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Bloody Good
by Patrick Storck

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So you're making a horror movie. You have some cool locations, some neat lighting ideas, and all that good stuff. The script is creepy and original, or silly and steeped in self parody, or just by the numbers and quick, since there's always a market for something new, even if it isn't good. I won't say there's no shame in that, but it's still a viable option. Some people have made a lot of money off of quickie schlock, sometimes to finance something more personal, sometimes to put in a nice heated pool.

The point is, you're ready to go. Since it's horror, 99% of the time there's gonna be death. Sure, you have the occasional POLTERGEIST where nobody dies (on-screen, at least). Chances are you aren't making that. Even if you are, you'll need some sort of special effects. Overall effects on a home budget will be covered as I can try things out on my own and know that I'm telling you something I've seen work. Today we're going to cover blood.

The first thing you will need is blood. There are tons of recipes online for fake blood, and I would advise you to try a bunch of them Have different types available as you're shooting as well. Different types will show up differently on film, move differently, and settle differently. Each has their benefits.

Your standard blood usually involves coloring and karo syrup. I tent to use fruit punch mix, then some green or blue food coloring to darken it depending on what the blood will be on. The red will mix naturally, so if you're spraying white walls or clothes, it will go pink fairly quick. More red only help a little. Adding touches of green, blue, or yellow can darken the blood, give it a dirty or clotting feel as it clings to the wall, and in general makes it less fun and festive. If you're going for fun blood, never mind. Mix fruit punch and milk and spray away. Sure it will stink pretty quick, but it looks neat.

Oh, the fake blood mentioned above is deliciously sweet, like liquid candy. It also makes a nice mixer with vodka, rum, and probably some other boozes I haven't tried. It also packs a hell of a sugar buzz, so a quick swig will get even the most worn-down crew member a second, third, and fourth wind. If they can work through the instant headache, that is.

For thickness, generally you'll be okay with the karo and color, then working to thin from there. Be sparing in the water, because it thins the blood fairly quick. If you're using this type of blood, it generally is because you need something thick for effect. Blood on the walls, a knife wound, that sort of thing. You want blood that will cling and stay in place, not something that will have to be reapplied every few minutes.

What do you use to apply the blood? Everything. Rubber gloves are good for signs of a struggle. Ladles and spoons can fling good spray arcs out or just make puddles easier. Paint brushes and scrub blushes allow for some streak control while painting directly. Flicking a brush hard by the handle while coated in blood can give some nice arterial bursts, and dragging your thumb over the bristles can add some detailed spotting. You can also get that from an ordinary straw, blowing the blood from a foot or two back. For the spatter, thinner blood works best. If you can, let each layer congeal a little before adding the next. That way the watery blood doesn't disrupt the thicker blood as much.

If you're using hoses to spray a lot of blood, have a big watery splash, need a big pool of blood to form, or something else like that, consider other types of blood. For anything with a hose or straw, I have started going simple and just made an extra thick batch of fruit punch with added color. It's a lot less likely to clog the hose, it moves fast, and it wipes or mops up a lot quicker. Bulk tins of fruit punch mix are cheap, water is free, and the other colorings can be found for a bargain (like a tin of grape mix, blueberry punch, whatever). While karo isn't exactly expensive, it can add up fast.

If a river of blood is running down the stairs, you don't really want it too thick. Maybe add a little flour to make the blood opaque, but make it a bit darker to balance out the white, then just splash away. If somebody slits their wrists in a bathtub, it's an absolute waste to use karo. Just pour fruit punch. When Hitchcock made PSYCHO, he used chocolate syrup as blood. Sure, he didn't have to worry about an exact color, but he knew what was needed for the effect and stopped there.

When the blood sprays, runs, flies, or whatever you plan to do with it try and remember that it came from somewhere. If only one person dies in a room, it may be silly to have blood soaking everything in the room. Still, you can go around and make sure blood touches every part of the room. Hand prints, slash spays, streaks, spots where it looks like they were crawling. Instead of having a cartoony overstatement, you can show that a brutal scene took place and let the audience infer what took place. Not only does it make it more real for them, but as you plan the splatters it gives you a better idea of the kill as a whole.

Now for clean up. Fake blood can stain, though it doesn't always. For any clothes used in a violent scene, make sure they are disposable after the shoot just in case, and try to have multiples of everything if you can afford it. Keep a bucket or three of warm to hot water on hand. If a take goes wrong, have the actor change into a fresh set immediately, then soak the bloody clothes in the water and scrub. It should come out easily if done fast enough. Set the clothes someplace where they can dry and be ready for another take if needed.

For walls and props have more hot water and plenty of sponges, rags, and mops. Don't bother scrubbing. It's a waste of effort. Wipe down the blood liberally with warm water. Hit a big area, then go back to the beginning and wipe down again. You'll thin it out and it should simply dissolve. Wipe it up, mop it up, dump it someplace safe. Rinse your supplies regularly. Your set may actually be cleaner when you're done that when you started.

If filming in a cheap apartment, be careful about how much water you use at once. We had one set that had been cheaply repainted every time a new tenant moved in, right over top of the dirty old walls. The water soaked in, mixed with the dirt, and layers upon layers of paint came down in thick sheets. We wound up having to scrape down the whole room and repaint it.

Next time? Gore!

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Other Columns
Other columns by Patrick Storck:

That Should Be In a Movie

2010: A Year We Could Make Contact

Bad Movie Christmas

Suggested Reading

Thanks again!

All Columns


Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.


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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.


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