SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 18: Santa Sangre (1989)

Oh boy… I mean… wow. So, I watched Santa Sangre. You should watch this, and since I’m about to spoil it to hell and back, you should stop, go watch it, and then come back.

Spoilers will commence in 3… 2… 1…

We begin with a naked man sitting in a tree that appears to be inside an insane asylum. The nurses come to coax him out of his tree with food, a fish does the trick. As they dress him, we see a phoenix tattoo on his chest. Then we flash back to his youth…

This man, Fenix, grew up in the circus. He was a child magician, his father a knife thrower and his mother an aerialist. There is also a tattooed woman, a young deaf mime, a midget, clowns and an elephant. Fenix’s mom is also the leader of a religious cult that worships an armless girl – she was raped and had her arms cut off. Her church is bulldozed as blasphemous. When she returns to the circus and finds her husband cheating on her, he hypnotizes her into forgetting.

The elephant dies, they have a funeral, and then people carve it up to eat. To console his son, Fenix’s father forces him to get the tattoo we saw earlier. Later, Fenix’s mom catches dad cheating again, pours acid on his junk, he cuts her arms off and then wanders into the street where he slits his own throat.

In the craziness, the tattooed lady runs off with the deaf mime.

Back in the present, Fenix goes on a field trip with some other people from the asylum to the movies. A pimp convinces them to come do some cocaine and have sex with prostitutes. There Fenix sees the tattooed lady, who is pimping out the deaf mime girl (now also grown up), Alma. After returning to the asylum, Fenix’s mom calls to him from the street. He escapes. Then the tattooed lady is murdered, and we only see hands with painted fingernails.

Fenix and his armless mother put together a new act now that he’s out. She sings and plays piano and other tricks, all while Fenix stand behind her with his arms through her sleeves, giving her the appearance of arms. Very quickly he learns that his mother can actually control his arms with the power of her mind. Using his arms, she forces him to kill the women she deems unfit for him.

Alma finds Fenix and the two of them fall in love and plan to run away from Fenix’s armless mom. But mom catches them and tried to make Fenix kill Alma. He fights back, however, and stabs his own mother in the stomach. At that moment, mom reveals that she doesn’t exist at all, that she died back when her arms were cut off and that Fenix has a mannequin that looks like his mom, arms missing and everything, that he’s been pretending was her. He smashes it and destroys the temple he apparently build – very much like the cult his mother used to run – with the help of his circus friends, who are also imaginary.

Alma is real though, and the two of them again plan to leave together. Then step out of the house into the street where the police are waiting. They are told to put their hands up and they do. Fenix is amazed to have complete control of his own arms again.

I thought I would hate this movie when I read about it. It seemed like it would be a bizarre surrealist trip… and in some ways it was, but it was also a horror film, where our hero is the killer. As I watched, I found myself enraptured by the tale as it unfolded. Despite its low budget, the film is put together very well and it makes me feel even worse for some of the terribly made low budget horror I’ve seen.

Anyway, I liked it and would recommend seeing it even though if you’ve read this far I’ve spoiled the whole thing. That is, unless you took my earlier advice and watched it first. Now I want to find other people who’ve seen this and discuss it with them.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Life Between Frames, nijomu

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