Feb 2011 25

by Nicole Powers

“It’s been made more like a work of art than it has a movie.”
-Simon Boswell

Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s bloody epic Santa Sangre, which was inspired by the story of Mexican serial killer Gregorio “Goyo” Cárdenas Hernández, has been praised as “a throwback to the golden age, to the days when filmmakers had bold individual visions,” and derided as “a massive clearance sale of leftover psychedelia.” It’s story and imagery has been dismissed as “a series of banal Freudianisms involving a circus family” and celebrated as “a wild kaleidoscope of images and outrages, a collision between Freud and Fellini.” But love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it, since with Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky firmly straddles the line where madness becomes genius.

Conceived and directed by Jodorowsky, who wrote the screenplay with Claudio Argento and Roberto Leoni, Santa Sangre tells the story of a young magician named Fenix, the son of two circus performers, who witnesses the death of his overprotective mother, Concha, at the hands of his knife throwing, hypnotist father. Concha, who in the big top is suspended from great heights by her hair, also happens to be the leader of a religious cult, which worships a girl whose arms were cut off during a violent rape. The sect’s temple of worship, which houses a pool of holy blood (hence the film’s name), gets bulldozed in the opening sequences. After his mother’s murder, Fenix’s arms are possessed by Concha – whose own arms were severed in the fatal attack by her husband – and a killing spree ensues.

Santa Sangre was released in 1989, over a decade and a half after Jodorowsky’s defining films, El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). The low budget horror movie-cum-art house masterpiece has since gained bona fide cult status, resulting in its first official US DVD release via Severin Films in January of this year.

The multi talented Jodorowsky (who, aside from filmmaking, has also mastered comic book writing and the tarot), had previously scored his own films, but with Santa Sangre he handed the musical reigns over to English musician and composer Simon Boswell. An integral part of the post-punk power pop band Advertising, after the outfit’s demise, Boswell went on to score over ninety films including Phenomena (Dario Argento), Dust Devil (Richard Stanley), Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle), Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker), and Hackers (Iain Softley).

Ironically for a composer whose résumé has a distinctly devilish slant (his latest credit is the Richard Driscoll film Back2Hell), Boswell in recent years has been collaborating with the Vatican, producing music featuring the voice of not one, but two popes. He provided the score for Santo Subito, a DVD released in 2007, which commemorated the life and death of Pope John Paul II. That was followed up with contributions to Alma Mater, an album released in 2009, which featured the voice of Pope Benedict XVI. Boswell’s next papal project is an album celebrating the fast-tracked deification of Pope John Paul II, which is set for release this spring.

Given that we are a counter-culture community, when we called Boswell up, our initial focus was on the colorful orgy of sin that is Santa Sangre. But since you can’t have saints without sinners, our conversation also explored more outwardly virtuous topics, and how often the best art is a seemingly contradictory balance of heavenly and hellish elements.

Read our exclusive interview with Simon Boswell on


  1. […] Powers: I first saw you in Santa Sangre when I was doing research for an interview with film composer Simon Boswell. It was 2011 and they were releasing the film for the first time in the US on DVD. The coming of […]