Old, Weird Tech: Blood for Black-and-White Films

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Today, special effects artists, especially those associated with the horror movies that are so popular around this time of year, have a lot of different tools at their disposal. And, with them, they're doing progressively better work -- technically. But there's something inspiring about the innovation required to work around low-budget and low-tech restraints.

Bosco.jpgDick Smith, a popular make-up artist known for his work on The Exorcist, The Godfather and many other award-winning films, helped to create the standard Hollywood blood recipe: zinc oxide, red food coloring, white corn syrup and Kodak Photo-Flo, a toxic chemical used in the production of photographs. But fake blood was used long before Linda Blair played Regan, the possessed child in the 1973 horror blockbuster, and long before Dick Smith.

More than a dozen years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the story of a secretary who hides out in a remote motel owned by a man inspired, in print, by serial killer Ed Gein, terrified millions. (Gein also served as the inspiration for Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series and The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill.) Without the pivotal shower scene, in which the female lead is murdered, the film might not have become the classic it is considered today. Shot over a week with 77 different camera angles, the shower scene required lots and lots of blood. Instead of using the standard Hollywood stage blood, with its thin consistency and unconvincing color, Hitchcock's make-up artist, Jack Barron, decided to use Bosco Chocolate Syrup, which looks more realistic in black-and-white films.

Invented by a New Jersey doctor in 1928 as a way to get kids to drink more milk, Bosco Chocolate Syrup is "one of the most beloved brands of chocolate syrup," according to Unwrapped on the Food Network. The recipe hasn't changed much since the 1920s, but now, instead of finding it around the entire country, Bosco is sold almost exclusively in Florida, New York, Texas and southern California. Today, most people, it seems, associate chocolate syrup almost exclusively with ice cream, but Bosco expert Bill Campanali said the company sells its product for many uses. It can be spread on toast or waffles, for example. It can be poured into breakfast cereal. It can even be used as fake blood in a black-and-white movie.

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN FAKE BLOOD:

  1. Measure corn syrup -- you can use either light or dark -- into a bowl. Use as much as you'll need.
  2. For every 1/8 cup of corn syrup that you used, add about 20 drops of red food coloring and stir.
  3. For every 1/8 cup of corn syrup that you used, mix in approximately 1 tsp. of sifted white flour. After mixing, allow the fake blood to sit for a few minutes and thicken. The flour helps to make the blood mixture less transparent and will aid in application.
  4. Add, a couple of drops at a time, chocolate syrup. This will not only make the fake blood taste delicious, but will also achieve a more realistic color. If you do not have chocolate syrup on hand, blue food coloring will also work.

Images: 1. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960); 2. Bosco Chocolate Syrup; 3. "Unwrapped," Food Network.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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