Jabootu.net’s coverage has gaping holes. While I may not be entirely able to repair them, Mr. Begg has generously given me a chance to address them in part. The problem is that Mr. Begg is squeamish about gore. (Particularly foreign film gore. Fulci lives!)
Fair warning – I am a troglodyte or (as George Romero termed us) a troll. I love the grue, and my dvd collection includes unthinkably nasty stuff from Asia and elsewhere. I’m sure my moral compass is fatally tainted, to the point that Mary Whitehouse will flee the room, screaming, if I walked in. However, I’m not here to defend my leprous tastes, but to review Color Me Blood Red, Herschell Gordon Lewis’s worst movie ever.
That’s a pretty stellar recommendation for Jabootu’s lair. Michael Medved, the patron saint of bad movies, listed Herschell Gordon Lewis as a runner-up for worst director of all time, and Michael emphasized all the blood in dissing Mr. Lewis. But Herschell Gordon Lewis (his name is fun to say) deserves notice for more than just an excess of slaughterhouse sweepings – his lack of skill in the art of film-making should be legendary among Jatoobuites even if the man had stuck to hillbilly comedies.
HGL (Mr. Lewis) has taken credit for inventing the modern gore genre with his opus, Blood Feast. I really don’t think this is fair, though. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, the first Coffin Joe film, came out the same year as Blood Feast, and is more brutal than anything Herschell Gordon Lewis ever did. But I’m not here to direct readers towards good movies, heaven knows. Let’s go on with Mr. Lewis’s work.
The legend is that after filming some nudie quickies in Florida, Herschell Gordon Lewis had some leftover film, and got together with his producer David Friedman. They brainstormed ideas which hadn’t been exploited yet, and the stand-out concept was “gore”. Thus, Blood Feast was born, which predated the modern slasher genre by over a decade, yet displayed many features of such a film – nubile victims, insane killer, and bizarre deaths.
Yet it displayed them in the cheapest manner possible. Herschell Gordon Lewis basically hit the back-of-box bullet points for a horror film, but he didn’t go one single step beyond the absolute minimum required. Seeing an HGL movie and expecting “horror” is kind of like buying a pecan pie and then finding out that it consisted of (a) a pie crust, (b) some hard sauce, and (c) a single lonely pecan in the middle of the pan. Yes, it has the crust, the sauce, and a pecan, so technically it’s a “pecan pie”, but you would no doubt feel disappointed.
Well the disappointment meter is about to go off the scales, because Color Me Blood Red is a rip-off even by Herschell Gordon Lewis’s extremely low standards. Our film begins:
Notice how the b&w screen shots on the poster art are washed-out, to make it look like the girls are naked. They’re actually all wearing brightly-colored swimsuits.
A huge red placard advertising FARNSWORTH GALLERIES fills the screen, implying that this locale figures prominently in the film. (And why the plural ‘galleries’?) We soon hear a drumbeat, of the type they play in films when someone is being led to the gallows or the headsman or something. The drumbeat lasts 3 seconds, then repeats. And it KEEPS repeating for the entire pre-credits sequence. Just that one drumbeat. Again and again and again and ARRGH.
This brings us to one of HGL’s directorial signatures – incredibly bad musical backdrops. I remember my first watching of Blood Feast with a fellow freak back in the 1980s – we burst out laughing when the score consisted of a single cello playing “How Dry I Am”, drunkenly, as a sailor and his girlfriend came on the scene. It was the stupidest music we’d ever heard in filmdom. Little did I know that Mr. Lewis’s films would surpass this idiocy on a regular basis.
Anyhoo, to the nerve-throbbing beat of the snare drum, a genteel bow-tied fellow strides up to a canvas bearing a realistic illustration of what looks like a hemorrhoid and bows his head in sorrow. Bowtie then carries the painting away in an odd stilted manner, trying to keep us from seeing it full-on.
I guess the horror of the sight would be too much for us at this stage. Is HGL playing it coy!? Come on, dude – we’re here to watch a movie called Color Me Blood Red, a film whose advertising displays a disemboweled girl. Is “coyness” really a virtue you’re devoted to, Mr. Lewis?
Bowtie (whom we later learn is named none other than Farnsworth, he of GALLERIES fame) carries the canvas outside, painstakingly douses it with gasoline, and sets it aflame. We have been listening to that damn 3-second snare drum roll for several minutes now. Suddenly, from the side(?) of the painting, a large quantity of blood spurts out and pools on the burning canvas. That’s right – the painting bleeds. Only not in a “Cool! The painting’s bleeding!” type of way, but in a WTF? type of way.
See, this is what’s wrong with HGL’s movies. They make no sense. Why would fresh, non-dried blood gush out from a painting that’s alit? Was the fire’s heat supposedly “melting” the blood in it? Why did the blood come from the wooden part of the canvas’s framework? Surely any actual blood is in the canvas.
Not only is the scene impossible, but it’s not even that cool of an image. Was he thinking we would overlook these violations of reality? Or did he think we were too stupid to notice? Maybe the latter – HGL’s contempt for his audience was well-known. He was once asked in an interview whether his films would ever get subtitles, and he replied that subtitles implied that his fans were able to read.
Well finally that damn snare drum lets up and we instead get some pounding kettle drums as the title displays. It’s an improvement. Not much of one, though, since the title music repeats too!! Still, this musical blurb takes almost 5 seconds to repeat, so it took nearly twice as much effort on the part of the composer to create.
Back in the late 80s, I used to play games like Zelda & Final Fantasy on my Nintendo for hours at a time. The repeating musical jingle eventually drove my wife stark raving mad and she made me promise practically at knifepoint, to turn down the sound when playing. I bigheartedly agreed, saving my neck. I now realize what she went through. These repeating jingles are like a bad itch I can’t scratch, like if a spider got into your shorts while you were making a deposition at court.
Meanwhile, an ominous note is struck by one of the credit lines, which reads “Water Devices – AQUA CYCLE”. That spells nothing but trouble.
From this glorious beginning, we enter a living room, which has been altered into a sort of crappy-ass artist studio. A Tortured Artist stands before a blank canvas, and paints two curved lines. Apparently this is enough for him to see that that the whole painting, once finished, would be crap, and he angrily throws it across the room, reviling it.
He then stalks around irritably poking at his other, finished works, which I would be proud to hang on my refrigerator if they had been done by my grandson, Wesley (4 years old as of this writing). If an older child, like my granddaughter Eva (nearly 8 years old) had done them, I would feel let down, and maybe discuss the possibility of Eva attending a special school. Since these paintings were supposedly done by a fully-grown man instead of a preschooler, I am forced to assume that they are, in fact, Great Art, and that I am too Philistinic to appreciate their worth.
Mr. Farnsworth prepares to ram his head through a painting.
Our hero (whom we find out later rejoices in the moniker of Adam Sorg) grabs another canvas, and paints one (1) line on it –a sort of dull red. He then petulantly declaims, “There’s something WRONG. It’s not the COLOR.” I had thought that you could produce any color with oil paints, but live and learn.
While he sulks, a woman (whom we later learn is named Gigi) wearing a red leotard hops in and takes a gander at the almost totally-blank canvas. Sorg promptly slaps Gigi with a wet paintbrush, establishing him as an asshole. I’m not sure how he even knew she was there, since she stood silently behind him until he spins around, brush in hand. But that’s Movie Magic.
Our Hero does have a good voice, and he’s not a completely terrible actor. Sure he mugs up a storm, but consider the film he’s in. He looks like a jerk, too – the kind of guy whose conversations center on the injustice dealt him at the DMV last month. I already hate him, and this should be a good thing, since he’s going to be an insane murderer if I know my Herschell Gordon Lewis.
A characteristic of HGL’s works is bizarre dialogue. For instance, Gigi defends her interruption by telling Sorg, “ If I didn’t disturb you, you’d never change your socks again.” Gigi then clunkily reminds our hero that he has an art show in just one hour, so he engages in some byplay, and almost (but not quite) says the “F” word. Daring for 1965 I guess.
The scene now moves to the fabled Farnsworth Galleries. I note with nostalgia the hours listed – Mon-Fri 9 to 5. Closed Saturday. No mention of Sunday. Back in 1965, it HAD to be closed on Sunday. Not like these godless modern times. Farnsworth Galleries is pretty basic, though I suppose it might fool someone who had never been in a real gallery. Like us yokels watching this thing at the drive-in.
Though it’s clearly a work day (remember, the place’s hours are 9-5 weekdays only), the gallery’s visitors are almost all men in suits. Don’t they have jobs? Most of the artist’s shows I’ve attended were in the evening, not the middle of the day. Most of the buyers are older folks, which makes sense not only because they have more money, but because Florida is thick with retirees to serve as extras in HGL’s artistic triumphs.
Meanwhile, the sound quality in the “gallery” is abysmal – it sounds like a community center rec room. Which is probably what it is. My favorite part is the little stage up set 2-3 feet above the floor. No stairs lead up to it, so the elderly art buyers presumably have to clamber up awkwardly.
Our Hero, Mr. Sorg, drives up to the front of the “gallery,” double-parks his car and rushes inside. At least he changed his clothes. In an interesting, almost-good if ham-handed touch, every time he passes something red on his way, he stops and checks it out, poking it with his foot. I guess it’s his favorite color – perhaps he votes red-state Republican, another strike against him. Or maybe he’s a commie. Or maybe he’s a commie Republican (!) a political belief that I think we can all join in hating.
Sorg vaults up on the tiny stage while a beret-clad stiff orates stiffly on the nature of art while brandishing a stiff cigarette holder that looks about a yard long. This apparition is the art critic Gregorovitch, yet another in the list of stilted, unlikable characters which fill this film. He labels Adam Sorg, to his face, “a commercial success, but artistic imposter”.
This rebuke strikes Sorg’s soul, as it would that of any True Artiste. This is one of the few places where the film succeeds in making a cogent point in my opinion. You see, Adam Sorg, our Tortured Artist, is a horrible person, who ends up murdering others in search of his artistic soul. Now, HGL is one of the most exploitative film-makers who ever lived. HGL puts even Roger Corman to shame in his attempts to sell out.
If you’ve ever listened to an HGL commentary, he focuses inordinately on money – boasting about how cheap his effects were, complaining about actors who delayed filming (and thus cost money), praising churches who let him film in their rec halls for free, etc..
In other words, Lewis is a complete prostitute when it comes to making films. That’s fine with me – I love exploitation films. So when Color Me Blood Red sets up the “true art” concept as twisted and horrible, HGL is really being true to himself. If Sorg had been willing to sell out commercially, he’d have lived a happy life with sweet Gigi. Maybe HGL is getting a dig in at the Hollywood establishment who rejected him. Not that, as far as I know, he ever tried to join them.
This is totally a real art gallery.
Anyway, Sorg yells at Gregorovitch, threatens to say the “S” word, and then runs away. Mr. Farnsworth pursues Sorg and berates him for insulting Gregorovitch who, to be fair, insulted Sorg first. Sorg turns away and insults a couple of skinny society ladies who opine that his work isn’t “fashionable.” Then he leaves the gallery. What a guy.
The dreaded AQUA CYCLE, as promised in the credits, now makes its appearance. It is perhaps the goofiest water vehicle I’ve seen. It’s basically a bicycle utilizing paddle wheels & floats to laboriously plow through the water. It seems like it would take a lot of effort to propel, and the director’s commentary confirms this – HGL says that even the manufacturer advertised them as an “exercise device”, not a mode of transport. Swimming is pretty good exercise all by itself, making AQUA CYCLEs superfluous in any case.
But the damn things appear throughout the film. Apparently the manufacturer helped fund the film, and demanded that they be displayed at every possible opportunity. Anyway, Sorg is paddling slowly along near the shore and Gigi runs out and yells at him. He doesn’t seem to hear her (it’s possible – the inefficient AQUA CYCLES churn the water like crazy with noisy splashing), and so she unintuitively hops on another AQUA CYCLE to chase after him.
Gigi eventually manages to inform him that Farnsworth is here to pick up some paintings. Our Hero Sorg then hurls her into the water (she’s wearing street clothes, so this heightens his Jerk factor), and heaps abuse on her, saying that if he ever marries her, it would prove he needs a psychiatrist. He then jumps off his cycle, peremptorily orders her to drag both cycles back to shore by herself, and wades back home.
The stark terror of the AQUA CYCLE.
On to Sorg’s beach house, where Farnsworth is picking up the paintings. These are all different styles. One looks like the bull from Picasso’s Guernica (except goofier in expression). It’s red, so maybe this is an attempt by HGL at premature product placement for energy drinks. Another is a conventional nude. A third is a bizarre rectangular Mondrian-esque thing. None of them belong together. But I guess if you’re an artist you can do any style you want at any time, right?
Farnsworth, as he examines the works, asks ”Adam, do you have any more red paintings? They’re selling well.” I hadn’t realized that fine art works the same as house painting – color is what matters. When Farnsworth says he could do better in the use of color, Sorg agrees, and then angrily punches out one of his own paintings. Exit Farnsworth.
The worst part of this sequence is that Sorg is wearing his bathing shorts the whole time, so we get an excellent look at his flabby legs. Ecch. Gigi now walks in and takes off her shoes, so we get to see her legs too, which are far superior. Sorg somehow entices her into the back room for a little horizontal rumba (don’t worry, Guardians of Society – we don’t see anything untowards), and the camera zooms in on the damaged painting lying on the floor. Look – a nail is sticking out from the frame. And it’s sharp!
In the middle of the night, Gigi’s feet move into view (we’re still looking at the canvas) and she reaches down and impales her finger on the nail. She wipes off the blood on the back of the canvas, then walks away without picking up the canvas or anything, so I guess she gashed herself intentionally.
The next morning, Sorg walks up and spots the bloodstain. Whoa! Excited, he sticks his finger into the blood spots and pushes them around (it hasn’t dried yet?). Then he goes outside and admires the blood even more. Weirdly, HGL apparently chose not to use the same canvas for the image, or changed the blood spot pattern or something, because the two shots don’t match up at all. I guess he didn’t care. Then Sorg carries the painting back in, and it doesn’t match again!? What the heck was Lewis thinking?
Please persuade me that these are the same canvas.
Sorg, excited about the brilliant color of the red, starts trying to match it with his pigments, which actually seems kind of sane. But unfortunately, at this moment in walks Gigi, wearing a yellow leotard. She starts pottering around with brushes & stuff and Sorg eyes her bandaged finger lustfully. At least she thinks it’s lust and starts to banter.
Mercifully we’re saved from too much of HGL’s idea of romantic dialog, and Sorg grabs her hand, asks her to bleed, and then opens up her finger. Soon he’s happily scrawling away using her finger to smear hemoglobin on his canvas. Gigi yanks her digit away and tells Sorg to use his own blood, if he’s so desperate, adding mysteriously “but it will probably come out black”.
Sorg mans up to the task and starts razoring his own hands. In a montage, we see him getting more and more blood on the painting, and slashing more and more of his fingers to milk for blood. Near the end of the montage, they’ve smeared makeup on his face to make it look like he’s pale with blood loss. And he’s all shaky and stuff. Then he collapses on a chair. Movie magic then shows us that several hours pass.
Now, padding one of those damn AQUA CYCLES, Gigi shows up in yet another leotard, this time blue-black. She sure has a lot of leotards. I guess the dance store had a sale. She enters the studio and sees the half-finished painting, smeared with streaks of fake blood.
She notes that it’s still wet (blood never clots in this universe) and tenderly fawns on Sorg, still collapsed on the couch. I must take note now that Gigi has terrific legs – maybe that explains the leotards. Showing a stellar sense of first aid, she gets a wet cloth and wipes off the stains off Sorg’s face, leaving his lacerated fingers alone.
Another cut in the film, to perhaps a day later (who knows). Sorg is morosely contemplating his arterial art. Gigi, now wearing a bright orange swim suit, reproaches him. “Give this painting to the blood bank!” she cries. Then she goes into full exposition mode. “You had to call Farnsworth at work and tell him you were on to something big. You had to get him to invite Gregorovitch, that caviar critic, to show him a new painting.”
It doesn’t get clunkier than that. But at least we now know what’s going on. This is another of HGL’s auteur touches; he makes sure that even the very stupidest person in the room knows exactly what’s happening in what passes for a plot in his films (notable exception – the incomprehensible Wizard of Gore).
But then Gigi makes her fatal error – she says, “I don’t know where you’re going to get some blood to finish that.” Maybe she doesn’t know where, but Sorg does, and he makes his move. He strikes her on the side of the head with a palette knife, and she screams, holding the knife to her head with her hand, and falls apparently dead on the floor. A palette knife. Not the kind that looks like a miniature trowel either – the blunt round-tipped kind.
Poor dead girl. Great gams, though. Yow.
Then Sorg picks up her body and starts painting, using her wounded head as a brush! It’s no doubt a masterpiece. How would I know? This brings me into another of my complaints about HGL and his laziness. Every single person reading this has bled before. We have all had nosebleeds and scraped shins. Most adults have cut ourselves shaving (ladies, you too).
Therefore, we all know what blood is like. It starts red and sticky and can stain things. Then it dries up and turns black and scabby. That’s how blood works. Everyone knows it – except HGL, who thinks that if you use fresh blood to paint with, it remains bright red, and perhaps even liquid, forever. He doesn’t even give us the fig leaf of having the artist babble about mixing the blood with “stabilizer”. Nope, Sorg just squeezes the stuff out of a finger or a head and it works.
We now cut to a girl with Giant Hair painting her toenails red while sitting on a lawn chair. This is the movie’s actual heroine, April. By “heroine” I mean she is the girl who gets menaced and yet survives. That’s about as close to a real heroine as HGL usually gets. Sadly, the spunky Gigi is done for (though we get a couple more peeks at her awesome legs later on).
April is a pathetically weak replacement for Gigi, and furthermore is getting introduced 30 minutes into the film. It only lasts 79 minutes in its entirety, so we don’t have much time to get to know her and care for her. (In my case, I never did.) Not only that, April’s legs are knobbier and significantly less attractive than Gigi’s. (If you are noticing an odd focus on a girl’s pins here, I plead guilty as charged. I’m a leg man. So sue me.)
April’s mom emerges and tells April that her boyfriend, Rolf, and two other friends, Sydney and Jack, are coming to take her to a picnic. Mom ponders the weirdness of a girl being named “Sydney,” and inexplicably adds, “In my day we didn’t read the kind of books you do … and underline.” (emphasis hers). Anyone who understands what she was trying to say please let me know, care of Ken Begg.*[*Editor Ken: Mystery solved. Kids of all ages, back in the days before universal 24-hour access to hardcore porn, would covertly read what were supposedly smutty books. These at best generally had but smatterings of prurient text, and so SOP was to underline “the good parts” so that you could find them again without all the scut work.
Since ‘dirty’ books tended to be marketed as ‘arty’ to get past the censors, April’s mom is clearly irked at the sort of filthy hippie literature that would inspire someone to call their daughter Sydney. Although if Sydney is the same age as Alice, then her mom must be a contemporary of Alice’s mom, which means the whole damn complaint makes no sense anyway.]
Sydney and Jack show up, identically dressed and bewigged. Those crazy kids. They’re hepcats too, and almost every single line they deliver is excruciatingly stupid. “Dig that crazy cat. She gets the scene, even if she doesn’t make it.” *shudder*
This is what passes for humor with Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The kids pile in the car and head to the beach for a possibly-wholesome picnic. Meanwhile, Sorg buries his dead love in the sand. Heartbreakingly, for me, anyway, the last sight we see of Gigi as she goes under is her leg. Sorg covers her up and … man, he’s one of those guys who wears sneakers without socks. I hate that. (Sorry, but it’s easy to get distracted in this movie.) He buries her finger-bandage separately in the sand which maybe is a touching moment. Who can tell? Only the benighted brain of HGL, and I’m not going there.
It’s back to the art gallery, with Gregorovich and April’s Mom admiring Sorg’s red bull at Guernica painting on the tiny stage. Sorg stalks ominously up to the stand, and suddenly unveils his new masterwork. Gregorovich minces over and does a little gay dance in front of the painting (at least that’s what it looks like to me), and then says, in the most stilted voice possible, “But my dear Adam, it is of course, your finest.”
Mrs. April’s Mom then says she must own it and asks how much. Farnsworth, sensing a dupe, asks for $15,000. Since we, the audience, are so stupid we don’t know how much paintings cost, Gregorovich spells out that “even Picassos don’t go for that much”. Man, those were the days, eh? When you could apparently buy a Picasso for less than $15,000.
Farnsworth stands firm on his distorted price, pointing out that someday “textbooks will feature this picture”, and she caves. Sorg now steps in, and states it’s not for sale. What? Why not? It’s clear from the first part of the movie that Sorg wants to sell paintings. Maybe he can’t stand to sell this one, because it has not only his own, but Gigi’s blood? Perhaps; but it seems like he’s just being temperamental.
This was also true of the real actor playing Sorg, according to HGL’s commentary – amusingly, HGL and Mr. Friedman (the producer) complain at length about what a prima donna he was. Apparently Mr. Joseph had delusions of adequacy and periodically went into snits, just like the real actors he’d heard about down Hollywood way.
Of course such was anathema to HGL, who just wants to get the thing in the can and get started on his next cheapie exploitation flick. Apparently Don Joseph (a.k.a. Gordon Oas-Heim) had had a few stage roles before Color Me Blood Red, and I guess went back there afterwards, no doubt to entertain the hard-boiled yokels for decades to come. Florida Community Theater – your gain is our loss.
It’s especially revealing to hear HGL complain about this particularly actor, because it’s abundantly clear that Don Joseph is the only person in the entire ensemble who is actually able to act. At times he really seems like a guy who’s going crazy bit by bit. Maybe the reasons he was so “hard to work with” was because he actually knew something about the biz and was appalled at HGL’s slipshod approach.
ART!! What middle-aged matron wouldn’t want this in her sitting room?
Anyway, Everyone’s upset by Sorg’s refusal to sell, except for the art critic, who says, stiltedly (like everything that comes out of his mouth), “There is one painting in each of us. Can you paint another? Or is this the one outpouring of genius … that will never be followed by another? Can you paint one like this again?” (Emphasis and hesitations his.)
The contrast between the terrible actors who make up most of the cast and Don Joseph is clear. Here, Joseph is almost underplaying his role, and it’s semi-effective. But the other three “actors” in this scene are as wooden as the stage on which they stand.
Sorg then displays more temperament and storms out. Mrs. April’s Mom says, “isn’t he exciting!” and we see Sorg driving home. A bit of this movie I love is that almost everyone drives convertibles, which makes perfect sense in Florida, but is something not seen enough nowadays. At least I personally don’t see it enough. (I live in Texas, which is one of the worst states to have a convertible.)
Sorg begins work on his new painting, which is my favorite so far, with a crocodile in high heels eating a yellow Gumby. But something’s wrong … could it need more … RED?! Sorg looks at his fingers – nope no more blood there. Then he behaves as though he just heard a sound at the window and rushes to it. Right on cue, the four “teens” out on their picnic have just showed up.
After some labored repartee the kids suddenly notice a couple necking on the sand about ten feet away. Rolf (April’s boyfriend, remember?) nobly decides to move further down the beach, pointing out, “If I were that guy, I’d want my privacy.” April mystifyingly replies, “If you were that guy, you’d have your privacy.” [Translator Ken: I think she means if he acted like that she’d split.]
And so they move along. In any case, I’m going with the theory that “that guy” doesn’t care overmuch about privacy, because he’s necking right in front of an occupied beach house. Plus doesn’t the girl he’s kissing want privacy too? Why don’t they mention her? Sexists.
I worry about the seaweed at the bottom of this painting. It’s not like the image would be strangely incomplete without it.
Sorg watches the whole scene from his window. Then he fires up a coffin peg, using a cigarette holder less spectacular than Gregorovich’s. He stubs the cigarette out in his hand, convincing even Slow Joe in the back row that Sorg is nuts, and does more emoting stuff.
Meanwhile, the necking couple break their clinch and the dude says they should go home. The girl, who has an annoying “baby doll” voice, feels the siren song of the AQUA CYCLES and wants to go paddling. “They look like fun” she says unconvincingly, and they’re off. You really have to see the cycles in action to admire how slow they are – more than once actors wading clumsily through the water clearly surpass them.
The couple happily paddle through the water, merry voices plainly dubbed. And when I say it’s “plainly dubbed” I mean it. You can see the actors faces clearly and they’re not even moving their lips during the voice-overs. Probably they’re panting too heavily from pumping the idiotic AQUA CYCLES. For some reason, every time we see the couple on the cycles, their images are enclosed in one of those dark fuzzy circles that usually signifies they’re being watched through a telescope. But we don’t see Sorg with a scope.
Suddenly, Sorg shows up in a powerboat, and soon we are engrossed in the very most exciting chase scene ever filmed to involve AQUA CYCLES. Sorg has a kind of metal spear or gaff and he is holding it like a jousting lance as he steers towards the male half of the couple.
Note that whenever the camera cuts to the potential victims, they’re STILL in those “telescope” circles. When we see Sorg on his boat, he is not cropped similarly. And Sorg doesn’t have a telescope. So what gives? Maybe HGL at one time planned for a telescope and then forgot to include it. The circles are kind of tentative – they are mainly visible in the corners, as though HGL tried to enlarge the image to eliminate them, but didn’t succeed. It’s all very much in the slipshod tradition of his craft.
Yeah, that gator-leg painting looks way better now.
It’s from the Jackson Pollock meets Fletcher Hanks school.
Well, Sorg impales his victim (the dude) with his impromptu lance as the poor girlfriend screams. Wait, scratch that. He doesn’t impale him – when the harpoon strikes the guy, he’s knocked backwards. I don’t think that’s how a spear works – shouldn’t it imbed itself inside him or something? Was that simple effect too hard to film? Yet another fine example of how HGL doesn’t follow natural laws.
The guy falls into the water, presumably dying from his puncture and I finally realized something new. I’ve seen this film several times, and this is the first time I realized that HGL means for us to understand that on Sorg’s second pass with the motorboat, he runs over his gaffed victim with the outboard motor and then chops him up. The editing is so bad that I never figured it out until just now.
In even more stupid editing, we see (a) the girl paddling around, way out from shore, while Sorg tools around her in his boat. Then we see her quite close to shore – in fact right on the rocks, screaming uncontrollably as some pale pink tissue floats up in the water nearby – presumably Boyfriend’s liver and lights. I don’t mean to minimize the chilling terror of this scene, but how did his innards get to the beach? He was speared and outboarded at least 50 yards offshore. Movie Magic at work again.
Maybe it’s a lung fish.
We now see Sorg touching up his gator-leg painting, but he runs out of ink. So into the back room he goes and here HGL pees in the soup once again. I already warned you, fair reader, that I am a troglodyte – so much so that I actually can name my “favorite disembowelments” from movies I’ve seen.* Anyway, I am plainly the target audience for a film like Color Me Blood Red, and here in fact is the big disembowelment set-piece scene. I haven’t been so excited since the last time I saw the dancing Old Gold cigarette packs.[*For the morbidly curious, my top two faves are the scene in Re-Animator where the overdosed corpse grabs Jeffrey Combs with its gizzard and drags him back into the fumes, and the scene in Day of the Dead where the hapless Captain Rhodes invites the zombies to “choke on it” as they pull him apart.]
Tragically, this is the very lamest disembowelment I have seen in all my life. Look at the picture below. In the first place, she’s obviously supposed to be dead. But she’s also obviously standing up – not dangling from her shackles at all. And her head is in that weird position – is that where your head would droop if you were hanging dead from shackles?
Finally, where is the disembowelment? There is unconvincing red paint smeared over her tummy, and some red shag rug remnants or something stuffed into her trousers, but that’s about it.
Sorg then “milks” one of her “intestines” for blood… and I mean milks; he pumps it just like a cow’s teat. Is blood what you’d expect to come from squeezing on an intestine? HGL can’t get it right. We’ll move quickly through this scene though, because Ken is getting squeamish.
Here it is folks, the money shot.
Back in the gallery, our sullen hero is hailed as a genius. Look! He’s managed to deface TWO paintings with red goop! But he won’t sell this one either. Farnsworth even spells it out “You can paint for a year on what you make off this painting.” No dice.
I guess I was wrong about why he didn’t sell the first painting (if you recall, I thought it might be because he still had affection for Gigi.) It seems doubtful he had any attachment to the couple he murdered for this one, so maybe he’s just crazy. Even more likely, I’m crazy for trying to identify motivations for characters in a HGL movie.
Sorg glares at Gregorovich and says, “I hope you’re satisfied. I hope.” Again, this almost borders on being effective. The implication is that Sorg doesn’t really want to murder people, but he feels he has to in order to convince Gregorovich he’s a real painter.
This logically should lead to a comparison between Color Me Blood Red and Roger Corman’s classic Bucket of Blood. The latter has a quite similar plot, clear down to the presence of a beret-clad poseur whom the hero wants to impress. It says much about HGL’s ignorance of film that in his entire commentary he never once draws any attention to this resemblance. Or perhaps he’s afraid that comparison with Roger Corman will somehow taint his originality.
Gregorovich then touches the painting (where’d he learn to be a critic?) and some blood comes off on his fingers. Being mentally handicapped, he assumes that Sorg forgot to varnish the painting. Which is probably true. But I’m still wondering why that blood doesn’t ever dry, or turn black.
Now we see April and April’s Mom sunning themselves, fully clothed, in their back yard. The dialog makes it clear that Sorg hasn’t painted anything in weeks, and Mom is sad because she is determined to own one of those works. She basically convinces April to offer herself to Sorg (as a model, you Neanderthal), hoping that Sorg will paint her and then Mom can buy the work.
Now we cut to Sorg engaging in tiresome Tortured Artiste hijinks which I’m too bored to go into at length, except to mention that they are accompanied by a jazzy-but-retarded score.
Next it’s off to Rolf’s convertible, racing down the highway with the four kids. Sadly, Sydney and Jack are eccentric again, still wearing matching outfits, and both puffing bubble pipes. The worst part is that these two losers don’t even get murdered. HGL is practically bashful in this film.
In fact, I’m going to give away a big plot point and tell you, fair reader, that we are now done with all the murders for the rest of the movie (unless you count Sorg’s death – sorry if that revelation spoiled the plot for you). So that was it. Sorg kills his girlfriend in a quickie fashion 30 minutes into the movie. A mere 15 minutes later, we have a show-stopper killing incorporating a laughably fake disembowelment.
And…there you have it. Here we are, a half hour from the end of the movie, and we have nothing more to look forward to. Isn’t this a GORE movie? We have had basically one single gore scene. And that’s all we get.
Come into my twisted mind for a minute. Imagine that you are a loathsome gorehound like unto myself, someone depraved enough to like this stuff. We thrilled to the gallons of stage blood thrown across the set of Blood Feast. We chilled to the cheerful butchery of Two Thousand Maniacs. We somehow made it through the lame-o humor of The Gore Gore Girls.
Now at last, Herschell Gordon Lewis’s most obscure film – Color Me Blood Red – is on DVD. Excited, we open the brown paper wrapper, send the kids to bed with dire threats, pop the disk into the player, and sink deeply into our armchair, prepared for the guilty pleasures of watching physical mayhem wreaked upon terrible actors (Herschell Gordon Lewis didn’t frequent the classier casting agencies). We think to ourselves, “Let’s do this!” and hit Play on our remote.
And is what we get. Pathetic. I feel used. One single scene of gruesome delight. Did he think we were watching this for biting societal commentary? It’s not like his type of gore was expensive in terms of special effects, either. HGL was well-known to frequent butcher’s shops for the body parts he wanted. Which means that that poor “disemboweled” girl possibly had real chicken guts stuffed in her panties. Ewww. Probably no, though – the “guts” look fake even by HGL’s low standards, so perhaps the actress balked at the real thing and they had to use balloons or condoms or something.
Well, still feeling cheated, we continue with the show, regretting that the best is behind us.
The four kids head to the beach and, once again, it’s right in front of Sorg’s house, as he watches through the venetian blinds. I guess this is the best place to hold a picnic. It’s the dead of winter too (you can tell by the trees), but it’s Florida so it’s not totally frozen over. You can see the goosebumps on the girls, who are wearing short-sleeves as if it were summer. We’re not convinced, Mr. Lewis.
Wackiness ensues when the kids are forced to change into their swimsuits while being covered only by a towel. At least I think it’s supposed to be wacky. April, more modest, decides to change into her suit away from the others – right in front of Sorg’s beach house. Maybe she’s not more modest after all … Sorg gets an eyeful. Attracted by her full-blooded loveliness, he sets up his easel and canvas right outside the house – presumably laying a trap for her, though there is no way he can know April’s Mom wants her to pose for him.
What was that color, again?
Sure enough, she’s attracted, and wanders over to Sorg’s painting. He ineptly asks her to pose for him. When she asks, “Are you an artist?” He shouts “No, I’m a motorcycle repairman!” But his awesome charisma is too overwhelming. She starts to refuse, but then finds out he’s none other than the fabled Adam Sorg – the very man her mom is interested in. So she waffles. He even offers to sell Mom the painting he promises to do of April as an inducement, but she’s just not sure. Maybe this evening.
Back with Rolf and the twins. (Seriously, Jack & Sydney dress almost identically at all times – Jack even wears a swim cap when Sydney does. She does wear a bikini top though, and he doesn’t, though at one point he suggests she take it off.) The kids spend about 2 minutes in the water, and then dry off – I bet it was cold.
Then the movie leaps ahead in time, as it’s done on previous occasions. Suddenly it’s night, and the kids are toasting marshmallows. Sadly, we must endure a long series of Jack & Sydney’s japes while April mopes around, wondering if she should let Sorg paint her. Rolf pours milk out of a hip flask (!) to steady her nerves. Now I suffer through an incredibly long conversation in which Rolf and April discuss painstakingly how she should tell Sorg she can’t pose for him tonight. Or maybe she should.
It’s tedious beyond belief, and it boggles my mind that even HGL felt a need to include it. It’s not like he had to pad out the movie – while Color Me Blood Red is a mere 79 minutes long, he didn’t seem to mind shorter films. Blood Feast, his biggest hit, was a mere 67 minutes. Nonetheless, it is clear that HGL is padding his piece – we watch April ponderously borrow Rolf’s keys, plod to the car, drive slowly away. What a drag.
Finally April shows at Sorg’s pad. He’s very excited and swings the door open before she knocks. Though she told Rolf she was going to call Sorg from the gas station, instead she goes straight to Sorg’s place to tell him. She spills the beans that she hadn’t told Rolf Sorg’s name, nor where he was.* He asks her to pose, and she agrees, despite the fact that she had came to say she couldn’t.[Editor Ken: Is this meant to suggest that maybe he can kill her without it being known who she was with? Because even if Rolf doesn’t know his name–kind of weird given the long conversation on the subject Sandy indicates–how many painters live in the area? Not just in the area, but it sounds like Sorg is right on the beach. And besides, April’s Mom knows who the guy is. Right? Isn’t that the whole point? Sandy, any clarification?
Sandy clarifies: You ask what the heck is going on with April telling Sorg that Rolf didn’t know she was here. In her conversation with Rolf she in fact painstakingly managed to dance around who had asked her to pose for him, so Rolf didn’t learn his name or where he lived. It’s all very unnatural.]
Sorg freaks out a little and she decides to leave, but he mysteriously talks her into it anyway. She poses on a stepladder, while Sorg gets ready to paint. He keeps an axe handy … just in case. Does this rapid changing of her opinions sound confusing? It’s not really. She just stands there and says stuff we don’t care about while Sorg mugs for the camera. So don’t worry about it. Any minute now Sorg should go for it. We hope.
Alas, just as things seem to be moving along, we cut back to Jack, Sydney, and Rolf uselessly hamming it up at the beach. The plot advances not a single micron. We don’t stay long with the retards, and soon return to Sorg & April squabbling. Now Sorg is annoyed that April (no trained model) won’t stay still, and ties her wrists to a ceiling beam, presumably preparing for the Big Moment.
Back to the beach, Sydney looks for driftwood – but she unearths Gigi’s leg, buried in the beach. Yay! Gigi’s leg again! She (Sydney) shrieks, and up rushes Jack, exclaiming, “Holy bananas! It’s a girl’s leg!” They then race to uncover more of the corpse. When they uncover Gigi’s face, it is unintuitively crawling with worms, despite the fact that she’s buried in beach sand (not a famously good worm habitat). Maybe I should count “Gigi’s face worms” as another gore moment for HGL, but it’s not much of one.
We switch back to April, who is feeling nervous. Sorg won’t let her leave, though. He doesn’t seem interested in killing her yet, despite the fact that she is now completely helpless and tied to the ceiling. Apparently he’s actually trying to sketch her out.* Presumably the plan is to kill her after he’s got his sketch, and then fill in between the lines with blood. I do note that he is keeping an axe handy.[*Editor Ken: Uhm, getting back to my previous questions…he’s going to actually whip up a portrait of his murder victim? Yeah, that’s a good idea.]
Back to the beach, where the kids are gathered around Gigi’s corpse. Sydney sensitively pronounces, “That’s some crazy driftwood.” Rolf points out, “I…i…it’s a girls’ body, all right!” Jack retorts, “Brilliant deduction, Hawkshaw.” You can see why I hate these characters so much. Why was the light of my life, Gigi, snuffed out, while I am forced to endure the cumbersome comedy of these half-wits?
Rolf intelligently says he should go to the house to phone the police, who have been interestingly absent from the film up to now. I use the word “interestingly,” because most of HGL’s films do feature police prominently – often his hero is in fact a policeman investigating the very crimes of the featured villain. But in this one we never see the cops at all. Of course, the house that Rolf is going to phone from is Sorg’s.
Sorg fondles his axe, and tells April to turn away from him, obviously planning to make his move. She peevishly whines, “I’m tired. Cut me loose.” She says this in the most annoying manner possible, thus losing all sympathy with the viewing audience (me).
Again, it’s not clear to me why Sorg doesn’t just whack her like he did his few other victims – why does he care if she sees him with the axe in hand? She’s tied up, he’s in a remote place. Just kill her and be done with it. The last two victims were done in broad daylight with a motorboat, so it’s not like he’s been some kind of undercover secretive killer. I guess HGL is trying to raise the suspense. Nice try, Herschell, but it just comes across as frustrating.
I wonder where this is headed?
Amusingly, April now demands “Cut me down!” which Sorg, of course, is prepared to do. So to speak. We get a long close-up of Sorg’s twitchy eyes as he demands she do as he says. It’s actually a pretty good scene and convinced me that Mr. Joseph (or Oas-Heim or whatever his name was) had a modicum of talent, and could have played a creepy villain in Hollywood itself. Well done.. I salute you, Mr. Oas-Heim, as the only actual actor in this entire movie.
And again I must give HGL recognition –many of his movies don’t even have ONE person who can act (notably Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore), so the fact that he has one here is a big step up, and HGL at least had the sense to make his lone real actor the star.
Ladies and gents, the winsome Adam Sorg.
Rolf comes to the house, and sees his car (which April borrowed). He bursts into the house without knocking and spots Sorg creeping behind April, axe in hand. Hands on hips, he asks, “What’s the big idea?” Sorg tries to cover up, but the angry Rolf mentions the corpse on the beach, and decides to untie April. Sorg cracks, and rushes Rolf with the axe.
Rolf grabs a rifle off the mantelpiece and covers Sorg with it. We know the rifle is loaded, because Sorg mentioned it earlier (in telling April not to touch it), but how does Rolf know? I guess he’s hoping, and rightly so. Sorg now spills his guts (not literally), saying “that girl on the beach, it’s all a mistake.” As we know, every criminal makes one mistake, and this is Sorg’s. You see, Rolf hadn’t said it was a girl corpse. Well, that makes it crystal clear and now Rolf knows Sorg’s the killer for sure. I’m sure that will hold up in court.
For a moment our hearts leap in hope, as Sorg knocks Rolf’s rifle from his hands (well actually it’s Sorg’s rifle, being held by Rolf, but you know what I mean) and orders Rolf not to pick it up, or he’ll split April’s head open. Does Sorg have one last killing in him? Nope, it’s monologue time. Sorg unsympathetically holds forth “that girl on the beach? She was a nobody.” Nice way to talk about Gigi, the love of your life, dude. Okay, I’m back on April’s side again. I’m still sort of hoping he offs Rolf though.
Sorg now makes his Insane Climactic Speech about the greatness of Art and how his victims are kept alive through his paintings and their own blood. As Insane Climactic Speeches go it’s not bad, so I’m not even going to mock it here. I kind of like it, and it would have flowed as trippingly from the lips of an insane Bela Lugosi or Peter Cushing as it does from Don Joseph.
Rolf figures out Sorg is talking about real blood in the paintings and freaks. Sorg still won’t let him grab the rifle. But then, the hepcats Sydney and Jack burst onto the scene, and see (a) April tied up (b) Sorg brandishing an axe and (c) Rolf reaching towards a rifle, but not daring to grab it. What would YOU say upon seeing such a scene? No doubt, “Hey man, dig that crazy charades.” Which is what they say.
Rolf takes advantage of the distraction to grab the gun, but tragically instead of turning it on the idiot twins, he shoots Sorg right in the head. We get one final micro-gore moment from HGL, as Sorg staggers around, face covered with unrealistic blood.
We see two distinct major blood splotches – one on Sorg’s face, and the other on the back of his head, so I guess it was a penetrating shot. Sorg amusingly wanders all around the living room* while sad guitar music plays (another fine musical choice by Director Lewis). He finally collapses on top of his own blank canvas, pressing his head to it.[*Editor Ken: Oh, the irony!]
A final blow is dealt when Sydney views the sad scene and says, “I guess I won’t take up painting for a while.” I mean really, WTF? The camera now scans the entire death scene, lovingly focusing on the fake-looking blood on Sorg’s face. Then we cut to the burning painting which we saw waaay back at the very start of the movie. Once more we admire the the blood pooling on the canvas. The fire finally burns out, but the “blood” stays liquid through the flames.
Now Gregorovich walks over and praises Farnsworth for his courage in burning a painting “worth thousands of dollars”. Farnsworth sadly says, “I’m not burning a painting, I’m lighting Sorg’s funeral pyre.” Gregorovich shakes his head and says, “you could at least have saved the frame”. But the painting isn’t framed! I mean, there was the wooden framework of the canvas, but that’s all. Is Gregorovich worried about the cheap pinewood used for that?
In inimitable HGL fashion, we now see The End without even any closing credits. Of course a lot of movies did that in the 1960s. Now every film has 10-15 minutes of closing credits that go on forever and ever. No need for me to complain about that now – I’m free, FREE, of HGL’s toils. Until next time I get tricked into writing a review for Mr. Begg.*[*Editor Ken: Yeah, it was “The Devil and Daniel Webster” all over again.]
Where are they now?
I went the extra mile here and looked up all the actors listed on the credits screen, a total of ten people. Most have no other film credits. A handful do have other credits, but from other HGL films. This suggests that HGL got them cheap, or they were friends of his, or both.
Only one person on the entire list was ever in any non-HGL movie, and that’s Patricia Lee, who plays Sydney. Her case is kind of doubtful. She may have been in two other films besides Color Me Blood Red, but it’s not entirely clear whether she did. One of her credited films was a weirdo Spanish-French mummy film named Perversions Sexuelles which from the title is clearly not just a mummy movie, and she’s only 6th billed.
Her name is common enough that I wonder if it is a different Patricia Lee. She may also have had an extremely minor role in a porn film from 1978 (how minor? She was billed as “cast member”). I personally would not adjudge Ms. Lee’s movie career an unqualified success.
Mr. Lewis, of course is not only still active today, but is undergoing a revival. He offers workshops, writes books on creativity, and attends conventions. Look him up at http://herschellgordonlewis.com/ and you too can be bemused at the rehabilitation of this fabled goremeister.
Color Me Blood Red marked the break up of the “creative team” of Friedman & Lewis, as they argued over (what else) finances and parted ways. My copy of the DVD includes both Friedman AND Lewis giving commentary. Friedman manfully takes full blame for the break-up, and apologizes profusely to Lewis, who is audibly touched. It’s actually kind of nice to hear these two elder statesmen of gore mending their fences while commenting on the film. There is also a younger guy who constantly just sucks up to Lewis in the most sickening possible way. Lewis comes off better.
Sandy Petersen is a game designer who created the Call of Cthulhu RPG, and was instrumental in developing the video games Doom, Doom II and Quake. He has his own Wikipedia page. He thus is more famous than the people who made 28% of the movies reviewed on this website.
Sandy has also informed me, several dozen times while I’ve stayed at his house, that he in fact invented Dungeons & Dragons, but that Gary Gygax climbed in his window one night and stole his notes. However, while telling me–and anyone else in the area–this tale, he tends to be rolling steel balls in hand and muttering about strawberries (which apparently Gygax also stole). Also, his wife Wendy always rolls her eyes and makes finger circles next to her head during this. Thus I’m not sure if the story is completely true.
You might consider the picture above (which Sandy provided) an affectation. However, it should noted that Sandy’s sons are named Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom and Johnny. I’ve met them, though, and they’re all more or less sane and perfectly nice fellows anyway.