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copyright © 2001 - 2004 VideoVista
cast: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, Thelma Tixou, and Sabrina Dennison
director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
118 minutes (18) 1989
widescreen ratio 16:9
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail
[released 26 January]
reviewed by Tony Cotterell
Alejandro Jodorowsky sees life very differently to most of us; he has a unique insight
that is beautifully captured in this multilayered vision of life and, of course, death.
'Santa Sangre' means 'Holy Blood' which is the name of a church that worships a young
virgin who was brutally attacked by rapists - that cut off her arms and left her to bleed
to death. The head of this obsessive cult is Concha (Blanca Guerra) who, at the beginning
of the film, pleads with a priest to save her Mission from being demolished. But the wheels
of life take their turn, and the church gets knocked down anyway.
Not only is Concha a religious fanatic, she's also a trapeze artist in
the Mexico City 'Circus of the Gringo', and married to Orga (Guy Stockwell), the womanising
and very fat knife-thrower. There's also their son Fenix (first played by Alejandro's son
Adan, as an eight-year-old, then by his other son Axel, when the character is 20). So, the
scene is set... Concha becomes very aware of Orga's lecherous advances to the newly arrived
act of the Tattooed Woman, and her deaf and dumb daughter. Immediately, Fenix and the little
deaf-mute strike up a friendship, which is paralleled by Orga and Tattooed Woman - who start
an affair. Concha catches them together and, in a fit of rage, burns Orga's genitals with
some handy acid from a medicine cabinet. Not taking this lying down, Orga manages to wrestle
with Concha and, pinning her against a wall, he takes a knife and shears off both her arms.
Meanwhile, the Tattooed Woman retreats hastily, taking her mute daughter
with her, leaving poor Fenix alone. With his manhood slowly disappearing before his eyes,
Orga stumbles out into the street, thinking that life couldn't get any worse. He takes the
coward's way out and, promptly slashing his own throat, he falls to the ground where his
running blood is lapped up by a pack of dogs. The young Fenix witnesses this unfortunate
incident and, understandably, he's a little distraught. So much so, in fact, that he spends
the next 12 years in a mental hospital.
Thinking that Fenix is old enough to taste the outside world, his doctor
decides to take him and a few other inmates on a short excursion to the cinema, to see the
film Robinson Crusoe. Why? Because the doctor surmises that Crusoe was an outcast
too. Not acting like any true doctor would; escorting his patients into the cinema and
making sure they don't come to any harm, he thinks instead: "Sod it, I'll go home
with Granny" (who the hell?), leaving Fenix, who is slightly backward, with the rest
of the troop - at the mercy of a drug dealer. And, after they've snorted some cocaine, the
pusher takes them through the town's red-light district to sample the wares of a rather
fat prostitute. But, in the course of all this mayhem, Fenix spots the familiar figure of
the Tattooed Woman (no doubt showing some man her etchings). Fenix's recovery soon speeds
up and, as if by magic, his armless mother arrives and Fenix leaves the hospital with her.
But it's mom that needs Fenix and something sinister is afoot as, with her son as her arms,
the pair form a bizarre stage act... and Concha has other ideas, too, using Fenix as her
personal avenger on the world that did her so much wrong.
True cinema experiences are very hard to come by, even at the best of
times. Finding a unique and visionary angle on the screen is nearly impossible in these
days of fast-food movies. But alongside the beauty are the stark, violent images, which
seem to burn a hole in mind's eye. The stabbing of the Tattooed lady is the bloodiest
knifing this side of Argento, and even outdoes him in the sheer brutality stakes.
Apparently, though, this film was passed uncut by our censors, with an
18 certificate for its theatrical release. Yet, this is a difficult film to promote, as
it's neither fish nor fowl.