Revisiting: Santa Sangre
Jodorowsky's 1989 cult circus slasher returns to cinemas
The circus has long provided rich cinematic pickings, from Freaks and The Greatest Show on Earth to La Strada and Lola Montès. In Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1989 contribution to the canon, the circus is the stuff of wild nightmares and childhood trauma. Set in Mexico, Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) is a carnival of sordid, spiralling familial tragedy, combining the bloodthirsty brio of a slasher movie, the surrealism we’d expect from Jodorowsky with a romantic, compassionate heart.
We first encounter our protagonist Fenix (played by Axel Jodorowsky) sat naked atop a felled tree trunk, behaving as if he were a chimpanzee. A lengthy flashback to the Circo del Gringo reveals how he got there. The son of a brutish knife thrower Orgo (Guy Stockwell) and aerial performer / cult leader Concha (Blanca Guerra), the young Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky) performs in the circus as a magician. He finds happiness in his friendship with deaf mute tightrope walker Alma (Faviola Elenka Tapia), before his father’s affair with her adopted mother - The Tattooed Woman (Thelma Tixou) - leads to bloodshed and ultimately to Fenix’s institutionalisation. Years later Concha returns for him but by then she’s deeply deranged and their collaboration on a bizarre cabaret act leads only to further horror.
Santa Sangre marked Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking after a nine-year absence. There’s a sense of a filmmaker recharged; it’s rich with ideas and expressive, demented imagery. It may be crazed but it’s also perfectly coherent. Fenix is sensitively played by Jodorowsky’s sons and their resemblance to each other adds credibility. Santa Sangre has ample affection for outcasts and much to say about religious hypocrisy. And, just as he illustrates that religious dedication doesn’t always lead to moral actions, Jodorowsky Senior also shows us that armless doesn’t necessarily mean harmless.
Selected release from Fri 21 Sep.