Today, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre (1989).
Last month, I watched and wrote a little bit about every movie Tony Scott ever made. Watching Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre, I was reminded of films from the last decade of Scott's work. They don't really have anything in common, it's just in the fact that with some of his latter movies, Scott openly and repeatedly said that he was trying to make the audience feel like they were watching the film while on drugs. Scott used camera and editing tricks to get that effect, while it's the character, story, and settings of Santa Sangre that will make you wonder while watching it if someone might have slipped you some bad acid.
Jodorowsky's work has been described as avant garde and surreal, which are fitting descriptions for Santa Sangre, the only one of his movies that I've seen now. The movie has been sitting in my Netflix queue for a long time, I've just never gotten around to watching it until the SHOCKtober schedule finally gave me the push toward clicking Play.
The lead character of the story is Fenix, who was raised in a circus, his father an alcoholic knife thrower who's said to have once killed a woman, his mother a trapeze artist. His mother is a religious person, a member of a cult that worships Lirio, a schoolgirl who was attacked by two brothers who cut off her arms before raping her and leaving her to die in a pool of her own blood.
The "santa sangre", or "holy blood", of the title is a pool of red liquid in the church the girl's worshippers attend, built on the site of her attack, the pool believed to be the girl's actual blood. Authorities deem the liquid in the pool to just be red paint and the church to be blasphemous before they bulldoze the place.
Fenix has a crush on a deaf-mute mime named Alma, who is being forced to become a tightrope walker by her adoptive mother, The Tattooed Grandma. The Tattooed Grandma acts as the target for Fenix's father to throw the knives around and very obviously gets a sexual thrill from the knives hitting around her.
When Fenix's mother discovers that the sexual thrills between knife thrower and target continue on in the bedroom, she interrupts one of their trysts and throws acid on her husband's genitals. In retaliation, the knife thrower cuts off his wife's arms before killing himself. Armless, the woman is now a reflection of her deity.
The death of his father and mutilation of his mother causes Fenix to suffer a mental breakdown, for which he is institutionalized for several years... until his mother shows up outside his window one day and summons him to escape. Back out in the world, Fenix literally acts as his mother's arms, standing behind her and putting his arms through her sleeves, at which point his mother gains mental control over his limbs. And she doesn't just use Fenix's arms for daily tasks and stage acts, she picks up bladed weapons and leads an appalled Fenix on a killing spree of women, starting with getting revenge on The Tattooed Grandma.
Along the way, Fenix is reunited with Alma, and ultimately has to choose between his old love and his murderous mother. If only he could gain back control of his own arms.
Santa Sangre is a very strange film, and I wasn't always totally on board with it, at first I didn't think I was going to get into it at all, but I gradually acclimated to its unusual style and tone. At times it would feel like it was trying so hard to be oddball that it would be almost off-putting, bordering on annoying to me, but overall I did come to admire its unique style.
As a slasher fan, of course my interest was piqued when people started getting sliced up with knives. The murder of The Tattooed Grandma was a standout moment for me, very stylishly shot and edited, and nice 'n bloody. As much as the Grandma fetishized knives when she was part of the knife throwing act, her death scene could've shown her getting a thrill from having the blade pierce her flesh as well, as long as we're being weird, but the movie doesn't go there.
In the end, Santa Sangre was interesting and I'm glad to have finally gotten around to watching it. I can't say I'll be in a hurry to check out Jodorowsky's other works, but I also haven't been turned away from them, I'm still intrigued to see what else he did.
For no reason at all, a line from the movie - "The elephant is dying!" - opens the Eddie Murphy/Michael Jackson duet "What's Up With You?", so follow up your viewing of Santa Sangre by watching the video for that song. It's not a jarring shift in tone going from one to the other, the video and song are just as odd.