Holy blood is the literal translation Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1989 Mexican-Italian epic surreal slasher which serves up a grotesque and beautiful barrage or images which craft the movie into a nightmarish ride through the life of the central protagonist Fenix.
Shown at two stages in his life and at both played by Jodorowsky’s sons Adan and Axel the narrative follows Fenix growing up as the son of a dominating and chauvinistic circus owner whose mother, also a performer, leads her own religion devoted to the worship of a young girl who was raped and mutilated where the church now stands.
This building and its pool of holy blood is bulldozed down when it is deemed blasphemous and evil by a visiting Roman Catholic monsignor. Returning to performing Fenix’s mother grows more and more suspicious of her husbands relationship with the tattooed lady leading to a gruesome and horrible confrontation which Fenix is forced to witness, scaring him mentally forever more.
Meanwhile in the present day Fenix is in a mental institute where doctors attempt to break him out of his distraught and imprisoned state. On a day trip with other patients he becomes separated from the group and sees a familiar face which leads him on a new path of freedom which leads to a different type of incarceration as he begins to revisit the horrors of his past.
Captivating from starts to finish Jodorowsky’s movie is a series of striking scenes and moments which manage to stay with you long after the film has finished. Scenes such as the elephant funeral where the circus dressed in black march through the streets until the giant coffin is dumped from a cliff into the slums where the casket is torn apart and the dead animal divided up by the rejoicing poor demonstrate the collision of performance and pain, spectacle and death which is ever present in the movie.
Walking a tightrope between the surreal and the real it is this careful balance that keeps the film engaging and stops it slipping into the realms of the ridiculous or absurd where viewers may stop caring and lose connection with the characters. This is helped along by the constant and clever use of music mainly naturalistic and always intrinsic to the film.
It is true to say that the use of circus imagery is a huge cliché in surrealist cinema and even I found myself frustrated at first by it however once you give yourself over to the film, its excellent story and its rich imagery packed with religious themes, mystical totems and powerful dreamlike moments the clowns can easily be excused.
As much as Santa Sangre is a fevered trip into Fenix very Freudian psyche it also has a strong slasher movie spine which harks back to Psycho and Peeping Tom among other movies. In fact Fenix see’s himself as an old movie monster constantly watching the 1933 version of The Invisible Man and acting out the scenes as if he himself where in the film.
The actors playing the cast of unlikable characters are excellent and the repetition of types appearing throughout Fenix’s life shows the spiral of pain he is doomed to repeat unless he can break free from his upbringing.
With brutal murders, sexual obsession and strange scenes of mutilation, disfigurement and hallucination there is no denying Santa Sangre is a horror film it is its surreal and original take on the genre that elevates it above other movies crafting a film that attempts to visualise the inner madness of a disturbed mind as well as the outer actions that mind is driven to do.