A Short History of Fake Blood

Blood is pretty much essential for a good horror movie — that mixture of chocolate sauce, hot water, corn syrup, red dye and a few secret chemicals to thicken the mixture. While the blood pumping through our veins remains the same, fake blood has undergone somewhat of a transfusion as technology progresses.

‘Kensington Gore’ was the original trademark name for the fake blood on the big screen and was manufactured by British pharmacist, John Tinegate, during the 1960s and 1970s. But fake blood goes back further than this and for black and white films the blood didn’t even have to be red, as long as the texture worked. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the director used Bosco’s chocolate syrup to get his bloody effect. It wasn’t a highly advanced method as the chocolate sauce would be squeezed out from the bottle all over the scene — but it did the job.

The transition to colour film bought a number of challenges as chocolate syrup wouldn’t cut it. Early colour films that use fake blood such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, show the blood looking too-obviously bright. The cartoon-looking blood wasn’t bad for everyone and it suited Jean Luc Godard’s style in Pierrot Le Fou. When someone pointed out there was a lot of blood in Pierrot Godard threw back, “not blood, red”.

Then came along Dick Smith (and no, it’s not the electronics guy). Smith revolutionised fake blood with a potent mixture (including some poisonous components — don’t try this at home!). Smith’s fake blood was used in ground-breaking movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It was able to run over skin, seep appropriately through fabric and look bloody well right. In fact the fake blood looked so real in Taxi Driver that the movie received an X rating and Scorsese had to make the blood seem less real in order to get an R rating.

From here the fake blood evolution started, but most contemporary recipes still hark back to Smith’s original. New concoctions were created for fake blood that needed to find its way into an actor’s mouth, recipes often based around peanut butter. Several different types of blood can be used in the one movie depending on the lighting, if the blood should spread out or pool or whether it will be used on a body or sprayed across a scene. And there’s no reprimand to go easy on the stuff as Quentin Tarantino used almost 400 litres of ‘Samurai Blood’ for a fight scene for Kill Bill.

But as all things start going digital, so does fake blood and recent CGI techniques are making fake blood out of pixels. Movies like David Finch’s Zodiac, Zack Snyder’s 300 and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies showcase CGI blood in all of its digital glory.

But if you want to be old school, here’s a non-poisonous and non-CGI fake blood recipe you can try at home:

  • 1 part hot water
  • 2 parts corn syrup (dark)
  • Red food colouring, sparingly
  • Chocolate syrup (for sticky texture)

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