Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Artist in "Color Me Blood Red"

I just had the pleasure of seeing the third in Herschell Gordon Lewis's blood trilogy. I had already seen Part One, Blood Feast (1963), and Part Two, Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), and these prepared me, to an extent, for Part Three, Color Me Blood Red (1965). I expected blood and gore, and got those. Laughably bad acting, cheap production values, ludicrous dialogue, and stilted direction were also expected and delivered, as were good-looking women wearing very little. A certain overall strangeness is also a mark of this auteur, and Color Me Blood Red carried on in this tradition. But Color Me Blood Red was distinctive in one way. It is a horror movie about being an artist, and a fairly accurate portrayal at that.

Color Me Blood Red is the story of painter Adam Sorg (Gordon Oas-Heim as Don Joseph), who, after being offended by a critic's deprecatory remark about his use of color, begins to add human blood to his canvases. At first it's an accidental drip of blood from his girlfriend's finger, then it's his own blood, in quantities. But it weakens him too much to use his own blood, and besides he needs more. He finally resorts to murder--first his girlfriend, then another girl--and paints freely with their blood. The result is critical acclaim and public demand for his paintings. No one knows his secret, but something about his paintings captures the imagination. Finally Sorg tries to kill one girl too many, and is executed by her irate boyfriend.

Red Smith once said, "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Apparently, according to Lewis, painting works the same way. In Color Me Blood Red, Lewis works out a metaphor for what is involved in all artistic creation--drawing material from yourself and from others (your blood, your friends' blood) until your art is genuinely original and alive. That it tends to destroy the artist and may also destroy others is the price one pays for accomplished art. Further, in the specific case of horror art, blood is part of the spectacle for which people pay to see, and even if that blood is fake, it is only of interest because there exists real blood that does sometimes get spilt. Lewis probably did not intend his audience to think much about these ideas, but they are present nonetheless.

The other blood trilogy movies are similarly intellectual in reach. Blood Feast involves Egyptian scholarship and religious fervor. Two Thousand Maniacs! delves into historic tensions between North and South. Yes, the trilogy is exploitational and the production values are low, yet the movies exercise a curious hold not only on the innards but on the mind.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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