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October 22, 2013

A brief history of fake blood

(Continued)

Color presented new challenges. Starting at least as early as "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), the first color film from the schlockmeisters at Hammer Film Productions — a British studio, exempt from the Hays code — blood began to splatter the silver screen in Technicolor. But horror filmmakers were still unaccustomed to working in color, and so the blood didn't look right: In Hammer films like "The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Horror of Dracula" (1958), it was cartoonishly bright. The so-called "Godfather of Gore," Herschell Gordon Lewis, knew this was a problem. While working on what became the first splatter film, "Blood Feast" (1963), he "realized how purple the fake blood at that time was because it had been prepared for black-and-white movies." To avoid using these substandard materials, he got his blood custom, from the charmingly named Barfred Laboratories.

The bright red blood wasn't a problem for everyone. Jean-Luc Godard used a bright, unnaturalistic red for movies like "Pierrot Le Fou" (1965). This suited Godard's more abstract, self-conscious approach to the movies. When Cahiers du cinema pointed out, "There's a good deal of blood in 'Pierrot,' " Godard shot back: "Not blood, red."

But the man who revolutionized movie blood — and the rest of movie makeup — was Dick Smith. For groundbreaking and bloodletting movies like "The Godfather" (1972), "The Exorcist" (1973) and "Taxi Driver" (1976), Smith perfected the recipe for fake movie blood:

- 1 quart white corn syrup

- 1 level teaspoon methyl paraben

- 2 ounces Ehlers red food coloring

- 5 teaspoons Ehlers yellow food coloring

- 2 ounces Kodak Photo-Flo (Poisonous)

The corn syrup served as the base, the methyl paraben served as a preservative for longer shoots, the food coloring was adjusted for just the right hue, and the Photo-Flo made sure the red stuff flowed just right — it ran over skin and soaked into fabric just like real blood.

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