Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Mexico: Santa Sangre

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/25/2015 – Mexico: Santa Sangre (1989)
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Despite dating back to the early 20th century, Mexican cinema really began to take off in the 40’s and especially 50’s with Spaniard Luis Buñuel making some of his best works there and explosion of now cult genre films such as the work of Fernando Mendez (The Body SnatcherEl VampiroThe Black Pit of Dr. M) and the Santo films (most notably to myself and in horror Samson vs. the Vampire Women). In the 90’s and 00’s they turned out the trio of Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu (even if their best films were made elsewhere) as well as the generally well received (if not as much as its remake was) We Are What We Are. Alejandro Jodorowsky may not be the most prolific of directors but he has made an impact with such films as El Topo (which I am very mixed about), The Holy Mountain, and more recently The Dance of Reality with his very surreal style.

Santa Sangre is Jodorowsky’s to date only foray into horror though at the very least the otherwise Western El Top certainly had horror elements. It may be simplistic to say, but boy is this a bizarre movie. For such a surrealist film, the plot is relatively straightforward with the movie can essentially be broken into two parts, a Felliniesque carnival flashback and a more straight horror movie present day. Everything else about the movie though lives up to its reputation. The music is so far over the top it quickly heads into camp while alternating between hilarious and obnoxious. The gore comes in bursts and the film shows no desire to hide the graphic squirts of blood and honestly the positive reviews for this from critics who normally criticize movies for their content which are nowhere near as violent and gory astounds me but I digress.

I really wanted to like the film more but I felt it needed to meet me half way and this is certainly not a movie for that. The film is love with its artiness and that element just left me cold. The first half of the film was much more my speed with its enjoyably quirky characters that seem right in line with his work on El Topo, the strange cult like church, and a solid performance by his son Adan. His other son Axel who is the star of the second half is much more grating. Throughout the latter half of the film, the lead takes the role of the hands of his mother who treats them as its own lending a very Psycho. It also allows for plenty of mime and avant-garde art which is just very much not for me. What was charming in the first half, just becomes way too pretentious for its own good. There are still a couple of nice shots such as the scene at the cemetery, but I just could not get on its wavelength.

For once a twist that actually makes the film make more sense and has actually been foreshadowed heavily. SPOILERS By revealing the mother was dead all along (yay it’s back…), it actually explains how an armless woman could almost physically force someone to kill (it’s all mental) and how he was able to sync up his gestures with her movement as she was saying them even outside the stage (a lot easier when she is a figment of your imagination) two things I had just chalked up to a surrealist director trying to be all metaphorical (which in a different way he was). Sure, the twist just even further solidifies the Psycho connections but outside of thematic similarities the two films couldn’t be more different END OF SPOILERS. I feel like the twist almost saved the film for me with the overbearing symbolism given meaning and grounding, but I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it. I can see the appeal, I can see what Jodorowsky was going for, and I can even recognize elements which have worked for me elsewhere but this just gets a big old “not for me”.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #16 – Mexico: Alucarda (1978)
Directed by Juan López Moctezuma

“JUSTINE!” “ALUCARDA!” While Mexico seemingly has a fascination with vampire films, Alucarda is not one of them instead pulling the Stoker trick of naming themselves after, and being highly influenced by the Dracula/vampire mythos (though here it is more based off of Carmilla). The film is instead a film of demonic possession. Oddly enough both Mexican films viewed today have been in English though in this case, it was actually filmed in English instead of dubbed. The sound still appears off at times but at least the words match the lips.

Another bizarre piece of work, except this time the artiness has been traded in for pure exploitation. There is copious nudity, male and female but overwhelmingly in favor of female, with many long shots of naked bodies which exist solely for well the obvious reasons. While these scenes offer a certain appeal they are easily the weakest parts of the movie as they bring the film to a screeching halt to or at best feel excessive. I’d say they taint the film, but honestly they feel right in line this type of film. I would call the lesbian themes of the film subtext, but I’m not sure you could make something less subtle.

The music is overly dramatic in the best way and the acting starts at over the top and only goes up from there with the actress playing the title character being especially and wonderfully so. A significant portion of the lines are screamed or at least breathlessly exclaimed with actors frequently resorting to contorting themselves and writhing about on the floor. The plot is a mess but generally coherent to the extent I knew what was happening and vaguely why they were happening. There is just about no cohesiveness to the plot and I still don’t understand the ending but the climax is worth it as it is one of the most wonderful things ever put to film.

The film certainly shows its low budget nature, but that’s not to say the film is not ever visually inventive since that is probably its greatest strength. I was going to call the film less gory than Santa Sangre until a naked woman covered in blood clawed a nun to death though in many ways it still is. And where else can you see a priest gorily behead a dead nun that starts moving about due to the possession of the devil or a woman telekinetically lighting nuns and priests on fire? Sure the telekinetic powers seemingly come out of nowhere but who cares. I can’t by any stretch of the imagination call this a better film than Santa Sangre or even a good film, but it sure is funny and one of the most entertaining this month even at its most base.

Up Next: Joko Anwar’s The Forbidden Door representing Indonesia

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