Blood for Art’s sake
In the prologue to this film, the owner of the Farnsworth Gallery at first admires, then carries a canvas out behind the building to set fire to it. As it burns, the painting bleeds human blood, like some fabled stigmatic statue. So begins Color Me Blood Red, the final film (after Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs) in what would come to be known as the Lewis/Friedman Blood Trilogy.
Painter Adam Sorg (Don Joseph) is the stereotype of the Mad Artist – arrogant, stuck-up, sloppy and mean. An opening at the Farnsworth shows that he uses a wide variety of styles, as if in search of something. The critics think his work shows great promise but lack the spark of originality. Later, he succeeds in discovering a new technique when his long-suffering girlfriend Gigi (Elyn Warner) cuts her finger on one of his canvas stretchers. He likes the way the blood looks on the canvas. He gets the idea to add human blood to his paintings.
When Gigi balks at any further cooperation, Sorg uses his own blood, slicing his fingers up in the process, until he passes out from exhaustion. He becomes delirious, desperate. When his girlfriend criticizes the painting, it drives the artist over the edge and he stabs her in the head with a handy palette knife. He then makes best of his crime by using her blood to finish his masterpiece.
The painting causes a sensation, garnering many high bids, even within the small arts community of Sarasota, Florida. This drives Sorg to continue his blood painting. But where to find enough blood? Conveniently, a group of “teens” arrives on the beach (among them, Jerry Eden, a Lewis/Friedman regular) and begin enjoying themselves riding on his oddball water bicycles. Thus, artist turns predator, hunting down healthy young victims to feed his unhealthy obsession.
Joseph is probably the best actor of the Blood Trilogy. His real name was Gordon Oas-Heim, and director Herschell Gordon Lewis also claims he was the most trouble on the set, questioning his decisions every chance he got. But he was good enough that he hired him again for Moonshine Mountain (where he took on yet another name: Adam Sorg!). Lewis was never blessed with an A-list cast, but he was successful at times in coaxing an interesting performance out of an actor, and this is one of those times.
He also makes good use of the sunny Sarasota locations. The action often takes place on the beach and out on the water, and there’s even some decent stunt work. Though Lewis liked to score his own pictures with a simple combination of instruments, here he employs jazzy library music, which fans would nevertheless like to have on a soundtrack album. The actual paintings supposedly created by Sorg are quite striking. They were done by a carnival banner artist – producer Dave Friedman was an old-time carny and knew a guy that could provide just the right note of sensationalism.
On the commentary track, the usual quartet of Friedman, Lewis, Something Weird Video president Mike Vraney and film distributor Jimmy Maslin (who is barely audible in the back of the room) goes into the details of the production, telling many delightful stories, as well as why this was the last picture Lewis and Friedman made together.
Due to their breakup, Color Me Blood Red was not given the benefit of the same promotional magic as the other two films in the trilogy, and so was not quite as successful. There were a few other horror movies on the market around the same time (Portrait of Terror, Nightmare in Wax) with the same “killer artist” theme that watered down the impact of the picture as well. However, none of the others have the shock value of Lewis’ gore scenes, which have a nastier flavor than those in the director’s previous films.
Like the other two discs in the series, this DVD includes rare outtakes from the feature (about 10 minutes worth this time around). One shows clearly a hand holding a bottle squirting ‘blood’ on a victim! It also has a “gallery of exploitation art,” which seems to be the same collection as the other two.
Keep your pause button handy, as you’ll want to stop and admire the wild thrill show ads. The trailer may have been the first to use the famous tag line, “Just keep reminding yourself: It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie,” which has been adapted a few times over the years since. It’s certainly still good advice to take with you when watching Color Me Blood Red.