The Chemistry of Hollywood Fake Blood

November 4, 2019 0 By Jose Scott

We love us some horror flicks here at Reactions,
so for Halloween this year, we’re coming at you with a historical, chemical breakdown
of the most crucial element of any scary flick: fake blood. If you’re squeamish and hate
the sight of blood, turn away – we’ll be showing clips from the classics, and all
the must see horror chemistry you need! SPLASH If you want to be in the business of making
fake blood, you’re going to have to get to know the real thing first. Blood gets its
opaque red color from an oxygen carrying protein called hemoglobin. This protein is made up
of these four sub-sections that are centered around smaller compounds called hemes. Dead
smack in the middle of these molecules you’re going to find iron atoms. The hemes bind with
oxygen to transport it through the body and the different bonds change the wavelength
of light that it absorbs. Thus the more oxygen, the brighter the red. Special effects artists
have long tried to simulate this coloration with countless methods and varying degrees
of success. The first attempt of which started right here
at the Grand Guignol Theater (on screen text, Paris France, 1910s),. a playhouse known for
its controversial use of violence and legendary fake blood. Their secretive recipe is believed
to be a heated concoction of equal parts carmine and glycerol. Carmine is a common red pigment
that is derived from Cochineal [coach-in-kneel] beetles and glycerol is a sweet tasting, viscous
liquid that’s created by breaking down triglyceride fats with water. Together, they make for a
pretty gorey sight. By the 1940s, the blood was further enhanced
with the addition of Methyl cellulose which acts as a thickening agent. This chemical
is very hydrophilic. In other words, it loves to absorb and hold onto water, which makes
for a smooth, disgusting sludge. This stuff is so effective that it’s still used today.
But the grand ginoil’s blood was for the that was the stage. The screen on the other
hand, brought totally new challenges to the table. For example, In the 1960 masterpiece, Psycho,
Alfred Hitchcock (PG 200) found that realistic looking blood didn’t have enough contrast
on black and white film to look real, so he famously used Chocolate syrup instead. George
Romero (PG 11) also used chocolate syrup in The Night of The Living Dead, but this rendition
of fake blood only cut it in black and white – color film offered a whole new palate of
issues. In 1962, the godfather of slasher flicks Herschel
Gordon Lewis was working on his first color gorefest, Blood Feast, about a rabid cannibal
food caterer – so, obviously he was in need of a safely consumable, red-colored fake blood.
His signature recipe mixed red dye into a diarrheal remedy known as Kaopectate [K-O-pectate],
which at the time was a mix of a clay called kaolinite and pectin Having a perfect consistency,
opacity, and dramatic color, this would be H. G. Lewis’ career spanning splatter . But before Blood Feast, London’s Hammer
Studios released their first Technicolor horror feature, Terence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein
(on screen 1957) using their industry standard blood recipe, Kensington Gore. Generally speaking,
this was a mixture of golden syrup, warm water, food coloring, and cornstarch to adjust opacity.
. Sugar syrups would be the base of many-a-fake-bloods to come, but not without some sticky setbacks. When filming Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic,
The Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell claimed that his fake blood-drenched shirt crystallized
under heat and shattered after he tried to dry it up. But he’s not the only one, after
filming the gymnasium fire scene in Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Sissy Spacek also claimed
that she was turned into a candy apple using a similar blood recipe. Raimi’s recipe was
one for the budget filmmaker – you too can do it at home. In a large bowl, pour 6 pints
of clear cheapo corn syrup. For opacity, add 1 pint non-dairy creamer, the rich color,
add 1 pint red food coloring, and to deepen the red, just 1 drop of blue. Stir it up,
and behold the horror! Corn syrup is also known as glucose syrup
and is made by adding an acid or enzyme to corn starch, which splits up long starch chains
into individual molecules of glucose sugar. By introducing the corn syrup to heat, the
syrup itself would begin to lose viscosity, and at the same time will lose moisture. Then
when cooled down afterward, the lack of moisture makes the syrup harden, which was bad news
for stars. There’s one more iteration of corn syrup
based fake blood that’s a bit more chemically-complicated than the rest, and much, much less edible.
Legendary makeup artist Dick Smith invented this industry standard that would eventually
work its way into William Freidkins (1973), supernatural, absolutely disturbing film the
Exorcist. This fake blood included a dash of methylparaben – a preservative often found
in cosmetics that could extend the blood’s shelf-life for longer shoots. It also had
something called a photographic wetting agent to change the viscosity of the liquid so that
it flows more uniformly. This helped give the syrup the ability to absorb into clothes
making it more physically blood-like. So folks, whether it be from restrictions
in the medium or budget limitations, filmmakers have always tailored their fake blood to suit
their own needs. For the most part, fake blood has been a sweet situation, and even today
a lot of these recipes are still used on the big screen. From chocolate syrup to candied
Spacek, The story of fake blood is one about adaptation, and of course, how chemistry makes
it all so real! Alright folks, do us a favor and post some of your favorite horror films
in the comments. Come on now, we want so deep cuts, because we’re looking for something
to scare us this Halloween. Thumbs up and subscribe on the way out, and we’ll see
you again soon.