Blood, Sweat, Tears

Claire Faggioli August 10, 2007

SF360 editor’s note: Intern Claire Faggioli has been toiling in the galleys of this publication all summer, working up celebrity interviews, compiling lists, tracking events — and now begins the process of leaving us to return to her graduate work in film at University of Southern California. Previous film studies had led Faggioli to examine, in detail, the many meanings of movie bloodshed, by volume. As a way of saying goodbye, here she shares just a small part of what she learned in terms film fans without PhDs can understand.

There’s a lot of film violence out there — and who here hasn’t been exposed the latest onslaught of torture-porn? While “Saw” and “Hostel” series, as well as Roland Joffé‘s “Captivity” have more than their fair share of creative disembowelments, impalements, and Vaseline-eyed starlets, all shy away from showing large amounts of blood. Has blood-for-blood’s-sake gone the way of the Dodo? Did the film market grow so saturated (pardon the pun) with the substance in the past that it has lost its effect, causing filmmakers to create more novel ways of reminding the audience of their mortality?

By no means do I advocate the spilling of blood in our real, a-cinematic world, but there was a time where cinematic blood played an important role in all the movies, not only in horror films. Even in what I consider to be the second most violent film genre today, the war film, blood plays second fiddle to mortal injuries and exploded limbs. And honestly, I find these more recent manifestations of violence to be grosser, for there’s something about excessive blood that feels foreign to me; the sight of the damaged body seems to carry more impact and horror than blood itself disembodied. With its being such an important part of our bodies, shouldn’t we return some kind of strong feelings towards our plasma, be it fear or pleasure? The following list consists of what I’ve personally found to be the most interesting or important moments in the visualization of blood, from sheer abundance to aesthetic appreciation. Listed in chronological order.

1. The Classic
The shower scene in “Psycho” (1960): We all know this one. Hitchcock, the forefather of torture-porn (“Torture the women!” he famously said about his films), uses quick cuts and a famous stream of Hershey’s chocolate syrup to create a very graphic murder of Janet Leigh. ‘Nuff said.

2. The Trendsetter
Pretty much any Sam Peckinpah Western: I must begin with a disclaimer, because I can hear my past film professors collectively revving up in protest over my not mentioning “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967). The film’s final scene is credited with giving the final kick in the groin to the stuffy reign of the Production Code, but what Arthur Penn saved for his last moments, Peckinpah spread throughout his films. The screen had never seen so much blood until he came along; “The Wild Bunch” (1969) was threatened with an X rating for its violence (and for a few exposed breasts), and according to, the final shootout uses more than 10,000 squibs. That’s a lot of ketchup.

3. Highest volume at any given moment
The elevator in “The Shining” (1980): I have no doubt that the sight of a bloody tide surging forth from opening elevator doors in the Overlook Hotel inspired some people in the ’80s to consider taking the stairs instead.

4. Prettiest use
“Bound” (1996): This neo-noir, a gangster film meets lesbian love story, takes place in two apartments separated by a very thin wall. Here, the Wachowski Brothers take visual liberties with blood, not afraid to play with its more attractive aesthetic properties. Take for example splashes of bright red contrasting with the porcelain of a toilet bowl, or a slow stain moving into a puddle of freshly spilled white paint. Morbid but haunting.

5. Most creative use of color
“Sin City” (2002): I know, I know, I’m kind of over the Tarantino & Friends hype-machine, too, but one must give credit where credit is due: Human blood has never been white and it’s certainly never been yellow. In this comic book to film adaptation of burly men and the leather-clad women that love them, blood appears in thick, gooey patches and disappears like nothing, a supernatural entity of exquisite day-glo contrast.

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