Guts And Glory
Total Film|September 2020
When you need on-screen claret – or sputum, emesis and excrement – where do you turn? We delve into the horror SFX department to find out what they use for blood, puke and poop…
JANE CROWTHER

It’s like Art Attack, but with bodily fluids,” chuckles Daniel Martin when describing his job, which often entails “looking at horrible websites and reference books and getting a feel for how a body comes apart”. Martin is not a psycho, but a special-effects designer whose company, 13 Finger FX (@13fingerfx), has provided squeamish moments for a catalogue of movies from High Rise, Colour Out Of Space and In Fabric to Lords Of Chaos and The Human Centipede 2.

A keen magician as a kid, Martin transferred his trick-of-the-eye skills to designing stomach-churning SFX and now spends his days figuring out how to make grue and gore cinematic (having a pathologist father-in-law helps, he admits). “There’s no greater satisfaction than them calling ‘cut’, and hearing a director say, ‘That was so gross!’” he says. So what does it take to faithfully recreate our mortal fluids? And why are some of them so damned tasty?

There will be blood

“The early blood recipes were all basically just powder paints, which is why those ’70s movies have such lurid, light, bright blood. Then in the early ’70s, Dick Smith came up with his own recipe based on inverted sugar syrup, which became the standard for ages.

“Loads of different companies were making stuff in laboratory settings so that it could be described as food-grade – glycerine, sugar syrups and food colours. The problem was, America and England have different legislation on their food dyes. So, often, American brands – like blood – couldn’t be sold in the UK so we had to make our own.

“I’m at a point in my career now where I don’t really bother making my own blood anymore, I just buy it. It’s a guaranteed consistency and laboratory-grade so it’s ingestible. What does it taste like? Very sweet. There was a brief period in the late ’90s when everyone started trying to flavour them. Mint was popular but as soon as you put menthol in anything, and you get it in your eyes, that’s a nightmare!

“My favourite bloods are all sorbitol based. Sorbitol is a sugar substitute, but it dries differently to sugar syrup. Sugar syrup turns into the golden syrup as it dries; it becomes incredibly sticky. If you’re filming outside in summer, it attracts wasps. You don’t want that. Sorbitol doesn’t do that. You’ve got thicker versions that are methyl cellulose-based. You get alcohol-based versions that dry into crust-like scabs very quickly because the alcohol evaporates faster. The main thing to take into consideration is that the blood isn’t going to stain costumes, locations, certain soft furnishings, the actor’s skin between takes, and they’re not going to poison anyone.

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