[Written by Katie Veitch (she/her)]
CW: Violence, Death, Blood
A samurai sword slices down the shoulder of an assassin, and a fountain of blood spatters all over the faces of the crowd as only a single, piercing scream fills the air. A red tsunami pushes its way through small gaps in the elevator doors, and floods the ornately decorated corridors of a 1970s hotel. Crisp, white waters turn red and erupt into the air as a victim wrestles at the surface, trying to save whatever limbs they have left from the creature lurking below.
Blood in film is an image that we are all not just familiar with, but often excited about. These huge, bloody cinematic apexes of film can stick in our minds long after watching hundreds of films that don’t feel the need to spatter red liquid all over the silver screen. One of the biggest considerations of blood in film is the role it plays in determining the age ratings of a film. Prince Caspian, for example, is rated a PG because, though there is a great deal of violence and death in this film, there is no blood. These films are still enjoyed, though, and the battles are still important and entertaining. So what makes blood so effective when it is used? Why does this natural substance that runs through all of our veins right this instant become so much more prominent and shocking when we see the fake version on screen?
Rossatron, a YouTuber, has a video1 in which he discusses the importance of blood in film, where he shows many major movie scenes – particularly battles and fights in action films – with all the blood edited out. While we probably don’t think that we’re paying attention to the blood in these epic scenes (more likely trying to track the face of our favourite character through all the chaos), it turns out to be vitally important to our experience of the film. In clips with the blood edited away, the epic battle’s clear choreography, camera and CGI manipulation becomes immediately evident. Without blood, a natural consequence of mortality, spewing from their veins, it’s almost impossible to buy into the idea that these characters have just been shot by a handgun, directly in the chest from 100ft, by Daniel Craig. But with the blood? No problem, got you, next scene please.
Of course, the main buy-in of motion pictures is that we get to experience the most realistic “what-ifs” we could ever think of. Every idea or shower thought scenario that we imagine in our heads can be played out so accurately that it mimics the real-life memories we cherish. That’s the magic, and so it does make sense that we need to see the blood that we know runs through these people’s veins, fictional or not, pour out when their skin is punctured. But the drama that Quentin Tarantino adds, like blood spraying 10ft into the air like a town square fountain, doesn’t seem to bother us, even when it takes away from the reality.
Really, what I think is the appeal of blood in film is that it makes the clock start ticking. Tension is immediately heightened and the timer begins as soon as a character we have become so invested in starts to bleed. We only have so much blood to lose before we die, or even more imminently, before we pass out or become weak and can’t win against the protagonist. No smart-talking or sudden-twists can save our hero now. The race begins, and we are pulled into the experience by the pits of our stomachs. The bigger the spectacle, the bigger the stakes.
Like horror films, watching extreme sequences on screen gives us the thrill of the danger without any of the risk. Many of us will have the chance to hear real bad language, see real mild violence, and maybe even drug use and all the other visuals that films age-ratings are brought up for. But real intense bloodshed is something that many of us are unlikely to ever see with our own eyes. In films, we get to see how the body reacts to sudden angled incisions in a way that we will probably (and hopefully) never actually find out for ourselves; it’s undeniably interesting.
Lastly, we get to see that these heroes and villains, masterminds and super athletes are really just like us on the inside. Blood runs through their veins, just like ours, and their blood will pour out if caught in real trouble, just like ours. They face the same mortality that we do, and they are still brave enough to shoot their shot. In the end, that thick, dark-red flood is what makes us feel their pain.