Let It Bleed: The History of Fake Blood
WARNING: This two part blog post is FULL of blood!!! Reader beware!
If you are me, you can think of no better way to spend the Halloween season than discussing the history of fake blood! I thank you ahead of time for allowing me to get a little nerdy. Here we go...
ORIGINS OF FAKE BLOOD
Fake blood has its origins in theatre but really became popular when a small, niche theatre in Paris called Le Théâtre de Grand-Guignol (it means theatre of the big puppet) began using it heavily in productions. Founded in 1894, this theatre became popular for theatrics that featured gruesome dismemberments and eye gouging. It continued its run until the 1960s when drive-in theaters became the preferred venue of choice to catch bloody horror flicks.
Clearly, using REAL blood on stage carries moral, ethical and sanitary issues. Also, real blood coagulates and does not stay in liquid form after being exposed to air. Coagulation is primarily the main reason why theatrical blood was created! SO what did they use at Le Théâtre de Grand- Guignol? Rumor has it that it was equal parts glycerin and carmine. For those of you keeping tabs while reading, carmine is derived from boiling cochineal, which is an insect! This fake blood concoction produced a fantastic, vibrant color that was easily seen from anywhere in the theatre. View the clip below at your own risk!
But what about film? You may be shocked to learn that even though film has been around since the early 1900s, fake blood wasn’t really used for any genre; even horror films preferred gothic mood over gore (as seen in Nosferatu). If we fast forward to the era of “talkies,” there STILL isn’t much in the way of cinematic blood due to studios practicing self-censorship to prevent government interference. This self-censoring was called the Production Code (also known as the Hayes Code) which stated that brutal killings are not to be presented in detail on film. It wasn’t until the 1950s when the Supreme Court ruled that film was “protected free speech” and safe from government censorship. It was also during this period that movie studios had to compete with television. Films became more epic and grandiose with blood, sex and monsters. We will leave the sex and monsters for another time and stick to the topic at hand.
There are two films that come to mind when we speak of blood in black and white cinema:
- Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, Psycho
- George Romero’s 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead.
Guess what? They BOTH used the same recipe for blood: Bosco Chocolate Syrup.
Why? The brown color registered as more sinister on black and white film than any other product that was readily available.
Take a look at the following clips...
See what I mean? The depth of the chocolate syrup registers perfectly with enough contrast for black and white film.
NOW IN TECHNICOLOR
Starting as early as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), the first color film from Hammer Film Productions (a British studio, exempt from the Production Code), blood began to splatter in color but getting the color right was an issue.
Horror filmmakers were still unaccustomed to working in color, so the blood didn’t look right. In Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula Prince of Darkness, it was shockingly bright to the point of not looking realistic.
This didn't last for long though. By the 1970s blood started looking realistic... too realistic in fact.
If you're curious about who revolutionized the blood game, stay tuned for part two! I will also post a few of blood curdling recipes! Until then...