Color Me Blood Red is the concluding part of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ so-called "Blood Trilogy" of gore films he made in the 1960’s for producer David Friedman. It is also, by common consent, the weakest. The plot, for what it’s worth, concerns an artist who discovers he paints best when using human blood instead of paint, & his efforts to obtain said blood. But plot is pretty much irrelevant. In the notes with the UK DVD, Chris Campion suggests that the narrative of an artist who is only successful when using blood mirrors that of Lewis & Friedman, who weren’t really successful until Blood Feast. However, given Lewis’ notorious disdain for this type of personal art filmmaking, I’d have to say that this is reading meaning where there is none.
No, what this film is about, is gore. Which is a shame, really, because there isn’t very much of it. If it’s gore you’re after, you’re probably better off with an average episode of ER, which says a lot about how things have changed in the last 40 years. In addition, the most convincing effect on display here makes the worst effects of Fulci or Jackson look good. There is one quite juicy close-up of blood being squeezed from a woman’s intestines into a bowl, but it’s not much. Of course, this was pretty strong for it’s day, but that means little now. So what does the film have to offer contemporary audiences?
To be completely honest, it doesn’t offer very much. It’s certainly impossible to enjoy the film in any kind of serious way. It’s not, however, completely without entertainment value. This is a genuine cult film – which is really just a nice way of saying that it’s really terrible. As one example of it’s technical "limitations", much of the film has a stationary camera, panning & zooming as necessary to follow the "action". There is some attempt at style (the prominence of red throughout, close-ups of the face at the climax, some red-red match cuts), but the ineptness throughout cancels these out. The dialogue is very crude, & performances are mostly at the Edward D. Wood Jr. level. Gordon Oas-Heim as the artist as fun, though, & is pretty cool to watch (indeed, whisper it, he’s pretty good). Most of the film, though, consists of watching bad acting in ‘60’s fashions (sometimes bathing costumes, but always clothed) to the sounds of a cheesy & inappropriate jazz score. It’s unintentionally funny, but is augmented by some deliberate humour that is amusing only because of how unfunny it is. Which is quite entertaining for about five minutes, but less appealing when you have to watch the whole interminably long film. I actually did quite like the climax, though, with some neat black humour.
If you’ve seen any other HGL gore films, you’ll know the basic drill here. If you haven’t, but quite fancy some lurid, gory, (boring?), ‘60’s exploitica trash, then try Blood Feast or 2,000 Maniacs first. Then if you like those, you may get a kick out of this one too. Otherwise, this is best avoided. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the person being exploited here is the poor viewer, being conned into forking out their hard earned to see inept rubbish. HGL may have paved the way for more explicit gore featuring in films, but here it’s clear he also laid the groundwork for the very worst of Troma – which is something I’m less impressed by. You may end up wanting your life back. This is a passable "renter", but I’d recommend a viewing before making a purchase.
The version I have here is the UK PAL DVD released by Tartan. Picture is pretty good (particularly given the budget & age), bringing out the bright colours well. There’s a little print damage, but overall it’s a much better picture than I’d expected. Sound is more problematic, with voices frequently sounding distant & muffled – although I’m pretty sure this is a fault with the original track rather than any problem with Tartans presentation.
For extras, we get the original trailer (which feels the need to remind us of the title 6 times in a little over a minute in a boring, monotone voice), & a brief trailer for Tartans HGL DVD collection. There’s also filmos, a small (6) gallery, some notes by Chris Campion, & (oddly) an excerpt from on of the directors’ marketing books. It’s a bit irrelevant, but extras for a film like this must be hard to come by, so kudos to Tartan for the effort. There’s also trailers for the likes of Pumpkinhead, Trauma, Ring/2, Audition & Basketcase. However, it’s not a good sign when the trailers for other films are the most entertaining things on the disc.
Incidentally, Something Weird has released a US NTSC DVD, which also includes some outtakes (without sound) and a commentary track by Lewis & Friedman.