*. 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.”