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Santa Sangre
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]

RATING: 10/10
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.

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