`Santa Sangre': You Suffer For What You Get

XX ``Santa Sangre,'' with Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra. Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, from a script by Jodorowsky, Roberto Leoni and Claudio Argento. Neptune Theater. No rating; includes graphic sexual violence.

This latest offering from the director of ``El Topo'' walks such a fine line between dazzling spectacle and crass repulsion that recommending it feels a bit like recommending typhoid fever. There's no denying that Jodorowsky has a pretty efficient sump pump hooked up to the nastier parts of his imagination. The visuals are great. But are they worth the agony?

Here's what you're in for:

Young Mexican circus ``boy magician'' Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky) goes nuts when sees his religious-fanatic mother (Blanca Guerra) throw acid at her paunchy knife-throwing husband and the Tattoo Lady he's messing with. An infuriated hubby cuts off his wife's arms (a bit of poetic justice here: she worships Santa Sangre, an uncanonized armless ``saint'').

Then Pop slits his own throat.

Years later, an older Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) escapes from a lunatic asylum (where he sits around naked and eats raw fish) and links up with armless Mom. Together they hit the vaudeville circuit, where mad Mom runs the show and an equally mad Fenix supplies the hand movement.

Or is it all a hallucination?

Whatever it is, all Fenix's potential girlfriends usually end up on the wrong end of the knife-throwing act that Fenix has picked up from his dad.

But the boy can't help it. ``I order my hands to kill her. Yes. Cut off her arms!'' yells armless Mom, who also sleeps with her son and forces him to wear nail polish.

This is beyond an Oedipus complex. It's more like a whole Oedipus infrastructure. (``You will never be free of me - I'm inside you,'' Mom tells her son.)

An able cast throws itself into the grotesqueries with passion, while the director brings on the dwarfs, clowns, transvestites, hookers and elephants with the thoroughness of Fellini, but little of the joy. He also treats viewers to rivers of blood issuing from some pretty upsetting animal and human orifices.

Daniele Nannunzi's lush photography, Alejandro Luna's gothic production design and Simon Boswell's twisted oompah score make the film's furnishings worth taking seriously. Jodorowsky has probably accomplished what he set out to do. But unless you're mired in some really heavy-duty Catholic sex hang-ups and would like to see some of them splattered artfully on the screen, ``Santa Sangre'' 's content puts it beyond the call of duty for even the most slavishly devoted art-house denizen.