Santa Sangre

The parade of perversity marches on with this eye-popping oddity from Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who set gorges rising on the cult circuit back in 1971 with El Topo. Fenix, the central character in Santa Sangre (Holy Blood), has problems. At eight, Fenix – played by Jodorowsky's son Adan – is caught between bickering parents: a circus-ringmaster father, Orgo (Guy Stockwell), and a religious-fanatic mother, Concha (Blanca Guerra). Orgo's fling with the tattooed lady (Thelma Tixou) prompts Concha to cool her husband's adulterous ardor by throwing acid on his genitals. More than miffed, Orgo chops off Concha's arms and then slits his own throat.

Traumatized, Fenix spends the next dozen years in an asylum. Now grown and played by Jodorowsky's older son, Axel, Fenix escapes his jailers and starts performing a mime act with his mother; he's her arms. They play piano and do magic tricks. During off hours, Felix, at Mom's bidding, kills a few dozen women he lusts for and buries them in his garden. For a while, the film resembles Friday the 13th on peyote. Images of Jason intoning, "Kill her, Mommy," before dispatching a comely camper keep springing to mind.

Despite the excesses, the film – shot in Mexico City by Daniele Nannuzzi – has moments of hallucinatory brilliance. There's a ghostly lyricism in the scene in which Fenix's victims rise from their graves to confront him. And the performance of Axel Jodorowsky as a disturbed man trying to cure his own psychoses pierces the heart. The director and his gifted son never allow us to lose sight of the lost child in the man. Visionary and haunting, Santa Sangre is a mixture of blood poetry and gobbledygook that keeps springing astonishingly to life.

From The Archives Issue 576: April 19, 1990