The Film: Santa Sangre (1989)
The Principles: Alejandro Jodorowsky (Co-Writer/Director). Axel Jodorowsky. Adan Jodorwosky. Blanca Guerra. Guy Stockwell. Thelma Tixou. Sabrina Dennison. Faviola Elenka Tapia.
The Premise: When a child magician in a Mexican circus witnesses his mother’s brutal dismemberment at the hands of his own father (who subsequently slits his own throat), he’s sent to a sanitarium. When, as an adult, he goes out with a few of the other patients, he discovers that his past has caught up with him and he escapes. I would say this is where shit gets weird, but, well, it was weird from the start.
Is It Good: It is! Very much so. And it’s made better by the fact that up until the final few moments you’re pretty much convinced that it’s far too out there for its own good. But I’ll come back around to that.
So yeah – Jodorowsky. It’s a name I’ve heard a hundred times and I’m familiar with the existence of a lot of his work, but this is the first of his films I’ve ever actually seen. And maaan… The whole thing plays out like some fever-dream acid trip that, by the time you’re nearing the middle of the third act, feels like it’s just throwing everything it can against the wall for no other reason than because I’m Alejandro Jodorowsky and I’m doing this shit because I CAN, and you’re just going to have to deal with that. Cross-dressing wrestlers, a random samurai sword, an offshoot religion whose patron saint is a nameless girl who was raped and had her arms cut off, a pool of holy blood that might actually be just red paint, Down’s Syndrome patients sniffing cocaine, religious whackadoos, sulfuric acid poured on a dick, a child getting a gigantic chest tattoo via knife blade, hypnotism and knife-throwing. And none of that even mentions the cadre of circus performers, the main cast or the basic plot of the story.
I could get into the story in more detail, but I think I’ll leave it be as I’m not sure I could convey it properly without telling it completely beat-by-beat, and if you haven’t seen it, my clumsy color commentary isn’t the best way to experience it for the first time. No, instead I’ll go back to the point I made earlier and say that, for all the insanity and “what the fuck” that came during the previous hour and fifty minutes, the last ten minutes perform this wonderful trick of reeling EVERYTHING in and making it make complete and perfect sense. More savvy (read: cynical) viewers will probably be able to see the end reveal coming well before it ever shows up, but if you allow yourself to get lost in what you’re seeing on screen without giving into the need to pull yourself out of it to categorize and catalog everything you’re seeing, those last ten minutes wind the film up so tightly that it becomes kind of beautiful. Because when all the dust settles, it’s NOT just a fever-dream, acid-trip of a movie. There’s a blurb on the cover that has Ebert calling it a film in which the innermost chambers of the soul are laid bare. That couldn’t be more apt. And it’s in those final minutes where you fully understand that and the film transcends any sort of superficial label of “weird.” When Fenix raises his hands in those last few seconds you’re watching a triumphant moment, even if it is an ostensible act of surrender. You’re seeing a man who’s finally come to terms with his past and has discovered himself. You’re seeing a man who’s come back from the brink and if any of the things that had come before those last few moments were any less “weird,” then you wouldn’t have as clear a picture of just how much of a trek it was for him.
Santa Sangre is successful because it makes you believe that it’s weird for the sake of being weird when, in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Is It Worth A Look: Um…yeah. It’s certainly not perfect – the script is a little weak in places and some of the performances leave a little to be desired, but in terms of artistry and direction and an overall experience it’s definitely something you’ll be missing out on if you don’t give it a look. And, as it just so happens, it’s on Netflix Instant right now. So go do it.
Random Anecdotes: Fun Fact – the first time I’d ever even heard of this movie was in this thread, where someone had posted a picture of an SDCC attendee in costume as Alma the Mime. I thought the costume looked cool, so I looked up the movie and was treated to this image, which instantly became one of my all-time favorites. If I could find a poster of that image it would already be framed and hung on my wall.
Cinematc Soulmates: Psycho. Freaks. Those “Mime Time” segments on Animaniacs.