Santa Sangre (1989) Review

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Send in the Clowns.

Santa Sangre (1989): 8 out of 10: Many reviews in 1989 and 1990 gave Santa Sangre top marks. It was something fresh and new. Roger Ebert probably explains it best in his four-star review.

“When I go to the movies, one of my strongest desires is to be shown something new. I want to go to new places, meet new people, have new experiences. When I see Hollywood formulas mindlessly repeated, a little something dies inside of me: I have lost two hours to boors who insist on telling me stories I have heard before. Jodorowsky is not boring. The privilege of making a film is too precious to him for him to want to make a conventional one. It has been 18 years since his last work, and all of that time, the frustration and inspiration must have been building. Now comes this release, in a rush of energy and creative joy.”

Santa Sangre is not dull. You will see things you have never seen before and will never see again. It is as if Dali and Fellini got together and remade Psycho. (It is a much better Psycho remake than the tone-deaf Gus Van Sant 1998 disaster. I was going to call it that Vince Vaughn disaster as I usually do, but on second thought perhaps the director needs to be called out as well.)

“Santa Sangre,” directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a surrealistic horror film that delves into themes of trauma, identity, and the blurred lines between reality and fantasy. I would attempt to describe the plot, but that is a task best left to others. Better to go in blind honestly.

The Good

The Good: The acting in this film is often very broad, using lots of mime and clown techniques. It is also hypnotic. Sabrina Dennison, as the adult version of the lead character’s childhood love is particularly hypnotic though she is a deaf-mute and doesn’t say a word in the film. I am amazed and saddened that this is her only film.

The other acting is good in a very stylized way. This movie asks a lot of its players, and they deliver like an R rated Mexican soap opera where someone dosed the commissary with LSD.

The Bad

The Bad: As I get older and less concerned about what people may think of my tastes and opinions, I grow closer to admitting I am not a Fellini fan. This lack of appreciation for Fellini is problematic since Santa Sangre is basically Fellini fan fiction with a hint of Dali. One’s tolerance for clowns and circuses will be tested quickly by the happenings on screen.

While the story is apparent with all the symbolism swirling around it, it is also quite simple – a fable. If you are looking for original characters and twists that are not obvious or even internal logic, prepare to be disappointed. Santa Sangre is about the journey, not the tale held within.

The Ugly

The Ugly: The film has a few prominent scenes with Down Syndrome actors. They seem to be enjoying themselves, and the cast could not be kinder to them. I find it unsettling, as I am unsure that they had agency in their participation in the proceedings. It’s a tough subject and unlike the facepalm when you see the clown in minstrel blackface, not one that has gotten easier to read in the subsequent decades.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: I enjoyed myself, and I doubt I will forget Santa Sangre soon. I have seen it twice, and it is better upon a second viewing. Weird and often sad bordering on tragic, still like Ebert said, it is not something you have seen before.

So our protagonist (not hero) Fenix rejoins the circus and tries his hand at the knife-throwing act. It does not go well.
Nothing says “I need to inconspicuously bury a body” like putting said body in a giant purple bunny suit and carrying it while wearing sparkling silver boots.
Spoiler Alert his knife-throwing act does not improve.
Of course, our protagonist has many roles. Here he is as Jesus of the chickens in a fowl biblical effort that was turned down by Gonzo.
Here he is as the Invisible Man
Here he is with The Mummy
And here he is being attacked by white naked female zombies.
I know the idea of surrealism is thrown around a lot. Here is a woman breastfeeding a skeleton baby, and it is not even the weirdest thing in the scene.
The Little Girl was attacked by the Terrano Brothers. who wanted to rape her.
They left her to die in a pool of blood
And here is her Shrine complete with armless school girl statue and pool of blood.
Don’t look to the left.
I love this screenshot. Somehow it reminds me of my dad making me lunch on a Saturday, which was some sort of tinned fish with toast.
Drug use with all the subtly of a Baz Luhrmann film.
Of course, once your schoolgirl is drugged up, time for her to dance and be stripped by a crowd of men. Honestly, Sucker Punch tried, but never even came close to the feeling of this scene.
Even the Bird of Prey is confused why he is in this film.
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