Santa Sangre

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Santa Sangre
American theatrical release poster
Directed byAlejandro Jodorowsky
Written by
Produced byClaudio Argento
CinematographyDaniele Nannuzzi
Edited byMauro Bonanni
Music bySimon Boswell
Distributed by
  • Mainline Pictures
  • Expanded Entertainment
Release dates
  • 19 May 1989 (1989-05-19) (Cannes)
  • 24 November 1989 (1989-11-24) (Italy)
  • 31 May 1990 (1990-05-31) (Mexico)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
  • Mexico
  • Italy

Santa Sangre (English: Holy Blood) is a 1989 avant-garde surreal horror film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky and written by Jodorowsky along with Claudio Argento and Roberto Leoni. It stars Axel Jodorowsky, Adán Jodorowsky, Teo Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Thelma Tixou, and Guy Stockwell. An international co-production of Mexico and Italy, the film is set in Mexico, and tells the story of Fenix, a boy who grew up in a circus and his struggle with childhood trauma. It is signed on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.


The film starts with a naked figure sitting in a tree in a mental asylum. Nurses come out to him, to try to coax him off of his perch, using a plate of raw fish to persuade him to come down. As the nurses get him to put on some overalls, it is shown that he has a tattoo of a phoenix on his chest.

Years ago, Fenix spends his time performing as a "child magician" in a circus run by his father Orgo, the knife-thrower, and his mother Concha, a trapeze artist and aerialist. The circus crew also includes, among others, a tattooed woman, who acts as the object of Orgo's knife-throwing feats, her adopted daughter Alma (a deaf mute mime and tightrope walker whom Fenix is close to), Fenix's dwarf friend Aladin, a pack of clowns and an elephant. Orgo carries on a very public flirtation with the tattooed woman, and their knife-throwing act is heavily sexualized.

Concha is also the leader of a religious cult that considers as its patron saint a girl who was raped and had her arms cut off by two brothers. Their church is about to be bulldozed at the behest of the landowner, and the followers make one last stand against the police and the bulldozers. A Roman Catholic Monsignor arrives to attempt to resolve the conflict, but after he enters the temple to inspect it he deems it sacrilege and angrily leaves in disgust, so the demolition is carried out. Fenix leads Concha back to the circus, where she discovers Orgo's affair, but Orgo, being also a hypnotist, puts Concha in a trance and rapes her.

The circus elephant dies, much to Fenix's grief, and a public funeral is conducted, in which the elephant is paraded through the city inside a giant casket. The casket is then dropped into the city dump, where scavengers open it up and proceed to carve up the elephant and take away the meat. Orgo chides Fenix for crying "like a little girl" and tattoos a spread-eagled phoenix onto his chest, identical to the one on his own chest, using a knife dipped in red ink. This tattoo, Orgo says, will make Fenix a man.

Later on, Concha, during her trapeze act, sees Orgo and the tattooed woman sneak out of the big top. She chases after them and, seeing them sexually engaged, pours a bottle of sulphuric acid onto Orgo's genitals. Orgo retaliates by cutting off both her arms (much like the girl previously venerated). He then walks into the street and slits his own throat. Fenix witnesses this, locked inside a trailer. He then sees the tattooed woman drive off with Alma.

Back in the present, Fenix is taken on a trip out of the asylum to a movie theater along with other patients, most of whom have Down syndrome. A pimp intercepts them and persuades them to take cocaine and follow him to meet an overweight prostitute. Fenix then spots the tattooed woman, who is now a prostitute, and becomes consumed with rage. Back in the asylum, Fenix's armless mother Concha calls out for him from the street and he escapes by climbing down a rope from his cell window. The tattooed woman is shown trying to prostitute Alma, who runs away and sleeps on the roof of a truck. The tattooed woman is then killed by the hands of an unseen assailant.

Fenix and Concha go on to perform an act whereby he stands behind her and moves his arms so that they appear to be Concha's arms. But Concha soon starts to use her son's hands to kill women whom Fenix is interested in, including a young performer and a cross-dressing wrestler. A dream sequence subsequently shows that Fenix has killed many more women, all of whom haunt him.

Alma finds Fenix and together they plan to run away from Concha. She tries to force Fenix to murder Alma as well, but, after a struggle, he manages to plunge a knife into Concha's stomach. She vanishes, but not before taunting Fenix by saying she will always be inside of him. Through a quick series of flashbacks, it is revealed that Concha in fact died after being maimed by Orgo, and that Fenix has kept a mannequin of his armless mother for performing on stage and at home, which also now appears in reality to be a thoroughly dilapidated house. He destroys the home-made temple and throws away the mannequin with the help of his imaginary childhood friends, Aladin and the clowns.

Alma proceeds to lead Fenix outside the house where police are waiting and order them to put up their hands. As they both comply, Fenix watches his own hands in awe as he does so. Fenix's realization that he has finally regained control of his hands brings him joy and peace.




Roberto Leoni, who had worked in the library of a psychiatric hospital where he had been in contact with people suffering from mental disorders, developed a story about dissociative identity disorder that he told Claudio Argento during a time they worked together. Argento appreciated the story and added to it, and with Leoni, they decided to present it to the director who seemed to them the most suited to the material, Alejandro Jodorowsky. After his cult film The Holy Mountain of 1974, Jodorowsky was asked to direct a film version of Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 science fiction novel Dune but the project had collapsed, and except for the children’s fable Tusk in 1980 he had stopped directing films, working as a comics writer in France.

Jodorowsky developed this story, also telling Leoni the story of Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández, which were in some respects similar, and together they wrote the script of Santa Sangre.[2]


'One of these patients, who worked with me because he knew 3 or 4 languages so he could help me sort the books, because the library had 50,000 volumes of all types and ages, one day started looking sideways and saying: "...shut up... shut up..." The third time I asked him what happened and he answered me calmly with his calm blue eyes: "No, nothing, I have a voice that tells me to kill you, but don't worry because I love you." I was a little uncomfortable, but he reassured me: "No, no, don't worry, I love you, I don't listen to it..." Continuing to stare at me with his blue eyes and I was, as far as I could be, calm. The library was very extensive because there were five very huge rooms for the 50,000 volumes and it was me and him alone, isolated on a high floor of this immense palace. And I trusted. I trusted his blue eyes, I trusted him his sincere way of telling me "I love you".'

– Roberto Leoni[3]

Roberto Leoni stated that an episode with a patient in the psychiatric hospital was probably the origin of Santa Sangre because over time he conceived "a story in which even the worst demon actually can't forget he is an angel." In fact, Fenix the character that Leoni created together with Jodorowsky is a serial killer, but "…every time he kills you feel sorry for him, that is you are sorry more for him than for the victim."[3]


Though a Mexican and Italian co-production, Santa Sangre is in English.[4] In the United States, it was primarily rated NC-17 for "several scenes of extremely explicit violence". An edited version was released with an R rating for "bizarre, graphic violence and sensuality, and for drug content".[5] Regardless, Santa Sangre did not receive a wide release in the U.S., only screening at a few theaters familiar with Jodorowsky's previous work.[citation needed]

In 2004 Anchor Bay released a DVD in the UK.[6] On 25 January 2011, Severin Films gave the film a release on both DVD and Blu-ray with more than "five hours of exclusive extras".[7] On Halloween 2019, Morbido Fest, a Mexico City-based festival, held a celebratory 30th anniversary screening of Santa Sangre remastered in 4K by Severin Films from a scan of the original camera negative.[8] In Italy, from 25 to 27 November 2019,[9] the Videa film society celebrated the 30th anniversary by screening the 4K restored version at select theatres.[10]


Critical response[edit]

The film generally was critically well received, eventually being ranked 476th on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[11] A reviewer from the British Film 4 describing the film as "one of Jodorowsky's finest films" which "resonates with all the disturbing power of a clammy nightmare filtered through the hallucinatory lens of 1960s psychedelia."[12]

Roger Ebert said that he believed it carried the moral message of genuinely opposing evil, rather than celebrating it like most contemporary horror films. Ebert described it as "a horror film, one of the greatest, and after waiting patiently through countless Dead Teenager Movies, I am reminded by Alejandro Jodorowsky that true psychic horror is possible on the screen – horror, poetry, surrealism, psychological pain, and wicked humor, all at once."[13]

As of October 2021, the film had an 86% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 43 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.4/10. The site's consensus stated: "Those unfamiliar with Alejandro Jodorowsky's style may find it overwhelming, but Santa Sangre is a provocative psychedelic journey featuring the director's signature touches of violence, vulgarity, and an oddly personal moral center."[14]


The film was screened at the V Muestra de Cine Mexicano en Guadalajara where several groups of people left the room during the screening.[15]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Cannes Film Festival 11–23 May 1989 Un Certain Regard Award Alejandro Jodorowsky Nominated [16]
Sitges Film Festival 6–14 October 1989 Best Director Alejandro Jodorowsky Nominated [17]
Chicago International Film Festival 1989 Best Director Alejandro Jodorowsky Nominated [18]
Festival international du film fantastique et de science-fiction de Paris 1989 Best Film Won [19][circular reference]
Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 1990 Best Director Alejandro Jodorowsky Nominated [20]
IMAGFIC - Festival Internacional de Cine Imaginario de Madrid 1990 Best Film Won [21]
Saturn Awards 1991 Best Performance by a Younger Actor Adan Jodorowsky Won
Best Horror Film Nominated
Best Actor Axel Jodorowsky Nominated
Best Actress Blanca Guerra Nominated
Best Performance by a Younger Actor Faviola Elenka Tapia Nominated
Best Director Alejandro Jodorowsky Nominated
Best Music Simon Boswell Nominated

Santa Sangre is considered a cult movie and the restored print of the film was screened in 2008 Cannes Classics[22]

It was also screened during Locarno Film Festival 2016 Histoire(s) du cinéma: Pardo d'onore Swisscom Alejandro Jodorowsky[23]


  1. ^ "SANTA SANGRE (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 29 September 1989. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  2. ^ "SANTA SANGRE - Roberto Leoni Movie Reviews [Eng sub]". YouTube. 23 November 2019. Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b Leoni, Roberto (24 November 2019). "When I wrote Santa Sangre…". IMDb. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  4. ^ Isa Bulnes-Shaw. "Frida After Dark: November 2019". Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  5. ^ "Santa Sangre MPAA Ratings". MPAA. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  6. ^ "Santa Sangre [1990] [DVD]: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell, Thelma Tixou, Sabrina Dennison, Adan Jodorowsky, Faviola Elenka Tapia, Teo Jodorowsky, María de Jesús Aranzabal, Jesús Juárez, Sergio Bustamante, Gloria Contreras, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Angelo Iacono, Anuar Badin, Claudio Argento, René Cardona Jr., Roberto Leoni: Film & TV". Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  7. ^ Santa Sangre [Blu-ray]. "Santa Sangre [Blu-ray]: Guy Stockwell, Blanca Guerra, Axel Jodorowsky, Alejandro Jodorowsky: Movies & TV". Amazon. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  8. ^ Jamie Lang (30 October 2019). "Mexico's Premier Horror Event Morbido Fest Readies Twelfth Edition". Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  9. ^ Roberto Leoni (23 November 2019). "Santa Sangre 4K". Retrieved 25 November 2019 – via YouTube/RobertoLeonifilm.
  10. ^ Videa. "Santa Sangre 4K". Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  11. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". 5 December 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  12. ^ "Santa Sangre". Film4. 5 January 2010. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  13. ^ "Santa Sangre (1989)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  14. ^ "Santa Sangre (Holy Blood)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  15. ^ Mantecón, Alfonso Ortega (January 2018). "Santa Sangre, influencias del giallo en México". El Ojo Que Piensa (16): 79–97. ISSN 2007-4999. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  16. ^ "42 Edition 1989 Un Certain Regard". Retrieved 17 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ "22ED. FESTIVAL INTERNACIONA DE CINEMA FANTÀSTIC DE SITGES". Retrieved 11 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  18. ^ "50 Years of Memories: Highlights from the History of the Chicago International Film Festival" (PDF). Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  19. ^ "Festival international du film fantastique et de science-fiction de Paris". Retrieved 16 February 2021 – via
  20. ^ "BIFFF, Back to the 90's; un regard assumé de fan un peu geek sur les bords". pointculture. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  21. ^ Lara, Antonio (7 April 1990). "'Santa Sangre' y 'El visitante del museo', premiadas en el Imagfic". El País. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  22. ^ "Cannes Classics: "Santa Sangre" by Alejandro Jodorowsky". Retrieved 17 February 2021.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ ""Santa Sangre"". Retrieved 17 February 2021.

External links[edit]