(1965) Written and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis; Starring: Gordon Oas-Heim, Candi Conder, Elyn Warner, Pat Finn-Lee and Scott H. Hall; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“These things really were almost hatched in a mutual brain. Dave (Friedman) and I might be riding in a car, saying ‘What do you think of such and such,’ and by the time the weekend was over, we had a script.” – Herschell Gordon Lewis
Herschell Gordon Lewis helped create a revolution in the world of horror, depicting unprecedented levels of gore with 1963’s Blood Feast. Along with producer David F. Friedman, they assembled a loose “Blood” trilogy that continued with Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and concluded with Color Me Blood Red.* Perhaps the most memorable thing about the third film was its ad campaign, reminding us “It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie…” This little mantra was subsequently recycled, to great effect, for 1972’s The Last House on the Left (“It’s only a movie...”). Oh, if only the filmmakers had put as much effort into the film itself, rather than the promotion…
* According to Lewis and Friedman, they never intended to stop at three films, but their collaboration was cut short when their partnership dissolved. Their insightful DVD commentary sheds some light on the events that led up to their disagreement.
Lewis filmed Color Me Blood Red in Sarasota, Florida for approximately $30,000, utilizing mostly local talent and existing locations. The story, about a crazed artist who paints with human blood, is similar thematically to Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, but without the wit or fun performances. Gordon Oas-Heim, who plays loathsome struggling painter Adam Sorg, is no Dick Miller. He approaches his character without a hint of humor or self-deprecation. While no one’s bound to win any awards for their acting in this movie, the best performance is from Elyn Warner (in her only film appearance) as Sorg’s nagging girlfriend Gigi (“…If we ever get married, the first thing I’d do would be – get a divorce.”).
The film takes off, so to speak, after Sorg has an epiphany with one of his paintings. After Gigi cuts her finger, he experiments with her blood on canvas and likes the results. The trouble is there’s not nearly enough blood from one little cut to go around, so he resorts to drastic measures to obtain more crimson pigment to complete his work. Sorg’s latest painting is a hit with the art crowd, including an influential critic named Gregorovich (William Harris). Soon, he feels pressured to produce another work of similar caliber, but needs a fresh supply of blood.
The gore effects are about what you would expect from a no-budget production, using available materials. When Sorg runs over a pair of seaside frolickers with a speed boat, the carnage was simulated with pieces of meat.* In another scene, when one of his victims is discovered with worms crawling over her face, the filmmakers resorted to borrowing a can of worms from a Sarasota resident who raised earthworms as a hobby.
* Fun fact: Lewis remarked that one of the complications in filming the scene was that seagulls kept flying off with the meat.
The most damning aspect of Color Me Blood Red is that it fails to meet the low standards set by the premise. Considering the ghoulish subject matter, there’s a conspicuous lack of paintings in the film. Sorg only manages to produce two pieces of art with his new preferred medium, after dispatching three people. Instead, much of the film is filled with scenes that go nowhere, and do little to advance the plot. Even with its brief 79-minute running time, Color Me Blood Red seems overlong. Lewis admitted the story was a “one-string fiddle,” and that he had to resort to “filler” to pad out the movie, making it a suitable length for distribution. Thus, we end up spending an inordinate amount of time following four friends as they cavort on the beach and engage in witless banter.
The entire film has a lackluster, cobbled-together quality that makes its predecessor look epic in comparison. At least Two Thousand Maniacs! seemed to take delight in its revenge-fueled premise, and had the conviction to follow through with some inspired mayhem. At the end of the day, however, it's not the act of painting with blood or the killings that make the picture, but what surrounds the events. To borrow another page from the superior A Bucket of Blood, more time should have been spent depicting the stir that Sorg’s paintings caused in the art community. By far, the highlight of the Color Me Blood Red DVD (from Something Weird Video) was hearing Lewis and Friedman’s reflections on low budget filmmaking, which eclipses the movie itself.