Admittedly, I have become quite disillusioned with the films and character of “acid-garde” auteur turned comic writer/would-be-guru Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) over the past couple years or so, but strangely, at the same time, I have found a new affinity for his Mexican-Italian surrealist thriller-horror film Santa Sangre (1989) aka Holy Blood; a work I was so annoyed with upon my initially viewing of it some 8 or 9 years ago that I did not even make it to the midpoint before turning it off. The first film he directed in almost a decade after his failed children’s filmic fable Tusk (1980) and his aborted attempt at cinematically adapting Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 science fiction novel Dune, Santa Sangre – a work co-written and produced by Claudio Argento (the younger brother of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, who produced many of his big bro’s films, including Suspiria and Mother of Tears) – was a sort of “comeback” effort for Jodorowsky, but it was, unfortunately, a short-lived one as his subsequent attempt at creating a cinematic blockbuster, The Rainbow Thief (1990), was an abject failure of the first order, both artistically and especially financially speaking. Featuring the sort of sordid sideshow surrealism and gross and gory yet gorgeous grotesquery fans have come to love and expect from Jodorowsky yet with a much more coherent narrative than El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), Santa Sangre arguably makes for the seemingly megalomaniacal avant-garde auteur’s most accessible and, dare I say, eclectically and endlessly entertaining work, thus making it the perfect introduction to his odd and oftentimes oneiric yet ominously obscene cinematic oeuvre. Although often described as a Chilean, Latino, and/or French filmmaker, Jodorowsky is undoubtedly the virtual archetypical “wandering Jew,” as someone who was born to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants that learned to dislike the natives of Chile due to their mistrust of his 'foreign' character, as well as the American mining industrialists that mistreated the natives, thus developing a dual hatred for American imperialism and its victims, which bleeds deeply through his celluloid works, including Santa Sangre; a film that portrays the majority of Mexicans as savage scavengers, filthy freaks, and, at best, suave criminals and charismatic psychopaths. A man that was apparently, according to himself, the product of rape after his father sexually ravaged his mother, Jodorowsky (who once claimed to have literally raped the heroine for a scene in El Topo, thus following in the foul footsteps of his fiendish father) was naturally resented by the woman that rather reluctantly gave birth to him, which most certainly seems to shine through in Santa Sangre; a film about a child magician turned bestial adult mental patient and malicious murderer who thinks he is a phoenix and is horribly haunted by his armless and merciless mother. Featuring a visual feast of human freaks of the genetically dubious sort, hungry mobs of mud-covered Mexicans who are hellbent for the foul flesh of dead elephants, voluptuous zombie babes, kooky coke-snorting beaners with Down syndrome, a super slavish religious cult that worships a girl that who was raped and had both her arms cut off by two bodacious buggering brothers, and meta-Fellini-esque carnival and murder scenarios probably inspired by psychedelic drugs and even more mind-penetrating personal memories, Santa Sangre is a surrealistically sound film that convinced me that Jodorowsky is more than just a pretentious psychopath who is addicted to his own deluded, drug-addled pseudo-spirituality of "psychoshamanism."
Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky; the director’s son, who bares a striking resemblance to his father thus making for the perfect alter-ego for the auteur) is all fucked up and like many deranged people, his mental affliction started after a rather tragic series of events he experienced during his completely corrupting childhood during those especially critical coming-of-age years. Rather prestigious and wise for a child carny, young Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky; another one of the director’s sons) works as a “child magician” at a Gringo-owned (as advertised) Mexican carnival run by his semi-nefarious knife-throwing father Orgo (Guy Stockwell) and whose best friend is a middle-aged Mexi-midget named Aladin. Fenix’s mother Concha (Blanca Guerra) also works at the carnival as a trapeze artist and aerialist, but her real passion is being the leader of a renegade religious cult that has a raped and dismembered girl (who has no arms) as its patently perverse and preposterous patron saint. On top of suffering from spiritual insanity, Concha suffers from self-imposed sexual repression and totally hates a tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou) that also works at the carnival because her husband Orgo has a rather dubious and risque relationship with her that includes throwing knives only a couple inches away from her illustrated meat-curtain. The tattooed woman also has an adopted daughter named Alma (Faviola Elenka Tapia); a blonde-haired, deaf mute tightrope walker that Fenix is feverishly fond of. Naturally, little Fenix's life begins to take a dramatic turn for the worst when one of his friends, a small elephant, dies and is given a public funeral where it is paraded through the city streets in its campy coffin like all great Mexican folk heroes and is subsequently dumped in a trash pit, where a virtual army of dirty mestizo savages (played by real poor people whose sole costume for the film was mud splattered across their clothes and for whom the director apparently gave real beef to quench their hunger) rip the deceased beast to shreds so they can eat its rancid meat, thereupon traumatizing the little magician, yet the downward spiral that is his late childhood has only begun to turn into a very real nightmare. To simultaneously console and make a man out of his son, ogre-like blond beast Orgo tattoos a large spread-eagled phoenix (a symbol typically used as a sign of “resurrection” or an “exceptional man”) onto the boy's chest that is identical to his own chest tat via his favorite knife and some bloody red ink in what is a symbolic mark that will perpetuate a family curse. In retaliation for seeing Ogor fondling and fornicating with the tattooed woman, Concha pours sulphuric acid onto her husband’s Orgo's disloyal dick and balls and he retaliates by cutting her arms off, thereupon turning her into a mommy martyr in the form of her favorite limbless rape victim saint. With his manhood mangled and ruined, Ogor – who is no Adonis as a large and in charge fellow with an exceptionally unflattering and badly bulging beer gut – walks naked into the street while grasping his disfigured genitals and slits his own throat with his favorite phallic throwing knife, all while Fenix watches to horror while helplessly locked in a trailer.
Flash forward a decade or so into the present, Fenix is now a funny feral-like fellow who thinks he is a phoenix as an emotionally monotone maniac who stands crouched down and perched on a tree and eats raw fish in a mental institution where he seems to be the only patient who does not suffer from Down syndrome. One night, when he and the merry mongoloids are taken on a night field trip to a local movie theater, he and his crazy comrades are given cocaine by a suave pimp (Teo Jodorowsky; undoubtedly the director’s least ugly son) with his hair slicked back like a greaser who has an obese prostitute as a girlfriend. The pimp takes them to the more sleazy side of the superlatively shitty city, where Fenix sees the tattooed woman, who now works as a fleshpeddler, trying to sell cheap tricks on the seedy sunset strip, which throws him into a fit of rage. His encounter with the tattooed whore must have awoken something deep inside of his subconscious because he regains the strength and will to live, but also sees the ghost of his dead mother, who calls out to him, so naturally he escapes from the less than secure mental hospital and rejoins his mommy to begin his new life of murder and mayhem. To his decided dismay, Fenix witnesses the tattooed women trying to teach now-grownup Alma the trick of the trade of a hooker, but before long, the ex-carny covered in salacious tats is brutally mutilated by an unseen woman’s hands with red finger nails. Together mother and son go on vengeful seek-and-destroy missions, but is the armless Madonna just really a figment of the marvelously mad man’s macabre and murderous imagination?! Can lifelong love interest Alma prove that 'love conquers all,' by getting Fenix to stop fetishizing his freaky mom?! Through a series of trials and errors, including attempting to take on the identity of the 'Invisible Man' and giving way to his bi-curious side by dating and courting a massive and muscular cross-dressing wrestler, Fenix comes to realize that his mother is not of the nice, nurturing sort and that he needs to finally come to terms with his unpleasant past, even if it means eradicating his phantasmagorical procreator for a woman of the more physical and less homicidal and incestuous sort.