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October 25, 2013

A brief history of fake blood

When it comes to adaptations of "Carrie," the blood literally comes in buckets. For the newest version, director Kimberly Peirce was determined to get the climactic drop of pig's blood just right. As she described it in a recent New York Times Magazine profile, she tried three-gallon, four-gallon and five-gallon buckets, and she tried a three-foot drop, a four-foot drop and a five-foot drop. Trying all these different configurations required take after take after take. When she asked Brian De Palma, director of the classical original "Carrie" (1976), how many takes it took him, he apparently replied, "What do you mean? We did one."

Movie gore has come a long way since the first "Carrie." What pumps through our veins hasn't changed a drop, but what goes in those buckets has been reformulated again and again.

Fake movie blood — sometimes called "Kensington Gore," after the street of that name in London — began evolving long before 1976. For black-and-white films, when blood was permitted at all (the censorship guidelines of the Hays Code in Hollywood didn't much allow it), filmmakers used something quite simple: chocolate syrup. On black-and-white film, it made a starker contrast than red blood, and no one in the theater would ever know it was just Bosco or Hershey's.

At first, technical advances were modest. For "Psycho" (1960), employing state-of-the-art makeup design didn't mean using a new kind of blood, just a new method of delivery: the plastic squeeze bottle. It was brand new with Shasta chocolate syrup. As makeup supervisor Jack Barron explained it, "This was before the days of the 'plastic explosion,' so that was pretty revolutionary. Up to that time in films, we were using Hershey's, but [with the squeeze bottle] you could do a lot more."

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