Simon White knows blood and gore. The resident special effects coordinator for Blumhouse Television has worked on 19 of the 22 horror movies in the “Into the Dark” anthology.
Creating casualties for the show isn’t as straightforward as just adding dye or glycerin to simulate blood. (“Chocolate syrup was also used back in the black-and-white days,” White says.) Audiences today are savvier and directors are more demanding about getting the look right. Texture as well as color is often involved. In the “Into the Dark” episode “Culture Shock,” directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, Martha Higareda (“Altered Carbon”) plays Marisol, a pregnant woman living in Mexico who tries to cross the border into the U.S. and wakes up in Cape Joy, a “Stepford Wives”-like neighborhood where a blond suburban housewife (Barbara Crampton) has taken her under her wing and the robotic locals are overly interested in her every move. Once Marisol figures out where she really is, things start to get messy. Cue White.
The special effects coordinator remembers meeting Guerrero and prepping a test effects sequence with her in which one of Marisol’s fellow immigrants has a bloody battle with a security guard. “She liked it and said, ‘You know, that was big, but go bigger.’ You should never tell a special effects guy to go big with blood.”
To enhance the scene, in which Richard Cabral’s character, Santo, jams an object down the guard’s throat, White’s team used an air mortar — a compressed-air tool that’s common in the world of special effects. When filled with dirt, water or, in this case, “blood,” the device (which was nowhere near the actor’s throat) blasts out whatever it’s filled with, in this case a mixture of corn syrup, water, red and green food coloring (the latter to darken) and methocel (a food-thickening product).
White isn’t afraid to use his noodle when trying new ingredients to simulate gore. “When the scientist’s head is getting blown to smithereens in ‘Culture Shock,’ it was tofu for brains,” he says. “Sometimes we used udon.”
Guerrero was elated with the results.
In second-season episode “Good Boy,” Judy Greer’s Maggie adopts Reuben, a sweet white terrier mix. He’s the perfect emotional support dog, helping her with her anxiety. But then Reuben starts to attack people. Again, blood is involved.
White relied on a math equation to figure out how much of the red stuff he needed for a sequence in which Reuben mauls a girl under a bed. He performed a Google search to find out the amount of blood in the human body. And he did another search to find out the height of Shaquille O’Neal, the biggest person White could think of, because he wanted lots of blood — but within reason.
“We had industrial equipment that held 25-30 gallons of fluid, and we filled it with about seven gallons,” says White. (The average person has about five or six quarts of blood in his or her body, so White didn’t skimp.)
In other episodes, such as “Pooka!,” in which an actor who portrays a toy is taken over by the costume he’s wearing, the blood was darker. “We used burnt sugar,” White says, “because it was safe in case it was ingested.”
“Good Boy,” in which a bathtub was the location of one of Reuben’s outbursts, demanded other tricks of the trade. “For scenes where you see tubs or swimming pools filled with blood because someone has been murdered there, we use ‘shark’s blood’ — a dye that can be diluted through chlorine and is crystal clear the next morning [for further shooting]. It’s a unique aspect and works like invisible ink.”
Laura Lieffring, who serves as head of makeup for the anthology, is White’s frequent partner in crime. A favorite Lieffring blood-and-gore ingredient was used in a sequence with Steve Guttenberg’s unfortunate character in “Good Boy.” “We mixed in mashed-up nectarine bits,” she says. It’s an effect she says that not only adds texture but “gives us a nice torn-up flesh look.”