TALKING PICTURES: BLOOD & GUTS

“I see blood! So much blood!”

With those words, effectively exclaimed by a freaky carnival palm-reader in the opening moments of Cursed—director Wes Craven unexpectedly hip new take on the ever-popular werewolf story—it is clear that I picked the right movie to see with writer Bill Hayes, author of the entertaining science-memoir Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood (Ballantine). Hayes apparently agrees. As the faux gypsy rambles on and on about blood and death and big scary beasts and how it might be good to avoid the full moon at all costs, Hayes turns with a wicked grin and whispers, “Perfect opening. This is going to be good!”

“Cursed” isn’t good, exactly, but it’s certainly not bad. Starring Christina Ricci as a reluctant L.A. werewolf attempting to juggle a love life, a Hollywood career, unwanted family responsibilities and a new-found thirst for human flesh and blood, the tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy is actually kind of a kick. The only problem is that, when all is said and done, it’s not that bloody. Sure, we see drops of blood here and there as various people are dispatched by an ever-expanding assortment of careerist lycanthropes, and a couple of very cool scenes involving people being yanked by their heads out of their cars or up into rafters, but it says something that big money shot in “Cursed”, the one that gets the biggest “eeeeeeewwww!” from the audience, is a shot of a woman with a bloody nose.

“For a movie that opens with the line, ‘I see blood, so much blood,’ it didn’t really deliver on its promise,” Hayes remarks after the film, adding, “I was a little disappointed in that regard.”

Bill Hayes is not a blood-fetishist, nor does he appear to be a serial killer. But he does know a lot about blood, as he deftly demonstrates in the remarkable and very readable Five Quarts (five quarts being roughly how much blood the average human body contains). Hayes’ interest in blood stems in part from his life-long fascination with the unseen mechanics of the human body, and also because his comic book-loving partner Steven, whom he talks about in the book, has been HIV-positive for several years. Since the appearance of AIDS in the early 1980s, he writes, our relationship to blood has become more complicated, with blood proving to be both good and potentially dangerous, an unsettling view the ancient gladiators evidently did not share back when they were guzzling the blood of their vanquished foes. Hayes likes to share facts like that gladiator thing. He can also tell you the act of draining every drop of blood from a person is called exsanguinations, and knows exactly how long it takes for a single blood cell to complete a full circuit of the circulatory system in the average body at rest: about thirty seconds. Unfortunately, as he was writing the book, Hayes accumulated so much hematological know-how that he no longer sees bloody movies in exactly the same way.

“When that palm-reader was looking at the woman’s hand,” he admits, “I found myself thinking, ‘Now, at any given time, about a quarter of the body’s blood supply is circulating through the skin, so if the average human body has about five quarts of blood circulating running through it all the time, then there must be about one-and-a-quarter quarts of blood pumping through that actress’s palm at this very moment.’ That’s the kind of thing that occurs to me all the time now.”

If you think that’s unfortunate, consider this: “I can no longer pick up a five quart container of ice cream,” Hayes confesses, “without thinking, ‘Five quarts. If I were exsanguinated for any reason, you could fit all my blood in this plastic tub.”

Eeeeeewwwww!

Asked why people have such strong reactions to movies like “Psycho” and “Carrie”—which Hayes ranks along with “Blade” as three of the best blood-themed movies of all time—he replies, “People have probably always had a visceral reaction to the sight of blood, even when it’s very obviously fake blood. In the theater, even before Shakespeare, blood has always been an effective shock device.”

“Cursed” is an example of that, demonstrating that you can thrill and shock an audience as easily with a few drops of blood as you can with whole buckets of it. It all goes back to our basic human responses, that alternate fascination and revulsion so many of us feel at the sight of blood.

“I think horror movies and vampire movies and werewolf movies—including the one we just saw—tap into that love-hate relationship we all have with blood,” Hayes muses. “In ‘Cursed’, as in the real world, blood represents life, to humans and werewolves. I have no problem with that.

With a laugh, he adds, “I just wish there’d been a lot more of it.”

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

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Posted on March 24, 2005 in Features by

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