Color Me Blood Red
A blood-splattered study in the macabre. It will leave you AGHAST!
Year of Release: 1965
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 79 minutes (1:19)
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Gordon Oas-Heim ... Adam Sorg
Candi Conder ... April Carter
Jerome Eden ... Rolf
Jim Jaekel ... Jack
Pat Finn-Lee ... Sydney
Elyn Warner ... Gigi
Scott H. Hall ... Farnsworth
This is the sixth in a series of flicks I'm reviewin' in tribute to the ten guys that I feel made the biggest, and in some cases, most important contributions to the Horror genre, and today the emphasis skews heavily toward "important" as I show reverence for the Godfather of Gore himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis - the man who, with the help of Astrid Olson, created the Schrodinger's tongue paradox. That's a tongue that's simultaneously in and out of cheek for those of you who missed that day in Quantum Mechanics.
A struggling artist, Adam Sorg, finds himself unable to sell any paintings until he accidentally discovers a shade of red... blood red... from his finger. Not wishing to face terminal anemia himself, he murders one of his models and applies her bloodied face to his canvas. This painting technique gives him a "head-up" on other artists, and his newest creation becomes an overnight success, with his paintings of violent, tragic scenes in constant demand.
This newfound notoriety is great for his finances but creates a blood supply shortage. His first model begins to run dry, so he kills a couple of swimmers. He spears the man and runs them both over with a boat. The fanatic artist then hangs the woman's body in the storeroom, to tap her vitals whenever the need for more blood occurs. With a fresh supply of blood hanging around, he buries the drained body of his first victim on the beach... which is discovered later in an advanced state of decomposition, depicted in full gory detail. The boyfriend of Sorg's newest model becomes suspicious of the artist and worries that his girlfriend might end up as a painting.
Color Me Blood Red, remindin' us that ya may not be able to get blood from a turnip, but there's still plenty of suitable produce loungin' around the beaches of Florida.
And speakin' of things you don't wanna wake up next to, the big day finally arrived, and I'm pleased to announce that Shankles is now the proud papa of nine disgustin', creepy little shriveled-up testicles. Can't say I care much for the timing, beins Eve went into labor just as the guys in S&M Hefty bags started draggin' Yvette Vickers into their underground hickey grotto durin' Attack of the Giant Leeches and forced me to turn over projection duties to Billy Hilliard durin' a pivotal point in the Grime Time double feature. I guess Mrs. Sadie had her reasons though, and to my credit, I think I comported myself with a lotta compassion and understanding once I was given an explanation for the summons.
"You drug me away from a Roger Corman flick for this?!" I bitched.
"Eve and Shankles need our reassurance right now," Mrs. Sadie insisted.
"So... my possum needs an emotional support human?" I puzzled.
"Yes!" she snapped, plainly distressed over what was about to become her first experience as a marsupial midwife.
"And here I thought this was gonna be stupid," I said, throwin' my hands up and takin' a seat at the kitchen table.
"We ALSO need you to record it," Sadie spat, comin' outta the bedroom and thrustin' a camcorder into my chest.
"Not recordin' over anything that might launch a highly successful OnlyFans account, are ya?" I asked, flippin' the protective flap open and holdin' the tape up to the light.
I think that was around the time Sadie temporarily revoked my oxygen privileges with a hook to the gut, but I found out later that the reason Mrs. Sadie wanted *me* to capture the magic moment was that they did a trial run usin' a stuffed animal and when they played the tape back it was just half an hour of Mrs. Sadie's chest bursters fightin' against their restraints.
I didn't much care for the implication that I could be trusted to maintain focus on the blessed event in the face of those two tetherballs jockeyin' for position either, but by that point the pizza pocket I'd eaten at the drive-in was already makin' like Shawn White on a half pipe and so I decided to be the bigger person and hold my peace. Well, mostly that. But also 'cause Eve'd just let loose a sound like a mountain lion that'd underestimated the height of a barb-wire fence.
"Are you sure you... ugh... yup, surf's up now," I started to say as my contents shifted. "The heck do you know about veterinary science, anyway?" I recovered as I started to roll tape.
"I'm taking a correspondence course," Mrs. Sadie assured me.
"Sally Struthers strikes again," I muttered.
"She's dilated to six millimeters... contractions coming every... three minutes," Mrs. Sadie noted, consulting her stopwatch. "The miracle is imminent," she surmised, grinnin' like a hyena on a zebra carcass.
"Is there a level of social stratum beneath 'white trash'? 'Cause I feel like we're entering uncharted territory here," I asked no one in particular.
Thankfully nobody took much notice 'cause around that time the missus was instructin' Sadie to prop Eve up into a sitting position to give 'er additional leverage, and next thing I know Mrs. Sadie's tryna lead the expectant mother in a series of breathin' exercises.
"Alright, so our lives have pretty well jumped the shark. I see that now. Kinda surprised it took this long if I'm bein' totally honest. Just don't wanna end up jumpin' the SHART like last time, ya know?" I rambled nervously, recalling the false alarm during which Eve uncorked a pile of shit that'd impress Jeff Goldblum.
"They should have started coming by now. Nurse, forceps," Mrs. Sadie ordered.
"Um... you mean the salad tongs?" Sadie asked.
"Would you work with me here?! Yes! Give them to me!" Mrs. Sadie barked.
Sometimes when ya find yourself trapped in a David Lynch screenplay you miss certain details, and somehow I hadn't noticed the E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial TV tray and the collection of kitchen utensils and carpentry tools spread out on its surface, and I'm not ashamed to tell ya that I got a little squeamish when I noticed the chip carvin' knife, needle, and thread.
"So, um... I can't help but notice the Mississippi abortion kit you've prepared for the occasion... you're not thinkin' about tryin' a caesarian, are you?" I managed.
"Only if there's no other alternative," Mrs. Sadie replied grimly.
Emotional support human or not, that was the moment when I started makin' plans to grab Shankles and bolt for the door if the other option was to just sit there and let the poor guy watch his girlfriend get gutted like a largemouth bass, but mercifully, the suspense was nearing its conclusion.
"I can see a snout! Push, Eve!" Mrs. Sadie squealed.
Eve made another noise like Freddy Krueger keyin' the door of an El Camino until this nasty little pinto bean rolled out and started gropin' blindly for a teat like a teenager on prom night.
Apparently, possums are a lot like Pringles, 'cause once they pop they can't stop. And once the first one'd blazed the trail, so to speak, it's basically like takin' a piss after passin' a urethra stone. 20 minutes later it was all over and I never wanna go through it again. I'm just glad they finally conceived before Mrs. Sadie went and blew $10,000 on a fertility specialist.
Shankles isn't really sure what to make of all this, but I'ma keep 'im at home with me for a while - at least until Eve stops tryna bite off his insemination equipment anytime he gets close to 'er. For a lower form of life she seems to have a pretty good grasp of why she's in her current situation and seems to be harboring a lotta animosity about it.
For those of you interested in adoption, please direct all questions to the Bonebreak residence. Serious inquiries only. If approved, following your interview and background check, expect to fork over a lotta jack for one of the ugly little shriekers if you wanna get in on the ground floor of the emerging rural chic pet trend. Tell 'em I sent ya and, pending approval, you'll receive a complimentary flea collar at no additional cost. Good luck, and happy bidding.
Anyway, once the festivities came to an end Shankles and me headed home and stuffed a coupla Red Barons in the oven and a Herschell Gordon Lewis flick in the VCR so that we could collect our thoughts and digest what all this means for our lives, only as soon as we sat down Apollo caught wind of the pepperoni and launched 'imself at us and accidentally tea-bagged Shankles while he was tryna squeeze into the barcalounger. Probably not that bigga deal for a male dog to lose a nipple I guess, but after that Shankles spent the night outside and I hadda keep rewindin' the tape so I wouldn't miss any important dialogue, like "Holy bananas! It's a girl's leg!", or "They're on the patio, daddy-o!" 'cause Apollo kept makin' noises like a bratwurst in the microwave.
I dunno about you, but Herschell's flicks've always helped me find my center when life starts gettin' too complicated 'cause the man just had a way of remindin' you that no matter how messy things get, eventually, you'll get a handle on your problems and crush 'em to death like a psycho maniac Egyptian caterer in a trash compactor. Herschell passed away seven years ago but his insight lives on sixty years after his flicks first graced the drive-in screen, and as a show of respect for his time-tested wisdom, I wanna share three examples that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life, and that I hope you will too. First, burning police evidence is alright as long as you're making a strong philosophical statement at the time. Second, water jousters rarely concern themselves with who has the right of way. And third, never trust an artist that doesn't ask you to get nekkid.
The movie begins with a drum beat that sounds like somethin' you'd expect to hear just before a captured Civil War defector gets executed by firin' squad until this morose, defeated art gallery owner (Farnsworth) marches out onto his lawn and puts the torch to a paintin' we probably don't wanna see given that he can't find anyone in Sarasota willin' to hang it up in their outhouse. The artist who breathed life into it is a guy named Sorg, and Sorg has a problem. Actually, Sorg has a lotta problems - not least of which is lookin' like a butcher from Passaic, New Jersey who's always on the verge of bein' fired for spittin' on the floor behind the meat counter in front of the customers. His more immediate concern, however, is that he's runnin' outta ideas and retired debutantes willin' to blow their dead husbands' pension checks on his smearins. Fortunately, inspiration strikes when his jailbait girlfriend (Gigi) pricks 'er finger on a nail and accidentally drips blood all over a canvas and he finally starts askin' the right questions, namely - what would Dick Miller do? So Sorg goes to work on Gigi's lacerated finger like he's tryna force one more glob of toothpaste outta the tube until she gets P.O.'d and goes outside to slap manta rays in the face with the track on 'er paddlebike and leaves Sorg alone to battle the urge to overturn the bathroom waste bin in search of sanitary napkins.
Of course, that would only be delaying the inevitable. So he decides to suffer for the sake of his art and by the time Gigi comes back inside he's passed out with more razor blade wounds than the front row at a My Chemical Romance concert and his paintin' looks like it's come under heavy ketchup fire by an enraged ex-president. The next mornin' Sorg wants to finish but he just don't have it in 'im, so before Gigi heads out to sell girl scout cookies door-to-door he decides to abuse the muse and jams an ice pick into 'er temple and collects the plasma he needs to complete his vision with enough left over to open up a soup kitchen for homeless vampires. 'Cept now he hasta get rid of the body in a hurry and gun it on over to the gallery for his big unveilin', so he buries 'er in the sand in broad daylight in a state where a third of the population is made up of retirees who spend their days on the beach with metal detectors before turnin' around and refusin' to sell the paintin' 'cause it's got so much of his blood, sweat, and peers in it. He promises Farnsworth that he'll paint another, only by this point the last of his slaughtercolors've soaked into the shag and it's lookin' like one-hit wondersville until the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh smiles down on 'im and delivers two beach blanket banditos who take his paddlebikes out for a joyride. Sorg is P.O.'d, so he jumps in his sea bass boat and runs the guy over like a sunbathin' manatee and takes the girl home to keep the creative juices flowin', but once again he can't bring 'imself to sell the finished piece 'cause monetary gain would sully the process and cheapen the memory of the young woman who put her heart and skull into it.
Then Sorg heads home to smoke, brood, and become an angst-ridden wreck like all the greats before him, only while he's tryna die before his time and ensure his immortality, these two couples (April & Rolf, and Sydney & Jack) crash his rehearsal wake and he decides to climb outta his wallow and hose all the self-pity off so he can ask April to model for 'im. April has reservations but thinks she might be able to parlay the opportunity into enough fame to get invited to a V.I.P. party where she can get drunk and fool around with Bob Griese, so she tells Sorg she'll think about it and ends up goin' ahead after lookin' into a future where she's stuck chasin' Jack's little yard monsters around the supermarket as the varicose veins in 'er ankles scream at 'er like a panther passin' a kidney stone. 'Course she hasta sneak off to do it after Rolf gets hostile followin' feelins of inadequacy post-weenie roast, and when she gets there Sorg tells 'er to pose like Gorilla Monsoon fixin' to put the airplane spin on Bruno Sammartino. She can't seem to hold still enough for Sorg's liking, but fortunately, he has planned for this eventuality and ties 'er arms to a ceilin' beam, only before he can mold 'er into America's Next Chopped Model April's friends find Gigi's legs stickin' outta the sand threatenin' to unleash a clutch of diddler crabs and everyone looks at each other like they just found a Cheeto in a bag of Doritos. I know you're all riveted to your seats so I don't wanna say anything else except to make sure you get a tetanus shot once the bleedin' stops, but after makin' two movies with Connie Mason you prolly know how Herschell feels about workin' with models, and he's liable to start makin' up for missed opportunities pretty quick if Rolf and the gang don't get with the program.
And with that Herschell Gordon Lewis' "blood trilogy" comes to a conclusion, but more importantly - so too his working relationship with producer David F. Friedman (until their reunion in 2002 when they made Blood Feast 2), with whom he had collaborated since 1961 when they made Living Venus. In the years immediately following Color Me Blood Red, Herschell started dabbling in other genres, utilizing his knowledge as a marketing executive to seek out new controversial topics he could use to stun to the sheltered filmgoing public of America, and though he did make A Taste of Blood and The Gruesome Twosome in 1967, he branched out into new territory with films about wife swapping (Suburban Roulette), female biker gangs (She-Devils on Wheels), and the teenage drama, The Girl the Body and the Pill, about a high school teacher who has the audacity to teach sex education instead of lettin' her students get knocked up at 14 like God intended. He would eventually return to horror in the early '70s with The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls, but Herschell was never committed to any particular genre, nor was he ever committed to filmmaking in general. Lewis wasn't an artist and had no aspirations of being such - he was a businessman with a keen insight into the public consciousness who could offer theater-goers something they'd never seen before, and consequently, he holds the distinction of being one of the most important genre directors of all-time while lacking any real talent as a filmmaker and always maintaining that film was a business and nothing more.
Here was a man who probably never made a good film (when measured by technical value alone) in his entire career, and yet, every single flick he released entertains and sticks with you where countless superior films fade from memory within weeks, and for that reason, his movies challenge our expectations of what a movie is even supposed to be. You could argue that he was just in the right place at the right time to parlay his insider info into box office receipts (and it would be a particularly potent argument against Color Me Blood Red given that it's essentially a clone of Roger Corman's classic, A Bucket of Blood), and yet, that explanation just doesn't hold water. By and large, it's practically unheard of for someone with zero passion or emotional investment in their art to make something people enjoy, let alone something people continue talking about 60 years after its unveiling and that inspires other filmmakers (John Waters, Frank Henenlotter, for example) to create their own. There's no shortage of directors who've produced terrible works that became beloved cult movies over time, but those flicks are generally enjoyed on a purely ironic level where the audience derives all its enjoyment by reveling in its failures, and that's just not the case with Lewis' filmography. You'd never put him in the same category with Hitchcock, Carpenter, or even Charlie Band, but there's something about his movies that keeps drawing us back over half a century later hoping to understand their appeal, and I for one hope we never figure it out.
Alright, I think I'm done gushin' over the incomprehensible allure of the disinterested capitalist and his lasting impact on the history of genre film, so let's dive into this sucker and see if he got the water to ketchup ratio right this time.
The plot is, as mentioned, a steal of Roger Corman's 1959 flick A Bucket of Blood, only with a painter instead of a sculptor (though to be fair Lewis did cite it as an inspiration). Normally it's Roger pumpin' out the low-budget clones of other people's flicks, which probably tells ya everything you need to know about where Herschell stood in the cinematic pecking order, but regardless there's not a lot here in the way of originally. Herschell's flicks also tend linear and pretty predictable so don't expect much in the way of plot twists, but I've gotta say that buryin' the dead girlfriend in the sand about one foot down and 20 yards from the maniac's own house is a little lazy even by Lewis's standards. Ya also kinda wonder what planet this movie is takin' place on given that Sorg's fanbase consists primarily of elderly women willin' to shell out a modern equivalent of $150,000 for a painting of a half nekkid woman bleeding out following impalement through the skull by a dagger, but then again, it is Florida we're talkin' about. Bottom line - it's your basic "villain goes to the well once too often" scenario leading to the predictable, yet satisfying comeuppance.
The acting, and I cannot emphasize this next part enough, *by the standards of a Lewis film*, is surprisingly decent. Yes, the supporting cast is made up almost entirely of amateurs whose delivery of dialogue couldn't be more awkward if they were filmed nekkid in the frozen food section of a Piggly Wiggly, but Gordon Oes-Heim's portrayal of the increasingly unhinged Sorg is decent, and I thought Elyn Warner (Gigi) and Pat Finn-Lee (Sydney) had their moments as well. Scott H. Hall (Farnsworth), William Harris (the art critic, Gregorovich), Jim Jaekel (Jack), and Iris Marshall (April's mother) all stink on ice, it's true, but if you look at the overall performances with a little perspective and think back to those given by say, Mal Arnold and Connie Mason in Blood Feast, some of these folks deserve an Emmy by comparison. I'm not sayin' the acting is good across the board, but I think that Oes-Heim's performance may very well be the best ever given in a Herschell Gordon Lewis flick, and that the acting, in general, is, if nothing else, significantly better than the acting in Blood Feast.
Here's who matters and why: Candy Conder (Two Thousand Maniacs!), Pat Finn-Lee (Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things), Jerome Eden (Blood Feast), Scott H. Hall (Blood Feast).
The special effects are kinda disappointing in contrast to those of Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs and this is the reason most people agree that Color Me Blood Red is the weak link in the "blood trilogy," 'cause, let's face it - the gore is why we're watchin'. I will say that Lewis improved the shade and consistency of his blood formula since his previous efforts, but after watchin' the tongue-ripping scene from Blood Feast and the barrel roll from Two Thousand Maniacs our expectations were pretty high, and this follow-up completely fails to deliver. We get an ice pick stabbing, a lance impalement, a gunshot wound, an admittedly nasty disemboweling and that's it. And sure, by the standards of 1965 it's a public outrage waitin' to happen - but it's just not up to snuff when compared to its two companion films. It's kinda like goin' to a Metallica concert where they only play songs from the Load album forward, ya know?
The shooting locations are exactly what you'd expect from an early H.G.L. flick - homes and property belonging to friends and/or investors that belie the film's low-budget nature due to the nostalgic, pleasing appearance of 1960s Florida. Initially, he shot most of his films there due to the availability and cooperation from its nudist colonies and presumably stuck with it after making contacts and becoming familiar with the lay of the land, but whatever his motivation, the palm trees and white sand beaches definitely provided a little cover for the mediocre cinematography used to photograph them. The interiors are nothing flashy and are best viewed as a glimpse of Americana past rather than as anything plot-relevant, but the residences do the job even if the art gallery is pretty pitiful as represented by a single room lined with metal folding chairs near each of its side walls. Definitely nothing special or atmosphere-enhancing, but charming nonetheless.
The soundtrack has a pretty limited selection of instruments and appears to have been cobbled together from a number of uncredited sources. You've got string/woodwind compositions that sound like something that didn't quite make the cut for use in a 1950s sitcom, some silly, Get Smart-esque brass sections, a decent little piano/brass piece that kinda works as accompaniment to Sorg's descent into madness, and that grim, military-style drum bit that plays during the opening. As soundtracks from low-budget '60s flicks go, I wouldn't say it's especially effective, but it's certainly different than what was being produced at that time, as many composers still hadn't moved away from that droning 1950s sound. And again, who knows where any of it came from because the film has no composer credit attached to it, but it has one or two moments where the mood kinda syncs up with the story and gives it a tiny boost in the atmosphere department.
Overall, on a technical level, it's better than Blood Feast but inferior to Two Thousand Maniacs, and in terms of entertainment value it's inferior to both. That said, comparing Herschell's horror movies to each other is about like measuring the worth of a Friday the 13th flick against its siblings 'cause there really ain't much difference. If you like the first one you see you should probably check out every single one, and conversely, if you don't, it's best to just move on. All you really need to know is that regional independent filmmaking is always a unique experience depending upon who's makin' what where, and in that respect, Lewis remains unmatched to this day. He is missed.