Monday, August 29, 2011

They've Got Him In A Trance

Santa Sangre (Jodorowsky, 1989)

I don't usually do very well with horror films. It is a genre that I do not dismiss, in fact I spent the better half of last semester wrestling with the artistic legitimacy of the horror genre in fiction that was mostly revolutionary to how I now approach these stories. Still, I am easily scared and as a result am not very well versed in the world of scares. Prior to watching Santa Sangre I knew nothing of the film beyond the wikipedia entry that labeled it as "a surreal horror film." Now I did not actually know what that description would entail, but I don't think any amount of wikipedia would have prepared me for what I would find when I actually booted up the old Netflix Instant Stream and dove head first - or perhaps it's more fitting to say arms first - in to my first film from Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Nothing quite gets the blood pumping like a grown man in the nude perched atop a tree and shrieking manically. Turns out he's actually in a mental hospital or something, and that man is the grown up version of Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky), a young boy (Aden Jodorowsky) who was raised in the circus. Though the film itself is not scary, and I suppose the horror parts are likely meant to be the bits that happen in the unsurprisingly Psycho~esque third act, I found myself constantly unnerved during the flashbacks to Fenix's childhood. Part of it is likely a result of the diabolical carnival music that constantly plays in the background as we watch, on numerous occasions, humans willingly putting themselves in painful and life threatening situations. Jodorowsky - the director, not the actors - creates such a beautifully effective type of tension in these scenes that allows him, as all good horror does, to explore the work's themes without holding back the twisted thrills contained in this collective of humans outside the typical social strata.

For me, both in the flashbacks and in the present time, what becomes constantly unnerving is how masterfully Jodorowsky frames his shots. Despite all the make up that the actors wear, or the outlandish costumes that sport, Jodorowsky asks us to plainly confront these individuals by not being superfluous with his camera. These characters, just like any normal viewer, simply struggle for freedom from past mistakes. None of us can completely control the past, and perhaps it is because of this that we become all the more disturbed by events that still haunt us in our present. That idea is what makes the film's climax work so well, it allows the end to feel rewarding regardless of the outcome. And, much like all fine horror, Jodorowsky reminds us that we are not simply watching a man do battle with his deranged mother, we are watching a much more cerebral reflection on the human condition.

Of course this could all easily fall apart if the actors are not able to match the heft of the script. Thankfully each cast member goes so theatrical with their performance that it is incredibly easy to buy in to the idea that these characters could become mentally unhinged at any moment. Axel Jodorowsky gives a wonderful turn as the grown up Fenix, but in the role of the film's antagonistic mother Blanca Guerra shines brightest. She, like her son, is able to be delightfully unhinged, but she also needs to convey a passion that underlies her mental instability. The early flashbacks help sell her character, but Guerra's performance is what makes the character command attention each time she takes the screen. There's simply nothing quite as creepy as a mother, I suppose, as Jodorowsky makes excellent use of this cinematic trope to help the film create cerebral scares rather than simple physical terror.

I suppose that a "surreal horror film" is an apt way to describe Santa Sangre, as the way it probes the mind in order to combat traditionally realist conventions used to generate scares works. Though in the end I suppose the most shocking scenes are not the violent or scary ones, but perhaps the more sexually grotesque scenes. But behind all the horror, the sex, the violence, the scares is an incredibly pertinent examination of a universal struggle for acceptance. Acceptance that there are some aspects of life we cannot control, and others that we are able to manipulate. The film may not haunt my nightmares, but it will stay with my psyche, which is the highest compliment that any type of art can earn.

Netflix Rating: *****/*****


Notes of Interest:

This film makes heavy use of the Jodorowsky family. It also makes me want to see more of this director's films. You can check this film out right now as well on Netflix Instant Watch!

Additionally, Processed Grass has gone quiet as late. The reason for this is that I have been having a lot of computer trouble, which has hampered my ability to type. That being said, it all seems to be rectified now and I can get back to processing! Just in time for Oscar season!

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blogfilled with all original works for your reading pleasure. Or if video games are more your thing, I have a blog dedicated to all gaming news, reviews, and opinions.

Also, I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

© 2011 Richard James Thorne

No comments:

Post a Comment