Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things

Denez McAdoo

Color Me Blood Red1965Director – H.G. Lewis”A Blood-Splattered Study in the Macabre. It Will Leave You AGHAST!”79 min. – unrated

My four star review of Sally Field’s performance in Steel Magnolias is going to have to wait till next week as I continue to scrape the bottom of the American cinematic barrel with this week’s feature: Color Me Blood Red. It is the third installment of director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ so-called “Blood Trilogy.” Admittedly, both Gordon Lewis and his films are more noteworthy for their historical significance than for any puritanical nit-picking qualities that normally define the far too strict definition of what constitutes a “good film” from a “festering heap of slop” – namely such arguably unnecessary qualities as talent, believable acting, plot, production value. Instead Lewis was more the entrepreneur – tapping into the full extent of movie-goer’s level of filth and depravity. In doing so, Lewis created the first gore film and kick-started an entire genre with the release of these films (the first of which, 1963’s Blood Feast, was reviewed in the September 9 edition of this column, for those of you who care). Don’t be misled by the implied continuity referenced to in the title “Blood Trilogy” as their in fact no running theme, plot or otherwise, in these three movies except for Lewis’ absence of shame in portraying sadistic and unflinching scenes of gratuitous murder and mayhem. Color Me Blood Red tells a rather simple story actually. It is the lurid tale of a starving artist who in his quest for reaching the ultimate in artistic truth (and, well, profit actually) sinks to a new low and decides to use the blood of his girlfriend’s pricked finger as his muse as she willingly lets him squeeze out her hemoglobin in the name of art. This creates the perfect red color that he had been looking for, but when the consensual blood letting doesn’t produce enough juice for his liking, he of course must resort to stabbing his girlfriend in the head with a screwdriver then smearing her vile corpse across the canvas. Naturally, the piece is critically praised and then valued at tens of thousands of dollars, which is supposed to be a lot by 1965 standards. Let me pause for just a moment to talk about the artwork used in this film. No joke – some of it’s is actually really good. Yeah, plenty of it is terrible but the good stuff seems surprisingly contemporary, as though it were pulled straight from the back of an issue of Juxtaposed art magazine. Not “high” art in any way, but it seems to parallel a recent trend towards a more low-brow 50s kitsch that has a strong commercial sensibility. Color Me Blood Red in its attempt to show bad mid-60’s art, mistakenly creates good contemporary art and some that would make Claude Monet roll over in his grave. But it’s the guts and gore that you paid good money to see. In another sequence, two naïve teens (aren’t they all?) borrow a couple of the artist’s paddle boats but they forget to ask him for permission. When he sees this he charges at them in his motorboat and runs over the boy with his propeller blades while the girl screams in ghastly horror. But don’t worry, she doesn’t get away either and the deranged painter chains her to a wall so he can better extract the blood paint from her eviscerated abdomen, all shown for us in glistening Technicolor. Pretty heavy stuff for 1965. But let’s call a spade a spade, Color Me Blood Red, though entertaining, is hardly an effective horror film. If you don’t take offense to things like bloody corpses with crawling maggots on their faces, than prepare to sit back and chuckle at the film’s painful outdatedness and timeless ineptitude. Upon finding a dead girl’s body buried in the beach, one teen exclaims, “Holy Bananas! It’s a girls leg!” Perhaps this is supposed to be ironic but if even there were a time in history when young people were hip to use a phrase like “Holy Bananas,” there is still no excuse for using the Banana’s name in vein. Shame on you, Herschell Gordon Lewis. Shame on you.