CHRIS: Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) (Jodorowsky, Mexico/Italy, 1989)

Denis Hopper, navigating through the narrative mess of THE LAST MOVIE (1971), managed put together something that resembled a kind of order. He then asked his friend Alenjandro Jodorowsky to review the edit and offer suggestions. Hopper was fanatical about Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO (1970) which was a cult hit on the midnight movie circuit in the United States for the freak scene. The acid-heads loved his take on the spaghetti-western as a spiritualist journey of self-discovery, so he seemed the perfect source of wisdom. Instead of advice, he offered Hopper a challenge: did he want to be a conventional filmmaker, or something different, something special. THE LAST MOVIE was re-cut into an incomprehensible jumble of masochistic, self-destruction.

There’s nothing conventional about Jodorowsky. He is a filmmaker of extraordinary vision and verve who has infused New Hollywood cinema with his singular vision. Lennon and Yoko Ono part-financed LA MONTANA SAGRADA (1937) the follow up to EL TOPO in which an alchemist literally turns shit into gold. Such was his influence at this time, he was asked to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction best-seller DUNE which he planned to deliver on a colossal scale: a ten hour epic featuring performances from Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Alain Delon and Mick Jagger, among others. The vision did not materialise, however the art direction by the British SF artist Charles Foss, the French illustrator Moebius and the Swiss ‘bio-mechnical’ designer H.R. Giger found its way into ALIEN (1979).

SANTA SANGRE appeared after a 9 year break and it is a film that defies definition, I have heard it described as surrealist, ‘avant-garde’, a horror film, a thriller and an ‘art film’, and it is all of these things and much, much more.

The film begins in an asylum with the naked Fenix sitting in a tree while nurses ply him with food. There is a flashback to his childhood as a magician for a travelling circus where his father, Orgo, is a knife-throwing ring-master. His mother is a formidable, devout head of a bizarre cult that celebrates a young girl whose arms have been severed by her brothers. When she discovers her Orgo with the tattooed lady she throws acid at his groin, he retaliates by severing her arms in a strange echo of the iconography of the religion she leads. This sequence is part LA STRADA (1954) and part FREAKS (1932) part nothing else that you have ever seen before. The moment when the circus elephant is paraded through the streets before being launched into the local tip is one of the most arresting images of the film.

The film returns to the apparent present, where Fenix appears to reconnect with his armless mother. She comes to save him from the asylum and they form a bizarre magic act where he performs behind her, providing the peculiar impression that she has arms that move in a graceful and theatrical manner. As their bond grows, she they become symbiotic to a deadly and bloody effect. What follows is a typical giallo film – a pulp horror, awash with gore – but in Jodorosky’s hands it becomes overtly laden with explicit Jungian symbolism that adds to the disturbing effects that are expected from the genre.

I first saw this film in a double bill with the Bukowski inspired Belgian film CRAZY LOVE (1987) featuring the everyday tale of a couple of vagrants who steal a corpse and have sex with it. What an afternoon at the cinema it turned out to be!

I recently sold my VHS copy on ebay to someone in Mexico and lost out on the deal by underestimating the value of the postage.  I didn’t mind, I was pleased that someone was going to watch and enjoy this remarkable film. I have included it on my list now because, as well as being one of my all-time favourites, it has just been re-released by Mr Bongo on DVD and BluRay. Please, ask Santa to put some Sangre in your stocking!

One response to “CHRIS: Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) (Jodorowsky, Mexico/Italy, 1989)

  1. “he was asked to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction best-seller DUNE “

    So many people have been connected to failed Dune projects, both before and after Lynch, I think this is the film directors’ equivalent of “was asked to join the Fall”.

    ‘La Montaña Sagrada’ was featured in ‘The Story of Film’ wasn’t it? Must admit I’ve never seen any of Jodorowsky’s films, will seek out a couple.

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