Films That Haunt Me: SANTA SANGRE

Alejandro Jodorowsky is infamous for his utterly bizarre and trippy films, guaranteed to scramble your brain. Though his most well-known are “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” his later filmography includes a gloriously weird foray into our favorite genre – a nasty, beautiful, out of control film called SANTA SANGRE.

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While I can’t in good conscious call this a narrative, the film has remnants of a plot: a young man, after witnessing his adulterous father attack his mother (who caught him in the act and burned his genitals off) by ripping off her arms before killing himself, becomes his armless mother’s hands as she wreaks vengeance upon everyone who wronged her. But soon this mother sets her murderous rages upon every woman who her son touches, a la Norman Bates and his mother. What comes of this is a brutal, hilarious, wholly disturbing acid trip into a mind torn off its hinges.

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To make it all the more insane, this action takes place in the world of carnivals and freak shows, rendered in bloody Technicolor imagery (which, even better, won the film an NC-17 rating). Jodorowsky, who grew up in this world, creates a gleefully strange cast of snake ladies and mimes and all manner of other beings to act out his tale of revenge. Combining these environs with the more generic tale of motherly madness, I think it is accurate to describe this as “Psycho” on drugs. A whole lot of goddamned drugs.

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The best part of the film is its imagery. Like I said, there is very little attention to plot – it flies and swings all over the place over its two hour run time – but that only allows the visuals to go haywire. We have dream sequences of corpse-brides rising from the grave, a man murdering people with woman’s hands, a church with a vat of holy blood (giving the film its name); surreal, Gothic, and completely unique scenes. The tone is consistently vaudeville and humorous, but the intensity of the violence makes for some honest horror, and the character of the mother is particularly evil. Jodorowsky does not surrender anything for the sake of genre or sense – this is purely his vision, and the audience can either look away, or submit to its madness.

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This type of horror film, poetic and sensory above all else, is so rarely seen anymore. Logic has leaked into the genre and taken hold. I would love to see more daring films like this that follow no rules but their own. Jodorowsky set a wonderful example for filmmakers – this is one of his most accessible films, and it’s still utterly beyond anything else. Not everyone is capable of pulling off this kind of weirdness, but it’s certainly worth a try. “Santa Sangre” is a generous gift for this reason.

This is full-on arthouse, which will certainly put some people off. But for those willing to surrender themselves to a singular and brilliant vision of insanity, this film delivers in full.

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