How to Make Eco-Conscious Fake Blood, Fangs Not Required

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“This picture, truly one of the most unusual of films, contains scenes which, under no circumstances, should be viewed by anyone with a heart condition or anyone who is easily upset.”

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That was the on-screen disclaimer that actor William Kerwin gave before the trailer of 1963’s Blood Feast. Today, a warning like this would be nothing more than scintillating fanfare. A sort of dare for the viewer, who would likely already have seen their fair share of gore. But in the sixties, this disclaimer was a genuine plea. American cinema had been, for over thirty years, operating under the Hays Code — a moral guideline that Hollywood enacted to evade even tighter scrutiny from the government. No one could be seen sharing the same bed, killers could not go free, and blood splatter virtually never graced the big screen.

Blood Feast, directed by the Godfather of American Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, is certainly no masterpiece. But it was one of the first attempts at realistic blood on color film — predated by chocolate syrup on the sets of black & white classics like Psycho. Now, studios have a bevy of different blood substitutions to choose from. You can buy arterial, venous, even lung blood. Or maybe you want aged blood because your character has been tumbling through the woods for hours. Whatever you fancy, it’s all being manufactured by the gallon.

Over the years, the formula has remained surprisingly quite simple, though problematic. It almost always begins with a base of syrup and dye. The syrup? Derived from the water-thirsty corn crop. While most (if not all) of the red dye is vegan — carmine (aka insects) hasn’t been used in over a century — it is synthetic, derived from coal and petroleum, and not cruelty-free. Who even knows what’s in the cheap, mainstream stuff sold by Spirit Halloween and Party City alike, as there’s rarely an ingredient list on the label.

Being a horror buff, this Halloween I set out to make my own fake blood, with an environmentally-conscious twist. But this project wasn’t as easy as putting ‘vegan’ in front of staple ingredients. With natural red dye, sadly you’ll never achieve a Carrie red. The tone is amiss (too purple) and the color payoff is much weaker. You don’t want to just add more because these tiny vials of tint are generally expensive.

On the bright side, you can make some great oxidized blood, with a bit of molasses (a little goes a long way). The corn syrup is a must-have, unfortunately, but choosing an organic variety might help lower your costume’s energy consumption. To keep any ooze from staining my best vintage wares, I added a little castile soap — an industry trick. This also helps the mixture from separating. Be warned, though: it isn’t foolproof so don’t dunk yourself in it a la The Descent.

 
 

Eco-Friendly Stage Blood

  • 2 tbsp organic corn syrup

  • 3.5 tbsp flour

  • ~1 tsp red vegetable coloring

  • 1 drop of green vegetable coloring

  • 3-5 drops of yellow vegetable coloring (Optional: see below)

  • 2-3 drops of fair-trade molasses

  • 5 drops of palm-oil free soap

This recipe is perfect for blood that will stay in one place, but if you’re looking for a more runny presentation, add less flour. Note that adding soap means the mix is no longer eye or mouth safe. Always do a patch test on your wrist before party time to make sure you don’t have a reaction.

Because natural food coloring can be a little volatile, add color bit by bit. If your red is closer to a pink or purple, add yellow to bring it back to true red. Add more molasses if you’re looking for a darker hue, like that of a zombie or vampire. Or get creative! Use green and transform yourself into an alien that crash-landed on Earth. For food coloring, I recommend Color Garden. Avoid commercial brands like McCormicks, which uses synthetic dyes like FD&C Red 40 and 3. Similarly, watch out for the use of glycerin, which could be conflict palm oil derived. Call or send an e-mail to the company if you’re unsure. FYI, I called Watkins, a brand found in Whole Foods, and confirmed that their glycerin is derived from untraceable palm kernel oil.

Thanks to a late start, we are currently experiencing our golden age of horror. Each Halloween, more and more people flock to get their own taste of the action with at-home special effects kits. But remember that it’s just one night! Ditch dubious ingredients and make your own props at home. At least when you’re done, you’ll have the makings of a great dessert!

Featuring Victoria Jameson. Photographed by Magdalena Antuña.