Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Santa Sangre (1989)

Title: Santa Sangre (1989)

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Writers: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Claudio Argento, Roberto Leoni

Cast: Axel Jodorowsky, Adan Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Teo Jodorowsky


Horror films are made by many different kinds of filmmakers, sometimes a horror film is made by an unknown director whom we’ll never here from again. Sometimes, they are made by a director who has chosen to make horror films his specialty. Guys like John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper come to mind. But sometimes, horror films are made by directors who don’t normally make horror films. Sometimes they make that one horror movie and never revisit the genre ever again, but hey, they took at stab at horro, and they did it well. Sometimes these directors who never make horror films end up making the most interesting horror movies because they shy away from horror film clichés, and more then likely infuse the horror film they are making with their own unique style and flavor.

For example Stanley Kubrick, made The Shinning (1980), an amazing horror film; yet Kubrick never made another horror film again. And it is a film that is very distinctively Kubrickian. It contains many of the elements that make a Kubrick film great. Scorcese is another good example, he normally makes Gangster movies, or period pieces, yet he made two horror films in his life Cape Fear (1991) and Shutter Island (2010), both great horror films in my book. Alejandro Jodorowsky -the director I’ll be talking about in this review- usually makes surrealistic films filled with symbolisms and visual poetry. He is not the kind of director you’d imagine making a horror film. Yet here we are discussing Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky’s first and only horror film to date. How did Jodorowsky end up making a horror film?

When a director like Jodorowsky wants to make a film, it is never an easy thing. He is the kind of director that most producers will probably run away from because his films aren’t easy sells. His films are always a strong departure from what we call a commercial film. In other words, if you are a producer, making back the money you invested in producing a Jodorowsky film, is never a sure thing. The same can be said of some American directors like David Lynch for example. Lynch is respected and admired by many a film buff, but trust me, producers are not knocking at his door dying to produce his next feature, which is probably the reason why we haven’t seen a Lynch movie in a while. Right now, the only way Lynch can make a film is if it’s a very low budget independent affair like Inland Empire (2006). But directors like Lynch and Jodorowsky love working with little money because it means they will have more creative control over whatever film they will be making. These type of directors are artists, surrealists and visual poets, they’d rather make a film with little money, but more creative control.

Sometimes, artistic directors like Jodorowsky haven’t made a film in a while, and when the itch to make a film comes, they sometimes make compromises. In the case of Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky was offered the chance to make a horror film. Dario Argento’s brother, Claudio Argento offered to produce a film for Jodorowsky, but the conditions were set: it has to be a horror film. Jodorowsky agreed, but if you know Jodorowsky, then you know he was going to make a horror film, sure, but he was going to make a horror film that was very much his own. This is exactly what happened with Santa Sangre.

Santa Sangre is a film about a young boy named Fenix. His father (an American named Orgo) runs a circus in Mexico, the circus is called “The Circus of the Gringo”. Fenix’s mother, named Concha, is the religious leader in a church that worships an armless saint. One day, Concha catches Orgo when he is about to be unfaithful to her with a tattooed woman who has just joined the circus. In a fit of jealousy, Concha poors acid on Orgo’s genitals! This angers Orgo so much that he takes two knives and proceeds to cut Concha’s arms off with one swoop! Concha falls to the floor, apparently bleeding to death! Fenix, their son, watches this whole event taking place. It affects him so much that he ends up institutionalized for the rest of his childhood and adolescence. Once he is a grown man, he decides to break out of the mental institution to reunite with his armless mother, who has apparently survived Orgo’s vengeful attack. Now, Fenix is under his mother’s command once again! And his mother wants revenge!

What makes this film a very Jodorowsky horror film is all the surreal moments that it has spread through out. If you’ve seen a Jodorowsky film before (El Topo, Fando and Lis, The Holy Mountain) then you know that Jodorowsky is fond of speaking in visual metaphors. Often times his films won’t have that much dialog because his visuals do most of the talking. Jodorowsky’s style of filmmaking feels as if a mute had suddenly decided to make a film, communicating only through moments, actions, and situations. This is an interesting contradiction about Jodorowsky’s films; dialogue is scarce, yet his films say a whole lot. Whole sequences may be silent, but the images speak none the less, they say everything they have to say through symbolism. This, in my opinion is the best way to watch a Jodorowsky film. You can try and watch it like any other film, but to me, the best way to watch them is by trying to decipher what he is trying to say with his visual metaphors, which are constant.

Santa Sangre may appear to be another crazy Jodorowsky flick, filled with freaks and oddities and symbolisms (and it is) but strange as it may sound, it is also a film that has its roots in real life events. You see, Santa Sangre is loosely based on the life of Mexico’s most famous serial killer; one Gregorio Cardenas Hernandez also known as ‘The Tacuba Strangler’. Gregorio a.k.a. “Goyo” was a serial killer who managed to strangle four prostitutes before he was caught. Now, I know what most of you are thinking, killing four people is not exactly enough to make him so famous, at least not when compared to other serial killers in history. But actually, what makes Goyo’s story interesting is not that he had strangled four women. What makes his case interesting is what happened after that. He became a writer, a painter, he studied psychology, chemistry. His paintings became famous and where sold for high prices! The guy even got married while in jail! After many years in a mental institution, he was released and considered completely rehabilitated! Stage plays, documentaries and films were made based on his life story. Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre is one of them. It is a film that’s loosely based on Goyo’s life. I say loosely because it’s a film that takes Goyo’s story as a starting point and then goes its own crazy, surreal, Jodorowsky way with it. It’s an artistic interpretation of what happened to Goyo rather then a film that is strictly based on his story.

Goyo was a child that was very repressed by his mother, who was very domineering. In the film, Feni’x mother gets her arms cut off by her husband Orgo. So when Fenix reunites with his mother, she is armless. She ends up controlling Fenix’s arms and hands to do her bidding. She does everything through his hands, to the point where he can no longer control them himself! Santa Sangre reminded me of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in this sense. The mother doesn’t let the child be, she makes him murder women whenever they try to make a connection with him. It is a story about a mother who is jealous of her own son. This is where the horror element of the film kicks in because the mother wants to kill any woman who wants to get close to her son on an emotional or physical level. The question arises: Will Fenix ever regain control of his life? The element of circus life adds a Felliniesque air to the proceedings as well. Finally, I’d say that Santa Sangre isn’t a horror film in the strictest since of the word. It’s more of a surreal film, with horror elements in it. It’s dreamlike, it’s symbolic, it’s trippy, it’s disturbing, it’s a Jodorowsky film every step of the way. Santa Sangre is a unique experience you wont soon forget.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Santa SangreSanta Sangre 2-DVD Special EditionSanta Sangre [Blu-ray]The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando y Lis / El Topo / The Holy Mountain)


Mr. Fiendish said...

Agreed. A perfect movie.

Jack L said...

I have yet to see any of Jorodowsky's films, I have El Topo but for some reason I've always avoided watching it, I suppose I'm afraid it might be a bit too surreal for my taste...
Still I do intend to watch his work someday, he's a rather important director.

Really excellent review
and on a side note, I really didn't like Inland Empire, I actually hated it, hardest film to finish in my life, ad I'm usually a fan of Lynch's work...

Franco Macabro said...

@Jack L: If you dont like surreal films, I would say dont venture into Jodorowsky, because he is the KING of surreal I think. El Top and Holy Mountain, holy moly, those two are about as surreal as you can get.

Santa Sangre is actually pretty "straight forward" as far as Jodorowsky goes, I mean, his other films are waaaay out there. But even so, Santa Sangre has its totally out there moments where you might let out a "what the fuck" For example, this whole sequence where they do a funeral for an elephant that dies in the circus. Or a scene where chickens start falling from the skies to name but a few. If your not into that sort of thing, then dont even bother.

Totally agree with you on Inland Empire. Its the hardest Lynch movie to digest (and thats saying a lot!) but me being such a Lynch fan, of course I found some enjoyment in it. Its a movie that isnt easy to watch, I'll admit, there are moments in it that I dont know what they have to do with the rest of the film. And its a film that I would suggest to Lynch fans alone, everyone else will be entirely lost.

These type of directors go for more for emotions then logic or meaning, sometimes they just want to make you feel something, in this sense I think they both achieve their goals. Their are film buffs that enjoy this sort of surreal thing where your not entirely sure of what your watching, but you know its got your attention. I enjoy that every now and again, but I understand why other people wouldnt.

Thanks for the comment Jack.

Jack L said...

Well I can't just write of a whole genre, so I'm willing to give Jorodwsky's films a try, I might not like them but at least I'll know why I don't like them, instead of just assuming I won't like them and then not watching them...
I do like some surreal films, like Bunuel's work and most of Lynch's.

I do think I'll start with El Topo though, Santa Sangre might be a bit much to start with, because I'm not really a Horror fan...

Anyway, thanks again for the interesting discussion and review!
I'll get around to Jorodowsky some day. Who knows? I may love his work....

Franco Macabro said...

That's the spirit! Santa SAngre is actually a good film to start with JOdorowsky, its surreal, but not as surreal and downright crazy as Holy Mountain or El Topo.

Though if you ask me, and you want to see his best film (in my opinion anyways) then go with The Holy Mountain.

I saw Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, and thats pretty close to the kind of cinema Jodorowsky does, who knows, like you said, maybe you'll end up liking Jodorowskys films!

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I first caught wind of this movie when I saw it made Roger Ebert's top ten of 1990. It's always seemed a little on the intense side for me, but I don't know, your review, along with Ebert's, has me intrigued.

Franco Macabro said...

Just be ready for a really artsy fartsy symbolic, surreal sort of nightmarish horror movie and you should be fine!

I Like Horror Movies said...

I've still yet to reproach SANTA SANGRE for a review, but it fits right up there with POSSESSION and ANTICHRIST for me in terms of surrealist fantasy Horror Franco! An excellent review, and I appreciate all of the background into Jorodowsky's making of the film. All quite unknown to me!

Franco Macabro said...

Theres more info where that came from: for example, Jodorowsky actually used three of his sons in the making of this film. Two of them (Adan and Alex Jodorowsky) were used to represent Felix when he was young and when he was older.

One of them (Teo Jodorowsky) who plays the pimp to the really fat prostitute, died after the films completion, so watching this film is a painful experience for Jodorowsky, he is always reminded of his dead son when he sees it.


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