VHS Review: Santa Sangre

You can’t atone for your sins with nightmares.

Santa Sangre is one of the greatest horror films of all time for its various conspicuous essential features. It’s original, poetic, and completely underrated. The imagery and imagination should be celebrated and given the attention it is so rightly entitled to for coming together so magnificently. This film is basically the reputable of all films parallel to Psycho. There’s the obsession with the boy’s mother and her living through his hands and there’s the excellent point of view shots from a brutal stabbing. While I feel Psycho was a major influence for this film, Tod Browning’s “Freaks” also seems to be highly influential along with James Whale’s “The Invisible Man.” The storyline was initially approached through a real-life serial killer in Mexico, Gregorio Cárdenas, who murdered teenage prostitutes in the early 1940s and was later pardoned for being ‘rehabilitated’ and celebrated as a hero. That’s the fucked up Mexican judicial system for you. I’d like to see that happen in America. Oh wait…..

Alejandro Jodorowsky explores the outer limits of bad taste like no other. It’s an act of courage. This brilliant man is possibly one of the most innovative directors of all time. He has spent his entire life embodied in the arts. He had been a clown, comic writer, spiritual guru, and ventriloquist. His bizarre extracurricular activities shine through his films. However, if you are going to become a fan of his work, I suggest you view his masterpiece “El Topo” first.

Santa Sangre opens with a nude mental patient named Fenix who eats raw fish and sleeps in a doggy bed. We soon learn that this man has a whole bag of issues that put him into this institution. For starters, his mother was absolutely bat shit crazy. Mommy dearest, Concha, is the leader of a cult. Concha is actually Mexican slang for vagina and their church features a lovely pool of ‘blood’ that I think it suppose to represent the menstrual cycle. Gross. Concha calls it holy blood but a priest that demands this sacrilegious temple be torn down immediately is all, “Uhm no, it’s paint.” He didn’t actually say those words but you get the gist.  In this church, the followers sport red robes and worship a dead girl with no arms that was tragically raped and murdered. Fenix’s mother and father run a circus show where Concha is a trapeze artist. His American father, Mr. Orgo, is the master of ceremonies and knife thrower and is quite possibly one of the most repulsive men I have ever seen. The question that haunted me throughout the film involved the degree of Orgo’s sexiness. Why are two women fighting over this sweaty bulge and wild chest hair? He’s an alcoholic and soon begins an affair with a tattooed woman, who is part of their side show. The tattooed woman forces her deaf mute daughter, Alma,  to perform in the circus as well and it’s love at first sight for our lead man. As we see the parent’s relationship unfold on screen, Fenix also watches his parents having sex which is enough to fuck anyone up. He was born into a world of chaos and cruelty. The poor chap didn’t stand a chance against the world and it’s violent perversion.

Fenix has his own magic show in the circus while they tour around Mexico. All hell breaks loose when Concha spots Orgo and the tattooed woman kissing and catches them while they’re inches away from coitus. In a fit of rage, Concha throws acid, that just so happens to be in the room, on her man’s naughty bits and I am not sure if he was just wearing a wig this whole time or if she also threw acid on his hair but his head begins to bleed and we see the disturbing image of a balding, bleeding, fat naked man stumbled towards Concha and in similar fashion to her false ‘God’ he cuts off both of her arms. Fenix was lucky enough not to catch this part but he does get to watch the entertainment of his naked and mutilated father slitting his throat before the circus tent.

This crucial first act circles back to Fenix being grown in the asylum. The irresponsible nurses and doctors send Fenix and several down syndrome patients to the movies. Their evening ends with the group snorting cocaine and making the sexy with a fat prostitute, only Fenix goes astray and comes across an older, nastier tattooed woman that destroyed his family. Cut to a happy Fenix in his room at the institution, doing acrobats to express his night to please the questioning doctor. His armless mother appears before him outside and he climbs out the window then moves in with her and becomes her ‘arms.’ Fenix begins killing women due to his mother’s uncontrollable jealousy and the two have their own act in numerous theaters across Mexico.

The third act makes as much sense as the previous two and I do not want to spoil the twist ending so I might as well just leave it at that.

The film’s most exciting moments are in the details of the circus and the perfectly performed ventriloquism.  The elephant funeral was illogical but possibly my favorite scene in the film and an important element to the plot – Fenix becoming a man after Orgo coarsely tells him to “stop crying like a little girl.” Then Orgo proceeds to tattoo his chest. The poor elephant is dying and hemorrhaging from its trunk, in brutal fashion, and a funeral takes place across town where they lead the elephant in his coffin, all dressed in black, and dump it into some ravine where all of these powdered dwellers come running to rip the elephant to pieces. Like I said, it’s illogical but still an important part of the film. Then there’s the brutal stabbing sequence with the loud bongos pounding in the background. I had to keep tinkering with the volume because the music was so loud. The death scenes were visually enchanting along with the white zombies.

The film contains the worlds most interesting characters in a film; The Tattooed harlot, Fenix’s best friend Aladdin who is a dwarf, the deaf mute mime, the manly lady, the dancing pimp, the fat prostitute, the boy’s parents, and the white zombies. The passion from this batch of actors is surreal. Jodorowsky used both sons – Axel and Adan, to play the old and young Fenix. Supporting cast members; Bianca Guerra as Concha was terrifying. I just did not care for her character AT ALL, even before she gets her arms chopped off, which means Guerra performed Concha brilliantly enough to make me hate her. Guy Stockwell as Orgo isn’t as well known as brother Dean Stockwell but apparently he was devastatingly handsome before he became a fat bald guy. Even his parents were more successful. He’s the dimmer bulb of his family. There’s the beautiful Sabrina Dennison as the deaf mute Alma, trapped in sexual slavery by her cunt of a mother, the Tattooed Woman played by Thelma Tixou. Thelma had a bodacious butt and she was artistically covered in tattoos but she was a bad person… Pimping her deaf mute daughter out to retarded soldiers and all. This was a solid cast.

Santa Sangre is not for everyone. If you want a typical slasher where a group of unsuspecting individuals start off the film at the wrong gas station or the usual set up for a typical horror film then be my guest. But don’t come arguing to me about how terrible this movie is and how awesome The Hills Have Eyes remake is. Santa Sangre is powerful and effective. As for what else it may be, individual audience members will have to decide.

  • JamesD

    I know we had this discussion, I love this movie so much. I think today’s movie fans are so spoiled by having it all given to them, that films like this are a lost art. This film is beautiful and so patient and the ending is heartbreakingly remarkable. Great review Rebbie…