Whats Your Blood Say About You


Blood is an important element in a horror film. You may think it’s no big deal, just grab some Karo syrup and red food coloring, mix it up and move on, but there are several factors to consider: How red should my blood be? How viscous or watery? Do I want rivulets or gushing streams? Should I go the CGI route or use actual blood that stains my actor’s clothes and hair? We all know the route Sam Raimi went, but there wasn’t a CGI option in those days. Every so often we get CGI blood effects that just aren’t as potent.

I remember hearing about the gore in Cabin Fever and being apprehensive of what I might be shown. I was going to see a girl remove skin while trying to shave her legs. I had imagined a close up of the razor digging into the skin, the peels of rotten flesh being rolled up at the edges and the blood oozing out. As usual, my mind worked me over worse than any actual effect ever could. I was let down, for when she pulled the razor over her skin and the shaving cream was removed I was treated to the sight of CGI sores and gouges. Eli Roth is not one to let people down. He gave me plenty of great practical effects in his Hostel movies as well as in the bulk of Cabin Fever, but I use that disappointment to illustrate what not to do when choosing your blood type.

There is CGI blood in The Devil’s Rejects too, but it is used minimally and is not obvious. However, Rob Zombie’s movies bring me to another variable in blood: Color. Zombie uses a black blood in his films. Watch Halloween and you will see blood that is so dark that it barely registers as deep magenta. In the beginning of the film when young Michael Myers dispatches the bullies in the woods, the blood is so dark it could be molasses in any other context. But we know it’s blood and the darkness of it adds to the gritty nature of the movies’ atmosphere. It’s as if the blood we are shown is dirty and mixed with some other filthy substance.

In contrast to Zombie’s black blood, the blood in Sweeney Todd is bright red. It’s literally stage blood, as this is a movie adapted from a stage musical. The bright red color is the only hue cutting through the near black and white color scheme of the rest of the movie. Everyone is so dreary and dull in that movie, but when they are sliced open there is such an outpouring of vivid red that it livens the screen up and improves your mood. But color isn’t the only thing that Sweeney Todd’s blood has going for it. Viscosity is another factor that must be considered.

When thinking about how your blood should run you have to think of what it needs to look like on camera and what you need the actual blood to do on screen. If you need it to be manageable, then you have to make it thick. If, like Stanley Kubrick, you want your blood to gush and flow like an untamable waterfall, you use watery blood. And that’s exactly what he did for the elevator scene in the Shining. That blood is very watery and looks just like wine. But the chaos of that shot is what is most important, and the lighting isn’t very dynamic, so the blood didn’t have to be too thick. Also there is so much of it that the color would be too dark if the viscosity was much more. Tim Burton used a much thicker blood. That blood sprays out in wide swaths and lands heavy on the floor, or else it oozes and fills up cracks in cobblestone with a determined weight as if it were slowly spreading over every surface.

Burton shot his blood with a smooth frame rate too. His blood sprays and looks like it really might if you were slash someone’s throat. In Frontier(s), in the scene with Goetz being killed on the table saw, the blood is spraying out all over the place, but the lighting and frame rate have been altered to show the individual droplets and texture that the streams of shooting blood have. That works for me. Designing the blood to look that way is very artificial, but it works well under the fluorescent lighting Xavier Gens used in the scene as well as adding to the incredibly grotesque and almost surreal nature of what happens in that film. Gens’ blood is very adhesive too. It sticks to you and you’re always going to be stained. In that way, blood can convey meaning in a film. Yasmine will never be able to be free or clean from the events of that day. She is coated with the blood of both her friends and potential killers.

Blood is just one of many things a director uses to convey meaning and atmosphere in his/her film. Maybe the director has made a poor choice and the bright red blood detracts from the overall effect of the film. Or maybe the blood is too dark to be noticed. Whatever type a director chooses, blood viscosity and color are more important than it might seem from the outset.

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