Color Me Blood Red (1965)

*. It’s possible — just possible — that in 1965 you might have had your hopes up for this one. After “inventing” gore with Blood Feast Herschell Gordon Lewis had followed up with Two Thousand Maniacs!, which marked a huge advance. So might Lewis’s next film show a further progression?
*. Wishful thinking. Color Me Blood Red marks a reversion to the mean of Lewis’s career, which is very low indeed. It cost less than Blood Feast to make, being mainly shot in a house they’d rented. The gore isn’t as imaginative or as well represented. The sound, which they had difficulty with because of the location, is muddy. The music is canned and overbearing. The picture often goes out of focus. The story isn’t original (Lewis admits to having been inspired by Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, but the crazed artist turning bodies into art goes back to Mystery of the Wax Museum and its ilk).
*. In sum, there’s nothing scary, or shocking, or creepy, or even campy about the goings-on. It’s just dull. Of the three films that now make up the Blood Trilogy (so-called only later when a different distributor packaged them together) it strikes me as by far the weakest. Blood Feast had at least a spirit of amateur fun about it. Here there’s nothing.
*. To be honest, I didn’t want to bother with a re-watch of this one. Even the commentary track with Lewis and producer David Friedman (this would be their last film together) isn’t as bright and lively as for the previous two films. One gets the sense that they weren’t having as much fun this time out and much of the conversation turns to other topics. About the lead Gordon Oas-Heim, who plays the artist Adam Sorg, Lewis has this to say: “an exceptionally good actor but not really a team player.” They didn’t get along, though by the standards set by the other films it’s a decent performance.
*. Not a good movie. The only interesting way I can think of reading it is as a kind of allegory for Lewis’s own career. A low-rent, exploitation director, with his “invention” of gore Lewis enjoyed a burst of commercial success not unlike that experienced by Adam Sorg. The crucial difference between the two isn’t that Lewis painted with fake blood but that Sorg actually is a tortured artist, putting his soul into his work. He doesn’t even want to make money off his paintings, refusing to sell them at auction. Lewis, in contrast, could only laugh when people called him an artist, but he did make a living for a while as a director and enjoyed more than fifteen minutes of fame.
*. Since I did enjoy the DVD commentaries, I’ll give the last word to the two men responsible. Lewis, to any future critics: “Try to do better, for the same amount of money.” Friedman: “We made pictures basically to entertain, have a little fun, and walk home with a small profit. And if you’ve enjoyed it, fine. But if you’ve even looked at it, that’s good too.”

6 thoughts on “Color Me Blood Red (1965)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Absolutely. Lewis became a bit of a cult figure, and he’s a notch above some of his exploitation peers, but really there’s nothing to see in his work aside from Two Thousand Maniacs!

  1. Tom Moody

    In the cultist’s-cultist bible, Incredibly Strange Films (1986), Mark Spainhower offers high praise for Lewis’s The Wizard of Gore: “The camp elements can’t be ignored, but the careful viewer will realize this is one of the most intellectually provocative films ever to emerge from the depths of gore cinema. Complex notions of Time, Space, and Logic are presented in the midst of some of the wildest flaunting of cinematic ‘good taste’ ever to appear on the screen.” I finally summoned the courage to watch it and it is pretty disturbing! As for Color Me Blood Red, I was fortunate to see it in an actual drive-in theatre in the early ’70s. Clearly it was still making the hillbilly gore circuit at that time (suburban Virginia was still partly rural). Part of the appeal of movies like this, seen in their element, is the anticipation of not knowing how far the film-maker will go, which is exciting in and of itself. With its campy notions of abstract expressionist painting, it’s also a movie for art lovers, even though — as you note — it’s not as sprightly as Bucket of Blood. The two stills you’ve chosen to represent it are fairly brilliantly campy tableaux, and make me want to see it again (without the tinny speaker in the car window).

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I haven’t read Incredibly Strange Films! I’ve always used Danny Peary’s three volumes of Cult Movies as my go-to resource on the subject. Oh, the golden age of movie books. I don’t think any of these are in print anymore.

      You make a great point about seeing these movies in context. Lewis was definitely drive-in fare. I imagine it’s quite a different thing watching him on DVD, with a commentary and all the rest (though the picture and sound quality is still pretty awful; I think there are limits on what can be done to clean these movies up). I thought Two Thousand Maniacs! really effectively played off that notion of tossing the audience into deep water and not knowing how far it would go. With this one I felt pretty comfortable I knew where it was heading and there were no surprises. The mad artist was more of a cliché than the town of bloodthirsty rednecks (which certainly went on to become a cliché but which wasn’t at the time).

  2. Tom Moody

    I have the first Peary volume — a key resource for me, as well. Re/Search’s Incredibly Strange Films help me get through the Reagan ’80s — a badly needed voice when a “counterculture” was practically nonexistent. I just checked and it got a second edition in 2017 — who knew?
    Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film was another favorite.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Now I do think I used to have a copy of the Psychotronic Encyclopedia but it fell apart on me. That’s the problem with reference books.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.