Clocking in at only about two minutes, this new video from the YouTube channel Great Big Story nevertheless manages to pack in over 100 years of history about fake movie blood. Though a lot of the fake blood used in film today is created by CGI, it turns out there’s a long history of experimentation and innovation when it comes to replicating blood on screen. That history includes everything from chocolate syrup to poison.
The earliest fake blood was merely symbolic: A simple red handkerchief symbolized blood in early theatrical productions. But theaters began creating something a little more lifelike by using cochineal bugs, small insects that produce a red dye when boiled. In the early days of black-and-white film, however, consistency was more important than color. So filmmakers used chocolate syrup to replicate blood’s viscosity. It wasn’t until color films began to emerge in the 1930s that Hollywood had to learn to concoct a fully realistic blood substitute. Retired British pharmacist John Tynegate and makeup artist Dick Smith both put their own respective spins on fake blood, with the latter producing a substance that was revolutionarily realistic but poisonous if consumed. Since then Hollywood has developed non-toxic alternatives, but as the video notes, “If you want to be legit, it should be poison or bugs.”