The Color of Blood: Why Gore’s Hue Might Affect Cinematic Believability

The GodfatherDoes the color of blood in a violent scene affect a movie’s credibility?

I’ve been asking this question for a while after mulling a variety of great films that feature unrealistic-looking hemo-splatter yet remain some of the most believable pictures of all time. The Godfather (1972) has a scene in which the crime-family head Vito Corleone is shot and left for dead … with all-too-bright gore dripping from his back. In Dirty Harry (1971), when deranged killer Scorpio is stabbed by cop Harry Callahan, the blood dripping down his leg looks a bit too much like red paint. And in the Hoichi-the-Earless episode of Kwaidan (1964), the human matter leading up to the blind musician after he has his ears torn off by a ghost is really gloppy … appearing more like goo than crimson lifesource.

There are plenty of other cinematic masterpieces that have this issue. The French Connection (1971). Kagemusha (1980). The Ipcress File (1965). So why in the world didn’t the directors of these otherwise amazing flicks do something about it? Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense for the effects teams working on these films to create a shade of blood that more resembled … well, blood?

I wonder if these problems had more to do with availability and logistics than aesthetics. But there’s something else going on here that’s very interesting, and it has to do with the experience of viewers. People still love the aforementioned films for numerous reasons. They’re powerful. They’re important. They’re involving.

Does that mean that audiences don’t really care what blood looks like in a movie … as long as the movie is good?

I’ll tell you one thing: I’ve cut myself accidentally on many occasions and can say quite frankly that my gore doesn’t look at all like the stuff appearing in the pictures I’ve cited here. In fact, the liquid it matches most in a picture is that in the Goodfellas (1990) scene where Tommy DeVito gets shot. It’s dark, flowing. It comes out randomly. It’s messy. It’s ugly.

This is where I must ask another question: Why don’t studios have a standard by which directors must abide when it comes to the color of blood? Doesn’t the difference in hues make for bizarre viewing?

I guess if that happened, we’d become closer to the society warned about by many science-fiction visionaries who’ve told tales of homogeneous civilizations. We don’t want that, I’m sure. We want variety. We want diversity. Don’t we?

Assumedly, that goes for stage blood, too.

You know, it’s funny: Sometimes I wonder if the CGI spatters so prevalent in violent flicks today are even less believable than the explosive squibs of yesterday. There’s a lot less cleanup involved when you make a computer-generated splotch. And of course, no one has the chance of getting hurt by a misfiring device, which may be a potential risk of using such products. Yet the realism these days seems to be lost. CGI blood often looks ethereal, as if it would disappear in the air after coming out. It doesn’t have that lasting quality that makes real blood so hard to take one’s eyes away from. It doesn’t have that “oomph.”

The films I mentioned earlier in this piece do have that oomph. They’re pretty damn incredible, even with the presence of fake gore. Maybe that’s the issue. Maybe we’re talking here about flicks transcending their limitations, like artists transcending their canvases. Maybe we’re talking about blood being just a component rather than a catalyst—and viewers observing the whole rather than the parts. Because that’s what cinephiles do. We watch everything. We love our celluloid greats despite their faults.

I still love the movies I mentioned, too. I always will. Quibbling with the color of blood, however, is to me a fair point. I’d like more filmmakers to get with the program and be as realistic as possible in the context of their pictures. See, we can learn from our mistakes, increase our understanding. To make our stage gore more credible … that would certainly be a worthy goal.

As long as I don’t faint from the results. For you know—and there are many people with me—I can’t stand the sight of real blood.

 

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and operates a restaurant-focused blog called Critical Mousse (criticalmousse.com) that showcases his opinions on the culinary arena. He also blogs about anti-Semitism for the Times of Israel. His views and opinions are his own.

5 thoughts on “The Color of Blood: Why Gore’s Hue Might Affect Cinematic Believability

  1. I sometimes find myself wondering about this too. The artificial colour (I’m Canadian) of Sutherland’s blood at the end of Don’t Look Now has always bothered me, but I’m not sure if it wasn’t in some way intentional, to go with the film’s colour scheme. Realism isn’t always the goal.

    I’m also reminded of this:

    The sounds were real horrorshow. You could slooshy the screams and moans very realistic and you could even get the heavy breathing and panting of the tolchocking malchicks at the same time. And then, what do you know, soon our dear old friend, the red, red vino on tap. The same in all places like it’s put out by the same big firm, began to flow. It was beautiful. It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on a screen.

  2. When I saw Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the big screen, there was a scene where blood fills the screen like a rushing tide. It annoyed me because the blood was too orange! I later found the scene on YouTube to show someone, but it looked more red on YouTube.

  3. I was an EMT for most of my working life, so became something of an expert on blood. I have had to lay in streams of it, try to stop the flow of it, slipped over on it, and seen almost any type of it you can imagine.

    There is a difference between arterial and venous blood. Arterial blood carries more oxygen, so is lighter in colour. It is also pumped at a stronger rate, so will spurt with some force when an artery is punctured. Venous blood is darker, almost purple. So in theory, blood in films should be different, depending on the blood vessels injured.

    The frothy, foam-like blood that you refer to as ethereal is only apparent when lungs are involved, as blood from the lungs can appear like that, and is usually coughed up by the victim.
    Excessive blood loss also pools thickly in a very short time. I have been at crime scenes where the blood has congealed so thickly, that it resembles raw liver, or very thin steak.

    As for stage blood, that is notoriously inaccurate, and almost always far too red. To be seen as blood by those in the cheap seats, it is often rendered as a bright, almost poppy-red colour. It has the nickname here of ‘Kensington Gore’. This is a play on words, as Kensington Gore is the name of a street in that area of London.

    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. Interesting article, Simon! In some of your examples, the unrealistic blood would seem to be largely about what was typical of their respective eras. Taxi Driver is always the interesting example… the bright blood used in the final scenes jarred the censors, and Scorsese was forced to desaturate the colour in these scenes. Ironically, the result is, quite accidentally, far more realistic and far more disturbing than it would have been otherwise.

    Of course, these days I’d be inclined to think that the colour of blood used in a film is simply an aesthetic choice. For many filmmakers, realism is not necessarily going to be the goal.

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