. Like his hedonistic seventies works El Topo and The Holy Mountain (which was funded by a little-known Liverpudlian musician called John Lennon, no less), Santa Sangre is one man’s mystical and uncompromising journey through the dark depths of the human psyche; gripping the audience by the figurative balls and swinging you into realms that most artists shy away from. A Mexican demi-monde populated by circus freaks, cripples, dying elephants, cocaine-fuelled pimps, transvestites, knife-wielding loons, coke addicts, dwarves, prostitutes, wrestlers, and, of course, clowns; you never quite know where Jodorowsky’s carnival of horror is going to take you next, but you’ll certainly be horrified and unable to run away. Remember, he has your balls.
Santa Sangre has a conventional, two-part structure, starting with an extended, fantastical flashback of a circus troupe in Mexico city. When the quietly beautiful, religious fanatic Concha (Blanca Guerra) catches her sleazy husband and circus knife thrower Orgo (Guy Stockwell) in bed with the tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou), she throws acid over his genitals. He retaliates by slicing her arms off and then slitting his own throat – all of which is witnessed with horror by their young son Fenix (Jodorowsky’s son Adan).
The second half of the film transports us to the tormented adult life of Fenix (now played by another of Jodorowsky’s sons, Axel). Traumatised by that horrific event from years previous, he is a catatonic inmate in a mental asylum. Sent out on a night of debauchery with the other patients (all suffering from Down’s syndrome – Jodorowsky’s most provocative moment) Fenix sees the tattooed woman of his past out on the street and offering herself up to any creature with the cash. Awoken from his dormant state, he escapes from the institution to be reunited with his now armless mother and starts playing her hands in a macabre mime act on stage. As the ghosts of Fenix’s past start to meddle in his world whilst he tries to use his magical power to turn invisible, he descends into further madness when his mother orders him to conduct a series of vengeful murders on the women who dare to enter his world.
As difficult to explain, as it is to endure, so here are some words: Santa Sangre is a Freudian nightmare orchestrated by grandiose, Fellini-like theatre and Buñuel surrealism. An expressionistic poem filled with Latin flavour, bold colours and virtuoso religious allegory. A trip in ecstasy and agony, to beauty and beast. Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre is so many things, yet nothing else is quite like it.