There are horror pioneers, and then there’s Herschell Gordon Lewis. The late “Godfather of Gore” was, in his own way, the inventor of modern horror movies. Morbid, excessive, and utterly fascinated with bodily decay and dismemberment, each successive film H.G Lewis made was an attempt to one-up the last in terms of organs removed and general bloodshed. While it’s impossible to ignore the sheer low-budget goofiness of it all (and most of the resulting humour is without a doubt intentional), the aspect that stands out most in his films is how genuinely transgressive they were for the era in which they were released. Lewis didn’t elevate the trashier tendencies of horror, he simply embraced them in a way no other filmmaker at the time was brave enough to do, resulting in movies that still manage to disgust audiences today.
Although Blood Feast (1963), his viscera-heavy response to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is arguably his best-known film, Color Me Blood Red is the one that’s most emblematic of his style. Like Blood Feast before it, Color Me Blood Red is a naked rip-off of a more well-known film—in this case, Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959). Corman’s film is heavy on camp but light on onscreen bloodshed, an error that Lewis was more than eager to correct in his film.
Otherwise, the films don’t diverge all that much plot-wise. Color Me Blood Red follows struggling artist Adam Sorg, a talented painter held back by his supposedly amateurish use of colour. When his girlfriend accidentally cuts her finger and bleeds on one of his works-in-progress, Sorg discovers the colour he’s been searching for his entire artistic career: the crimson hue of human blood.
There’s no need to explain where that revelation leads. Sorg quickly resorts to (murderous) new methods to obtain his new signature shade of red. As blood-drained corpses begin to mysteriously pile up, Sorg’s paintings become overnight sensations. With each additional murder, Sorg loses just a little bit more of his sanity and grows angrier and angrier at the critics who wronged him in the past. Rest assured, it doesn’t end well for anyone.
The best H.G Lewis films are the ones in which he dives headfirst into his skeletal plots’ most extreme and tasteless possibilities, and Color Me Blood Red is no exception. What the film lacks in quantity of death scenes it more than makes up for in quality, as the violence is consistently cartoonish and nauseating in the most wonderful way imaginable. Look no further than the no-holds-barred disembowelment scene or, if that doesn’t satisfy you, the aquatic impalement with a spear will do the trick. For a 54-year-old horror film, this one still packs a hell of a punch!
Of course, it’s not scary now and I doubt it ever really was, even back in the mid-1960s. As is always the case with Lewis’s work, this is a film more interested in inciting gasps and chuckles rather than sending a shiver down your spine. It’s also not particularly set on provoking any kind of discussion or deeper thought, for that matter. Lewis knew his work was in poor taste—hell, he practically invented poor taste—and his role throughout his oeuvre has always been that of a showman, not an artist. He’s an entertainer first and foremost, and all this crassness is in the name of showing his audience a good, lighthearted time. Macabre as Color Me Blood Red may be, it’s never dark or disturbing, even as it leans into images of unprecedented brutality and grotesqueness.
The colour palette, more than anything else, confirms that Lewis wasn’t taking himself very seriously. He always had a penchant for lurid colours in his work, and in Color Me Blood Red he fills the screen with pastels and deep reds to take your breath away. Naturally, blood red is the colour du jour, but there’s more to the film than that: hot pink swimsuits and bright blue button-ups flood every frame, providing a sharp contrast to the gallons upon gallons of vital fluid being spilt.
The amateurish, DIY impression of the film is half the charm. Nobody in a Herschell Gordon Lewis project could act to save their lives, but it’s all the better that they can’t. Color Me Blood Red is, like almost every one of his films, a classic of campy horror, and an ode to the simple pleasure of seeing people’s insides brought outside in a scary movie. He’s the Andy Warhol of trashy horror, turning threadbare production values and hokey dialogue into an art form that put just about every contemporary horror filmmaker to shame. It may not be Gone With the Wind (1939), but I dare you to find a series of mutilations more likely to put a smile on your face.
Blu-ray Special Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation. Lurid shades of red, blue, and pink pop off the screen, making Lewis’s third film look like the world’s most horrific remake of Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). It’ll certainly come as a shock to anyone who saw the film in a dirty old grindhouse theatre on release
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- Bonus Feature! 1967’s Something Weird. Arguably the biggest highlight of Arrow Video’s re-release is the fact there’s an entire additional H.G Lewis film available in the bonus features! Something Weird is everything its title promises and more; an absolute camp goldmine that threatens to overtake the film that headlines this package. It’s filled to the brim with extra-sensory perception, witches, martial arts, political intrigue, and so, so much more. There’s no understating how much fun it is to watch Lewis cram so many eccentric ideas into one brief, nonsensical, rapturous exploitation movie. No question about it: any self-respecting fan of cult movies must watch this.
- Introductions to the films by H.G Lewis. Charming as ever, Lewis gives the audience a little bit of backstory about the production of the film and his, at the time, dramatic falling out with long-time producer David Friedman.
- Audio commentary on Color Me Blood Red with H.G. Lewis and David Friedman. Obviously, that falling out didn’t last, because here they both are in top form reminiscing about making the film. Friedman seems to always be sitting a little too far away from his microphone, often to the point of being difficult to hear. Otherwise, though, the two are full of interesting stories and it’s never less than a pleasure to hear them look back fondly at this production.
- Audio commentary on Something Weird with H.G. Lewis. Once again, Lewis provides effortlessly charming commentary. Lewis goes into detail on the strange history behind this strange movie, including adapting the narrative from a short story by a devout believer in ESP. The author of the original story, who is credited as a co-writer on the film, was unhappy with the more sensationalist film that Lewis ended up making from his script and responded by making his own ESP-focused film The Psychic. That film is apparently devoid of this one’s eccentricity and humour and, for that reason, I can’t imagine it’s half as enjoyable as Lewis’ take on the material.
- The Art of Madness—a video essay on the recurring motif of mad artists as killers in horror films. The man who narrates this video essay certainly lays it on thick with the spooky voices, but it’s all quite a bit of fun and covers a whole lot of ground in terms of horror (and non-horror) film history. The whole thing is very lighthearted, but there’s a lot of insight buried beneath the goofy impressions and quips.
- Weirdsville—film scholar Jeffrey Sconce on Something Weird. Given how positively bonkers Something Weird is, this is a very welcome special feature. Jeffrey Sconce gives a wonderful summary of the film’s bizarre appeal, including describing it at the closest Lewis ever came to an art film. Sconce says that, unlike Lewis’ gore films, Something Weird is a sort of dead-end that had no precedent and left no discernable mark on films that would follow it. A stunning cinematic anomaly with a very worthwhile analysis to boot!
- H.G Lewis on Jimmy, the Boy Wonder. Like every Lewis venture, Jimmy, the Boy Wonder seems to have been eccentric beyond belief. Charming beyond belief as always, Lewis gives a plea for more people to have a sense of humour in their work. Not having seen Jimmy, I can’t comment on the quality of it, but it certainly seems to be as infused with humour and joy as the best of Lewis’s work.
- A Hot Night at the Go-Go Lounge!—1966 dance short. A softcore dance film that Lewis had disowned and released under a different name, Hot Night is actually a blast to watch. Entirely non-narrative, it plays out as an anomaly in Lewis’ filmography, a borderline experimental film with no dialogue but plenty of tapping shoes and naked go-go dancers who appear and disappear from the frame at random intervals. Clearly, Lewis didn’t think the experiment was a big success, given that he took his name off of it, but as a curiosity item and a time capsule it’s a fun little treat.
- Color Me Blood Red Outtakes. The decision to play mismatched audio from other H.G Lewis films over these soundless outtakes is a strange one, but the outtakes themselves will likely be of interest to fans of the film. To be clear, these are alternate takes rather than deleted scenes, but they’re still worthwhile for those who didn’t get their fill after watching the original film. Removed from context, the feature also functions as an odd little experimental film, which is arguably the mode in which it’s most compelling.
- Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, and Jimmy, the Boy Wonder Trailers. All three trailers are dated in the best possible way. B Movie trailers were an art form all on their own—they really don’t make them like this anymore.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
Cast & Crew
writer & director: Herschell Gordon Lewis.
starring: Gordon Oas-Heim (as Don Joseph), Candi Conder, Elyn Warner, Pat Lee (as Patricia Lee) & Jerome Eden.