Santa Sangre (Mexico-Italy, 1989):

Does the prolonged gestation period account for the bulging-valise feel of Alejandro Jodorowsky's seething, gore-drenched carnivale? Not really -- all of his pictures seem deliberately shaped to let the fantasies spill over once poured in, and this lushly scabrous murkfest, made after nearly a decade of inactivity, is true to the molten-lava of Jodorowsky's imagination. As in his '70s freakouts, the movie follows the trajectory of the subconscious, namely Fenix's (as in "rising from the ashes," and played at different ages by the filmmaker's sons, Axel and Adan), first spotted perched nekkid atop a tree in the asylum. Cue flashback, and the parade of candy-colored melodrama surging out of the "Circo del Gringo," traumas piling up on little Fenix's innocence via his bloated, randy cowboy dad (Guy Stockwell) and his fervid-eyed mom (Blanca Guerra), who, when not dangling from a trapeze by her hair, presides over an order of fanatics worshipping an armless martyr. The big-top grotesqueries culminate in a fraglante delicto between Stockwell and the Tattooed Lady (Thelma Tixou), and a steal from Browning's The Unknown which leaves Guerra closer to her idol than she may have wanted. Elsewhere, an elephant's tank-sized coffin gets dumped off a steep cliff only to turn brunch for the dirt-caked masses bellow, but for Jodorowsky the story remains about a son's Oedipal chains, Fenix dubbing in for Ma's missing limbs and filling his garden with the carved bodies of the women who arouse his lust. Yes, it's Psycho, but it's also the Theatre of the Absurd, acid castration, El Santo wrestling flicks, Whale's The Invisible Man, a chubby burlesque queen doffing off her schoolgirl plaids to "Besame Mucho," and a gigantic python slithering out of the hero's pants as he eyes a potential flame. It's about Jodorowsky's Jesus complex, his theatricality and illusionism, and outdoing El Topo in its promiscuous miscegenation of art forms. All in throbbing hues and accordion music. Unforgettable, whether you like it or not. With Sabrina Dennison as the angelically pantomiming Alma.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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