The Film– The film opens with a man, Fenix, in a mental institution. He climbs and perches on a tree in his room, only eats raw fish, and sleeps in a basket. His mind is a little, um, odd- but a flashback helps us figure out what made Fenix the antisocial misfit we’ve just seen.
Fenix’s father was the owner and master of a circus, and his mother was the priestess at a questionable church. The government is scheduled to demolish the church, Santa Sangre, because they believe it to be corrupt. Their patron saint is a girl who had her arms chopped off before being raped, and they have a giant pool of her blood in the center of the chapel.
His father is a sleazy, cold-hearted asshole who has been having an affair with the tattooed lady at the circus. Fenix is disturbed by his situation, but his escape from reality is Alma, a deaf-mute who the tattooed lady treats like a slave.
The church is demolished by two bulldozers, and Fenix’s mother decides to give a job at the circus a try. She is not blind to her husbands actions, but she pretty much lets them slide by at this point. That night, Fenix sits with an elephant while it bleeds to death on the streets.
The circus holds a funeral for the elephant, and when Fenix cries, his father takes him back to the circus and tattoos him with one of his throwing knives to "make him a man". During the next performance, the ex-priestess has finally had enough of her husbands cheating, and after locking Fenix in his trailer, confronts the couple.
After barging in and throwing caustic acid on the couple, her husband slices off her arms with two of his throwing knives. He then wanders out into the street before slitting his own throat. The tattooed woman run off with Alma, and Fenix’s mother appears to be dying of blood loss.
Back in present day, the institution takes every patient on a trip to the movie, and Fenix sees the tattooed woman whoring herself out on the streets. The next morning, he hears a voice calling him from outside his window, which turns out to be his mother. She commands Fenix to act as her arms, and the two set off to become a preforming act again.
Well the tattooed lady, being the total bitch she is, tries to sell Alma to a few drunk soldiers. She escapes and hides out for the night, and the soldiers leave in disappointment. After everyone clears out, someone sneaks into her bungalow and slices her to pieces.
Fenix recruits one of his old friends from the circus, and they, along with his mother, begin putting on shows. Fenix essentially becomes a slave to his mother, and even when he wants to disobey, she is able to take over and controls his hands. This leads to several murders around the town, and every time someone is cut up it’s by Fenix’s hands- but not his will.
Eventually Alma finds a poster for the duo, and sets out to find her childhood friend. Meanwhile, Fenix is struggling with his identity, his impulses, and his view of himself- all caused by his demanding mother. As the body count begins to grow, so does Fenix’s will to rid himself of his mother once and for all.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is quite possibly one of the best film makers of all time. His films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain are just magically disturbing pieces of work, and Santa Sangre is no exception either. While far less surreal than his earlier work, Santa Sangre does manage to combine enough visuals with a fairly straight story to give the viewer one hell of an experience.
At it’s core, this is a film about identity and willpower. Fenix can’t decide if he wants to be like his mother, his father, or just disappear from the world altogether. In one silly, yet powerful scene, he tries to become the invisible man, even going as far to don the iconic gauze and try to create a potion.
Now here’s where I’m going to get just a little negative. Some of the surrealism and metaphors are explained, which is always a movie killer in my opinion. The point of a surreal film is to be open to interpretation, and when you explain everything, you neutralize any interpretation other than the film makers. Now in this case the explanations are, to some degree, surreal as well- and it is a Jodorowsky film, so he could tell you exactly what the film means to him, but everyone else could see it differently.
The death of the tattooed woman is an obvious homage to Dario Argento, and since his father was producer on Santa Sangre, that makes prefect sense. It’s a very stylish, color rich death that relies on shadows and silhouettes to set the carnage up, then spills gallons of blood. Now for the bad news- every murder after this one is pretty bland in comparison. Sure they have significances to the story, but the the visuals do not even compare.
As far as setting and design goes, this is a haunting and beautiful experience. Every set is different, and screenshots are the only way I can show how fantastic they are. One of the most memorable scenes had floating paper skeletons, armed soldiers, masked dancers, and a semi-truck. I wish I had just an ounce of the imagination Jodorowsky has.
It may seem like I’m finding countless flaws with Santa Sangre, but in all honesty it’s just nit-picking. I love Jodorowsky, and in my opinion he has made some perfect films- which is the reason I was so picky with Santa Sangre. It is fantastic don’t get me wrong, but it could have went beyond fantastic and been prefect. A very stylish end to Jodorowsky’s surreal film career (seeing as how King Shot was officially canceled).
The Package– The last time I watched Santa Sangre, about 4 years ago, was on the Anchor Bay UK DVD, and I remember it looking great. Severin has gone all the with this transfer, making the AB UK disk look like junk. My only complaint is that in a few scenes the picture looks like the contrast is too light, but I’m willing to place money on that being just a lighting issue. DNR does not mess up any detail, and everything looks lush and vibrant.
Severin has included the English dub track, as well as the Italian and Spanish mono tracks. The English dub is crystal clear and as sounds great, but it is a 2.0 HD mix. I would have really liked to see a 5.1 as well, but the quality of this release makes up for it.
The last Severin Blu-Ray I reviewed was Hardware, and the improvement since then is fantastic. A beautiful main menu, great pop-up menu, good sizing on the font and pictures, and flawless navigation. I’m not really a fan of pop-up menus that are located at the top of the screen, but this one is so awesome that I didn’t mind it in the least.
Prepare for the longest section of the review, because Severin has packed this release with extras. First there’s Forget Everything You Have Ever Seen: The World Of Santa Sangre- a full length behind the scenes doocumentary featuring everyone from the actors to the tattoo designers, an audio commentary with Jodorowsky and Alan Jones, Deleted Scenes, For One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky- interview footage from Britain, Goyo Cárdenas Spree Killer: a documentary on the serial killer who inspired Santa Sangre, On Stage Q&A with Jodorowsky, a 2003 Interview, Simon Boswell Interviews Jodorowsky, Blink Jodorowsky- a short by Simon Boswell, Close Your Eyes- Simon Boswell Music Video, Echeck- an Adan Jodorowsky Short Film, and trailers. I would comment, but my fingers feel like I repeatedly smashed them with a ten pound hammer right about now. Needless to say, anything you ever wanted to see about Santa Sangre or Jodorowsky is right here.