From the syrupy liquid washing down the drain in the shower scene in Psycho to the bucket of “pig’s blood” that fell on Carrie’s head at prom, one of the most immersive parts of a horror movie is arguably its use of fake blood. But, whilst it’s always gloopy, wet, and red, horror movie blood has been made from a ton of different things. From corn syrup to chocolate sauce, let’s get into the very thing running through veins of horror movies: fake blood.
Most people know that Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate syrup for the blood in Psycho (1960), as it was filmed in black and white so he didn’t have to worry about the colour being wrong. However, once colour started being introduced to more films, this trick didn’t work anymore.
For classic horror films like Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958) a more vivid red concoction called “Kensington Gore,” cooked up by retired pharmacist John Tinegate, was used. But this still wasn’t a perfect match. So, as technicolour developed in the movie industry, SFX artists actually looked to stage makeup for more realistic alternatives.
It was makeup artist Mark Shostrom that created the recipe for the fake blood mixture of the ‘60s which was used in films like The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Carrie. In fact, remember the scene in Scream (1996) where Billy licks fake blood from their hand and reveals that it was corn syrup all along? Mark Shostrom was obviously where he got the idea, since he made his fake blood recipe from a mix of corn syrup and food colouring, with cornstarch to make it less transparent.
But Shostrom’s recipe met some competition when Nextel Simulated Blood made its debut in 1971 and subsequently received a special citation from the Academy Awards. Its best feature was that, unlike past examples of fake blood, it left no stains on costumes or props. However, some people still thought it was kind of… orange.
After a while, the industry caught onto the fact that Nextel’s fake blood just wasn’t realistic enough, and most SFX departments turned back to Shostrom’s version. Today, horror movies still often use the corn syrup concoction, but CGI has helped to develop a more realistic iteration. The actual bloody mixture doesn’t need to be perfect because it can be touched up in post-production.
However, film critic Diedre Crimmins has commented that how realistic the fake blood needs to be kind of depends on the movie. More camp horror films like Suspiria can get away with using the Nextel style blood, because a more vivid-red colour suspends reality and creates this fantastical element. Whereas, realistic horror films like Last House on the Left rely on that element of realism to scare its audiences.
What’s the most realistic horror movie blood you’ve seen?
More on Culted