Blood on Film

The use of makeup in video and film allows for some of the most incredible transformations in production. It can be used to convincingly age a character, make an actor look like an historical figure, or create a believable war wound. If make-up is done right, the viewer is never taken out of the story. However, bad make-up can be really distracting. Such is the case when it comes to makeup involving fake blood.

Historically, fake blood has been used since the advent of theatres. The formulas and applications have changed over the years as fake blood moved from the stage, to film, to television. Tighter shots and better equipment demanded a more realistic representation. Everything from boiled bugs to chocolate syrup has been used to give audiences the most authentic experience.

Dessert Topping or Fake Blood?

Shot in 1960, Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho has an unforgettable scene full of fake blood. We’re of course referring to the infamous shower scene in which Janet Leigh is repeatedly stabbed by an unseen perpetrator. Although it lasted a mere 45 seconds, the scene consisted of 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts. It was a labour of love for Hitchcock that resulted in a very scary, very believable murder. How was this achieved? With a squirt bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup—the perfect look and consistency for the black and white film.

A New Standard

In the 1970s, legendary makeup artist Dick Smith created a formula that became the standard for fake blood in Hollywood. He used this convincing concoction in The Godfather, The Exorcist, and Taxi Driver. Smith’s creation helped him earn an honorary Academy Award for his career’s work in 2012. By the way, he was pretty good at make-up in general and also won Best Makeup for Amadeus in 1985. Here’s his recipe for fake blood:

  • 1 quart white corn syrup
  • 1 level teaspoon methyl paraben
  • 2 ounces ehler red food colour
  • 5 teaspoons ehler yellow food colour
  • 2 ounces Kodak photo-flo (poisonous, btw)
  • 2 ounces water

And here’s a look at how Hollywood is making blood today, along with a little demo on spray and splatter techniques.

Fake Blood Fails

Remember how at the beginning of this blog we talked about the ability of bad makeup to detract from the rest of a film? That definitely includes bad fake blood. Some of the most spectacular fails came out of the B-movie horror films produced in the 1960s and 1970s. Bad blood indeed!

Bleeding for Your Art

Fake blood has come a long way from cochineal bugs and Kensington Gore to today’s modern formulas. Makeup and special effects experts can whip up enough movie blood to keep the Quentin Tarantinos and Brian De Palmas in business for years to come. So the next time a movie feels a little too real for you, remember that all that blood is mostly corn syrup.

This blog was originally posted in 2014 and has been updated for accuracy.