Earlier this week, we had David Gregory and Carl Daft, the two fellows behind genre home video label Severin Films as special guests on the Shock Waves podcast. They’ve managed to restore and put out some of the craziest, most eccentric and bizarre cult genre gems, but one of their most well celebrated is SANTA SANGRE.
After the chat, I popped in the Blu for a revisit and was blown away, not only by how utterly fantastic this release looks, but by how vibrant and dangerous the actual movie is. While Alejandro Jodorowski’s filmography often falls somewhere in the “cult” section, SANTA SANGRE (which was produced by Dario Argento’s brother Claudio) is most definitely a horror film, and in particular catered to the genre fan that likes their art to be a bit off-kilter. Here are 5 wacky things about SANTA SANGRE that make it a great horror movie.
A Bizarre Religion!
The film follows the life of magician, Fenix, both as a child and young adult. When we see him as a boy, his father, Orgo, is a knife thrower that runs the circus. His mother, Concha, is a trapeze artist and aerialist that leads her own cult/religion. While it’s never officially given a name, her and her followers worship the statue of a patron saint, a little girl that was raped and had both of her arms severed by her brothers in a brutal crime of passion. It’s a fate that she herself suffers at the hands of Orgo when she catches him having an affair with the circus’s tattooed woman! A true crime that inspires a religion that in turn inspires another murder! Madness!
Speaking of murder, SANTA SANGRE has some of the most elaborate and visually stunning murder sequences ever. There’s one in particular that makes the shower scene in PSYCHO look like child’s play. The dark deeds of the tattooed woman eventually catch up to her and she’s dispatched by a mysterious figure in arguably the film’s most shocking moments. (Which is saying a lot for a film that has everything from circus freaks to bleeding elephants to white ghosts!) On it’s own, taken out of context, this one murder scene could be one of the best “giallo” style scenes not from a giallo film!
An Obsession With The INVISIBLE MAN
Constantly tortured by the memories of his past and always grappling with his existence, Fenix harbors an unhealthy obsession with Universal Studios’ THE INVISIBLE MAN! In one scene, he tries to faithfully recreate the invisibility serum while watching the film.
It’s A Story About A Boy & His Mother
Much like PSYCHO, SANTA SANGRE is, at its core, about the complicated relationship between Fenix and his mother, Concha. After spending 10 years in a mental institute, Fenix walks away when he discovers his armless mother alive and well. The duo begin performing a stage show in which Fenix acts as Concha’s arms, since she’s incapable of using her own. Considering he gives his arms willingly to his mother for her use, the “moral hold” the arms have on Fenix is no surprise, especially when another woman sexually excites him. It leads to some violent murders at the hands of a jealous, over-domineering mother!
Unique Horror Visuals
Jodorowski has delivered some of the most unique and bizarre images ever seen in movies. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and EL TOPO contain plenty of examples of this. But SANTA SANGRE truly delivers visuals that are pure nightmare fuel. As mentioned earlier, there’s something tremendously disturbing about watching an elephant spit out blood as it dies. Or seeing a cheating husband get a healthy dash of acid poured on his genitals. Or Fenix climbing wildly the single fake tree of his private room at the institution. In one surreal sequence, Fenix is burying his latest victim in the cemetery. He had grown accustomed to painting them fully white, the same way his adolescent love, Alma, used to paint her face. Suddenly a group of his former victims all rise from their graves. Being surrounded by the ghoulish ghosts of a dozen women, all painted in white is a nightmare unto itself! SANTA SANGRE delivers the horror.
And speaking of Alma, deep down, it’s an unrequited love story. From the moment they laid eyes on each other, it was obvious that Fenix and Alma were meant to be. And his journey has led him to find her again after re-encountering her mother, the tattooed woman. Could Alma also be the key to his redemption?
While there are plenty of great titles available in the Severin Films library, and there are a handful of great Jodorowski movies to discover, I’d strongly suggest starting out with SANTA SANGRE.