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The circus turns into a nightmare in this surreal cult classic from Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky
Imagine a nightmarish blend of La Strada, Freaks and From Dusk Till Dawn and you'll still be a long way from the disturbing vision of Santa Sangre. The story of a serial killer traumatised by childhood visions, this tale is dominated by the circus, an arena in which all the grand passions - lust, murder, and bouts of bodily dismemberment - apparently hold sway.
As a child, Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky, the director's son) watches in horror as his circus parents argue when his knife-thrower father (Stockwell) is caught having an affair with the big top's voluptuous tattooed lady (Tixou). After being doused in acid, the enraged patriarch cuts off his interfering wife's arms. The events are enough to send Fenix insane but, after escaping from the local asylum, he tracks down his wounded mother (Guerra), offering her his own arms in a dark game that leads to copious amounts of bloodshed.
A garish Oedipal fantasy from one of world cinema's most offbeat filmmakers, Santa Sangre marked Jodorowsky's return to cinema after a long absence following his striking work on hallucinatory western El Topo (1970) and equally trippy quest movie The Holy Mountain (1973). Scripted by Jodorowsky and Claudio Argento (brother of Dario), Santa Sangre is perhaps best described - as one contemporary reviewer claimed - as "a Buñuel remake of Hitchcock's Psycho".
Straddling a strange hinterland between the art film and the horror movie, this is cinema at its most visually ravishing and intellectually diffuse - a work that once seen, is never forgotten. It's near-nonsensical yet immensely powerful filmmaking since while the horror is immediate, the sheer extravagance of its visionary ecstasies reward - no, demand - repeated viewings in order for it to make any sense at all.
One of Jodorowsky's finest films, this art horror movie resonates with all the disturbing power of a clammy nightmare filtered through the hallucinatory lens of 1960s psychedelia.
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