Santa Sangre review, Santa Sangre Blu-ray review, Santa Sangre DVD review
Starring
Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Faviola Elenka Tapia, Teo Jodorowsky
Director
Alejandro Jodorowsky
Santa Sangre

Reviewed by Ross Ruediger

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T

o label “Santa Sangre” a mere horror film does it a great disservice, but ultimately that’s where it’ll end up filed nine times out of ten, if no other reason than because so much of its imagery is horrific. But then even, the label horrific does much of that imagery the same kind of disservice, because it’s also dreamy and beautiful. Clearly this is not an easy movie to describe, and that’s probably the highest compliment that can be paid to it. To really get “Santa Sangre,” you have to immerse yourself in it, and if you can do that and come out the other side unscathed, well then, you’re my kind of people.

Take for instance one of the film’s most unnerving sequences. A circus elephant lays dying, blood pouring from its trunk onto the ground. When it finally passes on, its carcass is moved into a giant, ornate casket. A funeral is held for the beast, and it’s transported through the town, circus folk and carnies solemnly trailing behind. The procession ends up on the edge of a cliff. Hundreds of the poor stand around waiting, until the entire thing is tipped over and tumbles down into a filthy, disgusting junkyard. As soon as it hits the bottom, the crowd descends upon it with axes and the like, and they crack open the casket and begin dismembering the beast, tossing out huge chunks of its flesh to one another, presumably for food. Now, I don’t know what kind of movies you’ve been watching, but upon first seeing this spectacle 20 years ago, such imagery was entirely new to me. And this is just one scene of many, many in a film that seems to pride itself on outweirding itself one moment after the next.

“Santa Sangre” tells the story of Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky, son of director Alejandro), who in his adult life has been confined to a mental institution. It then flashes back to Fenix’s troubled childhood (where he’s played by Axel’s younger brother, Adan), and we see the atrocities he’s exposed to which lead to his eventual mental undoing. His parents, Orgo (Guy Stockwell) and Concha (Blanca Guerra), have a tempestuous marriage, which is putting it mildly. One night when Concha catches Orgo cheating with the Tattooed Woman (Thelma Tixou), she goes berserk and commits an act against her husband that sends him into a rage, and he in turn slices both of her arms off. Back in the present, adult Fenix and Concha are reunited, at which point he becomes her arms, as she leads him on a maniacal killing spree of numerous women. While the plot does have some heft to it, the ideas and imagery are what really drive the film, and there’s a surplus of both on hand.    

What’s probably most amazing about “Santa Sangre” is that most of it works, and almost never does it feel like it’s being unsettling just for the sake of it. The real meat of the story – the mother/son killing spree – doesn’t kick in until over halfway through the picture. Before that point, it almost feels like a series of tightly connected vignettes, with the picture moving from one idea to the next, and yet it doesn’t feel even remotely meandering. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose best known works were from the ‘70s (“El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain”), hadn’t directed a picture in nearly a decade when he mounted “Santa Sangre,” and yet it feels like the effort of an artist at the height of his powers. The film utterly hypnotizes. Jodorowsky is like some crazed alchemist turning his dreams and nightmares into moving pictures for all to see. The film has been largely unavailable for the past 20 years (I first saw it almost that long ago on laserdisc), but thankfully it’s now resurfaced so that a whole new generation of filmgoers can spend hours debating what it’s all about. If you’re into oddball cinema, you won’t find much that’s stranger or more rewarding than this.


Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:

Severin Films has put together a Blu-ray worthy of the Criterion label with this set. There’s a commentary track with Alejandro Jodorowsky and journalist Alan Jones, as well as deleted scenes with commentary and theatrical trailers. The star of the extras is a feature-length documentary entitled “Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World of Santa Sangre,” which includes candid interviews with just about every single actor in the film, as well as the director and the tattoo artist. Jodorowsky is all over this set, and the man is simply one of the most fascinating and insightful filmmakers I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from in a good long while. By the time you’re done imbibing in all of this, you’ll have a very good understanding of what the man behind the camera is all about, and yet you’ll still have questions.

“For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky” is an English documentary made right around the time “Santa Sangre” appeared in UK cinemas. It’s hosted by an incredibly young Jonathan Ross and feature folks like Dennis Hopper and Omar Sharif weighing in. “Goyo Cardenas Spree Killer” is yet another doc, this time on the killer who inspired the movie. There’s also an onstage Q & A with Jodorowsky, as well as an interview with him from 2003. One extra has the film’s composer, Simon Boswell, interviewing the director. “Blink Jodorowsky” is a short from Simon Boswell, and “Close Your Eyes” is a Boswell music video. “Echeck” is a short from Adan Jodorowsky that has an optional commentary.

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