The art world has always been a perfect target for satire, if not outright roasting. The Netflix film, Velvet Buzzsaw, generated discussion with its skewing of galleries and critics. This renewed interest in that area makes it the perfect time for Arrow Video to release their Blu-ray of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Color Me Blood Red, a movie in which other people must suffer for one man’s art.
Adam Sorg (Gordon Oas-Helm, performing under the name Don Joseph) lives in an isolated beach house with his girlfriend, Gigi (Elyn Warner). He is a frustrated artist. The critics don’t appreciate his work. The Farnsworth Gallery, his main distributor, hasn’t purchased one of his paintings in a long time. The pressure is getting to him and he’s beginning to crack. Sarcastic and abusive, Sorg can’t find a way past his mental block until Gigi has a household accident. When Sorg sees Gigi bleeding, he realizes he has finally discovered the perfect shade of red. Sorg rubs Gigi’s open cut into the canvas.
When the gallery purchases Sorg’s painting created with the blood of his girlfriend, the artist goes on a murder spree. He collects the blood of his victims for use in his work. No one is safe. Visitors to the beach, the teenaged children of Sorg’s patrons, all are in danger of becoming part of one of Sorg’s mixed media pieces.
Color Me Blood Red was filmed in 1965, so much of it looks silly. The fashions, the vehicles, and especially the hairstyles, look funny after fifty-four years. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like about this movie. There’s a wonderful lack of pretentiousness, even when dealing with snooty critics and gallery owners. The gore is lurid, bright, and over the top. When Sorg grabs one of his victim’s internal organs and squeezes it like an udder to drain the blood from it, the only response is horrified laughter.
Most of the performances are bad, as is to be expected from a low-budget horror film like this, but there are some exceptions. Jim Jaekel and Patricia Lee as the goofy couple, Jack and Sydney, are charming and hilarious. But the true standout here is Oas-Helm as the murderous painter, Adam Sorg. With the cowering physical presence of Peter Lorre and a slightly froggish face reminiscent of David Hemmings, Oas-Helm gets better the crazier his character becomes. Sweating and bug-eyed, he delivers his lines passionately and believably. It’s easy to think the dude is really nuts. Sorg is the linchpin of the whole story. If you don’t believe he’s capable of all those terrible acts, then Color Me Blood Red falls apart. Luckily, Oas-Helm is spot on, finding the psychotic center of Sorg and playing it to the hilt.
Arrow Video has done an outstanding job with this Blu-ray presentation. Some shots are out of focus, but it is doubtful that is Arrow’s fault. Besides those occasional visual screw-ups, that seem to be part of the original print, the transfer is crisp and clear, truly living up to the “red” part of its title. The special features are also fascinating. Director Lewis speaks briefly about his children’s film, Jimmy, the Boy Wonder. There is also a short film called A Night at the Go-Go Lounge! which is worthy of a review by itself. Arrow Video has also placed the H.G. Lewis film, Something Weird, on this disc. A bizarre piece of work with psychics, witches, and flamethrowers, Something Weird has gathered a cult following of its own. It’s worth checking out.
Color Me Blood Red works in ways that films like Velvet Buzzsaw don’t, eschewing mysticism for a creepy glimpse into a madman’s creative process. Even when the third act is marred by bad decisions by the characters, Oas-Helm saves the day with his intensity. Unfairly maligned by critics at the time, Color Me Blood Red is a vital entry in the Lewis oeuvre. This Arrow Video presentation makes a perfect part of any horror fan’s collection.