When it comes to adaptations of “Carrie,” the blood literally comes in buckets. For the newest version, director Kimberly Peirce was determined to get the climactic drop of pig’s blood just right. Trying different configurations required take after take. When she asked Brian De Palma, director of the original “Carrie” (1976), how many takes it took him, he apparently replied, “What do you mean? We did one.”
Movie gore has come a long way since the first “Carrie.” What pumps through our veins hasn’t changed a drop, but what goes in those buckets has been reformulated again and again.
Fake movie blood – sometimes called “Kensington Gore,” after the street of that name in London – began evolving long before 1976. For black-and-white films, filmmakers used something quite simple: chocolate syrup. On black-and-white film, it made a starker contrast than red blood, and no one in the theater would ever know it was just Bosco or Hershey’s.
At first, technical advances were modest. For “Psycho” (1960), employing state-of-the-art makeup design didn’t mean using a new kind of blood, just a new method of delivery: the plastic squeeze bottle. It was brand new with Shasta chocolate syrup.
Color presented new challenges. Starting at least as early as “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), the first color film from the schlockmeisters at the British studio Hammer Film Productions, blood began to splatter the silver screen in Technicolor. But 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 “Horror of Dracula” (1958), it was cartoonishly bright.
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.
Today there are dozens of recipes, though many are simple variations on Dick Smith’s formula. For edible blood – essential if the fake blood might get in the actor’s mouth, or if a scene requires that the actor cough it up – there are recipes for “Chocolate Blood” and “Peanut Butter Blood.” For “Evil Dead” fans, there’s Bruce Campbell’s recipe for another edible blood, which uses non-dairy creamer.
The newest fake blood isn’t made out of chocolate syrup or non-dairy creamer: It’s made out of pixels. This CGI blood has been used not just for horror movies and schlocky action flicks like “The Expendables 2” (for which all the blood was CGI), but for key sequences in David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007) and Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” (2009).
But both CGI blood and the practical stuff have their shortcomings. For the original “Carrie,” a combination of Karo syrup and food coloring looked great, but it was “sticky,” star Sissy Spacek recalled: “When they lit the fires behind me to burn down the gym,” she said, “I started to feel like a candy apple.”
For the new “Carrie,” CGI blood was reportedly used for some scenes, angering fans who said it looks fake. These fans may be worried that CGI blood is replacing all practical makeup, but, according to effects coordinator Warren Appleby, the old-fashioned stuff is still in use: His crew used “upwards of 300, 400 gallons ... just for the iconic blood drop.”
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