“Dressed like a priest you was/ Tod Browning’s ‘Freak’ you was”
-David Bowie, “Diamond Dogs”
Cousin Franz: Fenix perches bare and bird-like on a naked tree that grows incongruous in the corner of a white room that should perhaps be padded. Fenix is ready to be reborn in the flaring inferno of his insanity, ready to fly back to the terrifying circus of his childhood, and then to fly forward into the world of adulthood; that is, the world of traumas perpetuated ad infinitum, or at least until painted deaf-mute angels help us achieve salvation or psychiatric breakthroughs. Whichever one comes first.
As a young man, Fenix is played by Axel Jodorowsky, and as a child he’s played by Adan Jodorowsky. They’re both, not by coincidence, the children to Alejandro Jodorowsky, iterations of the cult Franco-Chilean director of 1989’s “Santa Sangre” (a title that should have been simply translated as “Holy Blood,” except that might have suggested non-existent ties to Jodorowsky’s 1973 masterpiece, “The Holy Mountain.”)
Young Fenix is the top-hatted son of Orgo “El Gringo,” the half-jovial, half-brutal ringmaster of a freak show that travels the more squalid neighborhoods of Mexico City. (Guy Stockwell plays the role with disgusting gusto, reminding one of Oliver Reed circa Ken Russell’s version of The Who’s “Tommy.”) The boy’s mother is Concha, a sexy-acrobat-by-night, nunnish cult-leader-by-day. (Veteran Mexican actress Blanca Guerra plays the role, ably portraying all the facets of the mercurial matron.) Tearful Fenix witnesses the demolition of his mother’s church by the traditional Catholic Church; the venerable organization feels threatened by the heresy of Concha’s cult, which worships the sainthood of a girl who had her arms cut off by her rapists and was subsequently abandoned to die in a pool of “HOLY BLOOD.” (The cult’s preferred hymn: “Soon the Apocalypse is coming/ There will be no more hope on Earth/ The signs are coming true, little brother/ Hooray, it is Jesus’ turn to bathe in our blood,” or something along those cheerful lines.)
A cult-less Concha returns to circus duties as a trapezist, only to realize Orgo is having an affair with the tattooed woman he uses in his rather rapey knife-throwing act. Hell hath no fury like a cult leader scorned for a body-painted prostitute. As for what happens in the SECOND half of “Santa Sangre,” with Fenix as an adult, I will leave that for entranced first-time-watchers to figure out, saying only that “Santa Sangre” is a very unsettling mix of melodrama and horror, but for all for its symbolistic departures and surreal, brain-searing imagery, this is not one of those Jodorowsky’s works that necessitates the old shaman prankster to provide us with copious annotations. (I’m casting a glance here toward his work with Moebius and Juan Gimenez.)
Just like “El Topo” owed much to the Spaghetti Western, many might miss that “Santa Sangre” is actually an Italian giallo, largely written by Claudio Argento (Dario Argento’s brother and frequent collaborator). An Argento film is already bizarre enough, but Jodorowsky throws added layers of unsettling grotesquerie- and tenderness- upon a story that could have simply been Hitchcock’s “Psycho” meets Robert Weine’s “The Hands of Orlac” meets Fellini’s “The Clowns.” Few would claim that “Santa Sangre” answers to such a pat equation.
Tracey: As a member of PETASS, (and here I have to specify that PETASS, the “People-for-the-Ethical-Treatment-of-Animals Sympathizer Society,” is in no way affiliated, endorsed, or even acknowledged by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I cannot hand out cherries to a movie that shows a sweet circus elephant hemorrhaging to death out of its helpless trunk, which I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to symbolize a penis. Oh, and then the poor little corpse is thrown down a ravine, where a mob of happy paupers rip it to pieces and feast on the bloody bits. This is all just sicko. In fact, there isn’t a frame of “Santa Sangre” that isn’t nightmare-inducing. NO CHERRY.
Trent: This movie is indeed sicko. The dead Dumbo! The armless woman! The earless pimp! If you want proof that David Lynch is actually a mild-mannered pansy, look no further than “Holy Blood”! Inspiring, too. Like, I could see myself owning a circus. Not just any circus. The “El Gringo Dingo Skarr Circus.” And I would gather all the world’s creepiest jesters, put them in a tiny, worthless clown car, (possibly a Kia), and then I would blow up to the vehicle to the merry cheers of grateful peeps across the world. Would you make your peace with the circus if I did that, Tracey?
Tracey: What I’m not afraid of clowns that’s dumb you’re dumb. What a cliche fear. It’s just some make-up there’s nothing scary about that or their nose like a bloody harvest moon. Ha ha. Shut up. No, YOU shut up!
Beatricia: The way I see it, Jodorowsky’s movie is about a devout mother full of passion and fervor. She is both a classy diva AND entrepreneurial enough to start an anti-rape religion. This remarkable woman is then held back by her unfaithful slob of a husband who humps a classless tattooed tramp, and if you ask me they got off easy when they only had sulfuric acid poured on their cheating crotches. To top it off, this wonderful heroine has to deal with whiny offspring who can’t wait to run to the shrink so they can play the “blame mama” game: “Eeew, my mother had her arms cut-off; now I’m using that as a handy excuse to evade accountability for my knife-throwing massacres.”
Hank: Orgo El Gringo had a lot of pressure handling showbiz!!! The Tattooed Woman was alluringly colorful!!! The poor man must have been mesmerized!!! He had to pitch his circus tent somewhere!!! When will he be forgiven?!?
Grandpa Felicius: I liked this movie a lot better when it was all-American and not “Mexican-Italian,” and it was called Tod Browning’s “Freaks,” and it was 1932, and I was spending considerable time courting the delightful Hilton Siamese Twins. I tell you, it took all the slinking acrobatics of my young frame to keep Daisy from finding out I was Violet’s paramour, and Violet from finding out that I was Daisy’s paramour. If you must absolutely date conjoined sisters, (and you absolutely must, lest you miss out on life’s greatest thrill) make sure that one of them has some sort of vision deficiency.
Blurbarella: “Do Androids Have Nightmares About Electric Clowns?”
4 out of 6 Cherries