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Santa Sangre (1989)

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 118 minutes

UK Certificate: 18


Chilean born Alejandro Jodorowsky has been many things – circus clown, revolutionary 1960s theatre artist, writer of Marcel Marceau's best known mime routines (including 'The Cage'), avant-garde filmmaker, successful comicbook writer, reputed tarot reader, intellectual, spiritualist and prankster – in short, he is a visionary genius, and while his filmography may be relatively brief, masterpieces like 'El Topo', 'Holy Mountain' and 'Santa Sangre' shimmer with a creative excess and twisted imagination that is, or should be, the envy of any filmmaker.

Italian producer Claudio Argento (brother of giallo-king Dario Argento) asked Jodorowsky to 'make a picture where a man kills a lot of women', and the result, the English-language 'Santa Sangre', does for the slasher genre what his 1970 epic 'El Topo' did for the western – i.e. uses its core features merely as a backdrop on which to stage one man's mystical journey from child to adult and from illusion to reality, in a Mexican demi-monde peopled by freaks, cripples, transvestites, dwarves, prostitutes, wrestlers, lunatics and, of course, clowns. 'Santa Sangre' is Jodorowsky's most accessible film, as big, loud and brassy as the Perez Prado mambo soundtrack with which it opens, grabbing you firmly by the balls and refusing to let go.

When prim religious fanatic Concha (Blanca Guerra) catches her husband Orgo (Guy Stockwell), an alcoholic circus knife thrower, in bed with the tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou), she pours a jar of acid over his genitals, and he retaliates by cutting both her arms clean off and then slitting his own throat – all of which is witnessed with horror by their young son Fenix (played by Jodorowsky's son Adan). Years later, Fenix (now played by another of Jodorowsky's sons, Axel) is a catatonic inmate in an asylum, but after seeing the tattooed woman in the street, he escapes to rejoin the now armless Concha, playing her hands in a bizarre mime act on stage, while spending his spare time at home trying to discover the chemical formula for invisibility. As the ghosts of Fenix's past come back to haunt him, and a series of brutal murders takes place, he is forced to realise that the head, heart and hands are not always entirely one's own.

Part circus carnival, part Oedipal nightmare, part gnostic allegory of self-discovery, part Felliniesque pantomime, part psychothriller, part rite de passage, part satire on church hypocrisy and colonial predation, 'Santa Sangre' is a magical realist poem set to a Latin beat, full of bold colours and grand gestures. The performances are over-theatrical in just the right way, the sets are breathtakingly rococo, the costumes exquisitely lavish, and the rapid moodswings from melodrama to farce to tragedy to horror create a genuinely disorienting experience for the viewer – as do the frequent, surreal evocations of Fenix's dreams, fantasies and hallucinations.

Probably not a film that everyone will love, but certainly one that no-one will forget – and nothing quite like it has been made before or since.

It's Got: An unforgettable funeral scene for a dead elephant, a taste-defying sequence involving Downs syndrome children being given cocaine and then taken to a very fat prostitute, a man tearing off his own ear (and then trying to force it into the mouth of a deaf-mute), a big snake bursting out of the main characters trousers, a portentous quote at the end from Psalms, as well as chickens, swans and lots of clowns.

It Needs: To be seen with a clear head (unless you want one hell of a bad trip).

DVD Extras Two whole discs of goodies to savour. Stereo 2.0 with optional 5.1. Audio commentary featuring knowledgeable horror critic Alan Jones and Jodorowsky himself - near the beginning the director states of one of his actors I hated him because I hate my father...I wanted to kill him, and from there on in it just gets better and better, with lots of insights into the films unorthodox production (entire scenes cast with blind people, mafia interference, the use of real prostitutes, beggars and transvestites), and some classic Jodorowsky assertions (e.g. gringo needs to be castrated, always - revenge!). Disc two features a charming Chaplinesque four-minute film by Jodorowskys son Adan called Echek (2000); a four-and-a-half minute deleted sequence from Santa Sangre with commentary; thirteen excellent pages of biography on Jodorowsky by David Flint; Louis Muchets 86-minute low-budget documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994), tracing Jodorowskys entire career, and ending, typically, with Jodorowsky turning the camera on his chronicler; a stills gallery of posters and press cuttings; and a superb 24-minute film of Jodorowskys 2002 appearance on stage at the London ICA after a screening of Santa Sangre, in which he regales the audience with his hatred of all Hollywood films (except Starship Troopers and Dark City), declares his deep admiration for Takashi Miike and South Korean film The Isle (almost I have an orgasm), shares anecdotes about masturbating at age seven, and observes that the holy grail is an anus. DVD Extras Rating: 10/10


Put Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini and Dario Argento in bed together, and their perverted offspring might grow up to be something like 'Santa Sangre' – a murderously surreal masterpiece of blood and circuses.