Colours Movies

The Evolution of Theatre Blood

From the stage to film, theatre blood changed colour with each film technology progression. An element of storytelling that can be more than a prop.

Before the liquid effect, we see on stage and film, actors would use a red handkerchief to signify blood. This changed when people expected more. When people see blood in movies something happened to one of the characters; death, dying, severely injured or other. Depending on the time of the event when the injury happened the bloodstain in the scene will vary. Theatre blood was vibrant red because that was how it was made after the time actors used handkerchiefs on stage. When their character died the actor would pull out a handkerchief to their torso. They would hold the red fabric while collapsing on the ground.

Every theatre had their own recipe for blood; so no two formulas were usually the same. Since the invention of theatre special effects, theatre blood was invented.

Until film technology changed how some props appeared the effect changed. Special effects have changed the formula that can look waxy orangey-red traditionally to a darker liquidity red. They never looked realistic because it’s always for dramatic effect. The evolution of this prop evolved changing necessity. The dark red could be a mixture of chocolate syrup and red food colouring to a toxic latex-like paint with dark tones.

There were four popular types of blood used in movies: Grand Guignol, Chocolate Syrup, Kensington Gore, Dick Smith Formula.

Grand Guignol

This was the first type of fake blood that existed in theatre. It was created for the Théâtre du Grand Guignol (The Theatre of the Great Puppet) in Paris in 1897. The other name this theatre was known as was the Theatre of Blood and Horror. The smallest theatre in Paris had plays that performed gruesome stories. Their plays incorporated staged torture, gore, mutilations and killings. It was also known for splatter fake blood scenes in their play. A lot of the stunts performed were at the actor’s own risk. The theatre blood they used was from various amounts of glycerine and carmine red dye for effects. Sometimes the blood would coagulate after a few minutes of splattering on the walls because of the glycerine turning to jelly.

This was inspired by naturalistic horror (Gothic horror) plays that derived from English playwrights writing about good, evil and the moral compass. Influences by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker.

People uncommonly heard in the society of Paris were a part of the storytelling and performances. People like the homeless, street kids, prostitutes, criminals, beggars and con artists. These plays became the influence of modern-day horror movies. This theatre company closed its doors in the 1960’s with their last plays being Deux Femmes sur les bras, Les Yeux sans visage and Parodie de la mort. The decline of the audience because of the stress of World War Two was the reason why the theatre closed.

The first horror thriller movie made by Hollywood was Mad Love in 1935. It borrowed a lot of the marketing and story from the Theatre of Horrors. The story that influenced the movie was The Hands of Orlac by Maurice Renard.


  • Vegetable Glycerine
  • A Small Bottle of Carmine (Cochineal dye)

Plays that used this method:


Chocolate Syrup

Black and white film was a prominent type of film that existed from the beginning of filmmaking. Since colour film in the 1930s was available, it was rarely chosen as a medium because of how expensive it was. Grey areas are important for clarity and dramatic storytelling. Film was on the rise and stylizing for film became important throughout the period. Alfred Hitchcock used a combination of Bosco and Hershey chocolate syrups for the movie Psycho to make the gore of seeing blood work on a black and white screen.

In the 1930s to 1940s, Hollywood was getting a bad reputation with sexualization, violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and other behaviours that the era saw has a bad influence. This was known as the Hays Code for motion pictures. It was to bring more morals to the industry, therefore, theatrical blood was used sparingly within a movie until the code was lifted in 1964.


Consider using a bottle of chocolate syrup that you are not going to use for any other reason but for staging blood for theatrical effects.

Basic recipe:
  • A Regular Sized Bottle of Chocolate Syrup (or has much of the effect as needed)
  • A Small Bottle of Red Food Colouring
  • A Small Bottle of Blue Food Colouring

Combine the red food colouring with the chocolate syrup in the bottle. Shake bottle. Test for desired results. Add blue food colouring for desired results. Place in the refrigerator for the batch to settle and thicken overnight (at least five hours.) After refrigeration, take it out of the fridge make it warm up to room temperature. After that, it’s ready to use.

Chocolate and Corn Syrup Method:
  • 1/2 cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1-2 drops of Red Food Colouring
  • 1 tablespoon Cornstarch
  • 1-2 tablespoons chocolate syrup

Put all of the ingredients into one bowl. Mix it all together. Ready to use as desired.

Movies that used this method


Kensington Gore

In the U.K. film industry’s restrictions on violence and death was completely different. The fake blood made for Hammer Studios was invented by retired British pharmacist, John Tynegate in his lab. The fake blood formula made for the studio was a pun on the London street name Kensington Gore. This street was located a block away from the Hammer film production studio. The flow of the liquid and the colour were very unique and vibrant at the time when colour film became popular. There were many variations of colour and viscosity available for any production. The colour can look waxy orangey-red traditionally or runny vibrant red flowing down the scene.

This British film company started as a gothic drama studio in 1954 then after wanting to try out horror they turned into a gothic horror studio. Hammer studio made around 15 movies per year. Their signature blood was usually featured in every movie Hammer Studios ever made after their first horror movie with blood, The Transformation of Frankenstein. The blood was a part of their style of horror. Hammer horror movies didn’t have the same restrictions as American-made movies once under the Hays code. This formula was used throughout the 1960s to 1970s.


  • 2 parts Golden Syrup
  • 1 part water
  • Red/Yellow/Blue Food Coloring
  • A pinch of Cornstarch
  • Peppermint Oil Extract

This was all mixed together in a bowl and placed in a scene as needed. The peppermint might burn if it contacted your eyes. It was added for taste because the dye was sometimes added into mouths.

Put all of the ingredients into one bowl. Mix it all together. Ready to use as desired.

Movies that used this method


Dick Smith Formula

This method started in the 1970s to 1990s in American films. Dick Smith was an American makeup artist who worked in the film industry since the 1960s. He started when he was a student dressing himself up as characters from horror movies. Jack Pierce was an influence on Dick Smith’s career. He was once the head of NBC’s makeup department. He was driven to have more realistic visuals and creative challenges that fuelled his work.

He made aged skin effects, injury makeup and movie blood. He won an award from the Academy for the makeup of Little Big Man. He aged Dustin Hoffman to 121 years old with latex prosthetics and foam.

Other movies Dick Smith worked on were The Godfather, The Exorcist, Scanners and Taxi Driver. He made Marlon Brando older with stipe, prosthetics and dental fillers. And the shootout scene with Sonny Corleone with blood squibs he designed himself. In the restaurant before the baptism scene, Sterling Hayden’s character McCluckey was shot in the forehead by assassination by Michael Corleone. This scene was accomplished by Dick Smith attaching a foam rubber forehead on the actor’s head and ran a wire and fake blood underneath the rubber foam. When the action scene happened a small detonator went off. The fake blood burst through the rubber skin.

He had a complaint about the fake blood used on films looking really waxy and unrealistic. He made his own formula to perfect the methods already used. Always a giving man, he exchanged methods and processes with his colleagues when he could. His formula for fake blood became a Hollywood standard for blood effects.


  • 1 quart white corn syrup
  • 1 level teaspoon methyl paraben
  • 2 ounces Ehlers red food colouring
  • 5 teaspoons Ehlers yellow food colouring
  • 2 ounces Kodak Photo-Flo

Kodak Photo-Flo is an expensive professional-grade film developer. It is highly poisonous, irritable and flammable. It’s a wetting agent for film development to reduce water marks and promote fast drying. Many people swap out this product for less lethal agents like lecithin or detergent.

Put all of the ingredients into one bowl. Mix it all together. Ready to use as desired.

Movies that used this method


CGI Blood Effects

CGI blood is a modern and practical effect. Some filmmakers use computerized effects for cost and efficiency. The blood is added in afterwards after filming the scenes during the editing process. This effect is mostly drawn in with liquid effects added in. This requires people to animate the graphical movement of blood in a scene to the smallest droplet. This can range from looking really graphic and real to computerized and fake; especially when it’s done terribly.

Many preloaded effects can produce a liquid being splattered or poured out of something. These effects can be modified and used as a starting point for effects building. Adding details to these effects can be difficult because very little effort is required to make these effects look cartoonish. The amount, the direction, the splatter, how long the incident happened and the type of wound could look mechanical and physically impossible if it was done a little off.

How is this method is done

The software that seems necessary to have would be Adobe After Effects or other special effects software and pre-recorded video footage. Most video effects software have plug-ins that can help with basic blood effects.

  • Select a red tone of blood with the eyedrop tool
  • Select the brush tool
  • Draw the effect needed for the scene
  • Duplicate the layer
  • Go to the effects gallery
  • Add plastic wrap
  • Add the direction of how the blood is supposed to move

Movies that used this method


Alternative Ways For Blood Effects

There is in-store purchase theatre blood. Make Up For Ever and other companies have made blood effect makeup that can be available by the gallons. There are premade squibs filled with blood and blood packages in little baggies. These are for people who want the effect premade in a consistent matter with little risk.

Some people can use liquid soap and food colouring for blood effects. Tomato ketchup is another alternative for making fake blood on screen.

Why not real blood?

Real blood has a moral, practical and sanitary issue attached to it.

They are real people who work with real blood daily. Precautions are used to avoid infection healthy users like sterilized and controlled environments.

What animal would anyone want to slaughter of art nightly for a play’s run or for filming multiple scenes in a movie? Let alone the consistency, reliability of colour, quantity and expense. It’s too ghoulish and too difficult to use real blood. Oxide blood turns dark red or brown so for the practical use on a long hour set would require constant clean up.

Blood also coagulates. This is great for wounds that need healing but not for a stage or film show because it would turn into lumps of blood.


Grand Guignol

Grand Guignol – Posters

Washington Post – Dick Smith, Oscar-winning master of movie makeup and special effects, dies at 92

Vintages Everday – Before Modern Horror Movies, There Used To Be Live Horror Plays – Pictures of Horror Shows at the Grand Guignol Theater, Paris in 1947

Filmmaker IQ – The Cinematic History of Fake Blood

Topic – The Twisting History of Blood on Film

Munchies – The Gruesome History of Fake Blood in Hollywood

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