CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Today’s article for Chilling Classics month comes to us from El Paso, Texas. He’s part of Ghoul Inc. Productions, a DIY group who are inspired by Roger Corman, Larry Buchanan, Frank Henenlotter, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Edward D. Wood, jr., S.F. Brownrigg, Barry Mahon and others. He’s an awesome guy and I know no one better to tackle this Corman film!

When I asked Sam at B & S About Movies for a word count on this article before I began writing it, His response of “As many as you want!” was both encouraging and daunting. This is an article on a Roger Corman film starring Dick Miller, Roger being the one guy that has had a bigger impact on my filmmaking and overall attitude towards films in general than anyone else, and Dick being perhaps the most prolific character actor of all time. This has the potential to become very long winded. However, Sam asked me for an article, not a book, so self-discipline, do your thing!

A Bucket of Blood was released on October 21st, 1959, and tells the story of Walter Paisley (Miller), a shy little guy who busses tables at The Yellow Door, a hip coffee joint that caters to beatniks. Walter spends his days cleaning up after the pretentious clientele who treat him poorly, yet he dreams of one day being an artist and rubbing elbows with them. Walter’s boss, Leonard (Anthony Carbone, Creature from the Haunted Sea, The Pit and the Pendulum and a few other Corman flicks) is a particularly unlikable prick, and treats our boy Walter like dirt. One night after a typical shift, Walter returns home to his dingy little one-room apartment to find that his landlady’s cat, Frankie, has gotten into the walls. With no real malicious intent, Walter decides the best way to get Frankie out is to cut through the drywall with a large kitchen knife. As you can imagine, this does not go well, particularly for Frankie. Shocked and terrified that he accidentally skewered Mrs. Swickett’s beloved pet, he gets the idea to cover Frankie’s carcass with sculpting clay, and turn him into a work of art. The next day at the Yellow door, Walter’s “Dead Cat” sculpture, complete with protruding knife, is a big hit with the beat crowd, particularly with one Maxwell Brock (Julian Burton, also in Corman’s Masque of the Red Death), who seems to be the epicenter of the local scene. Suddenly, even that beret wearing tool Leonard is treating Walter with some respect, as is Walter’s crush, Carla (played by Barbara Morris, another Corman alum with Wasp WomanThe Trip and Machine Gun Kelly to her credit). It would seem that Walter’s horse has finally come in, as he goes from forgettable busboy to art sensation overnight. Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold, and Walter begins to attract the attention of Yellow Door regular and undercover cop Lou Raby, who tails Walter home one evening after an overly enthusiastic female admirer slips Walter a vial of heroin. Detective Raby knocks at Walter’s door and promptly lets himself in once the door is opened. He begins to grill Walter about the heroin, but it’s clear to us in the audience that Walter had no idea what he was given. Walter is a sweet, mousey, gullible little man that we can’t help but like, so Lou’s persistent badgering comes off as just another example of poor Walter being bullied. It is for that reason that when Walter panics and bashes Lou’s skull in with a frying pan that we can’t help being just a bit relieved, and Walter comes off as vindicated. But alas, Detective Raby was no house cat, and Walter has just committed murder. Fortunately, he still has plenty of sculpting clay, and Voila! “Murdered Man” is created, and becomes Walter’s latest masterpiece!

With “Murdered Man”, Walter has become a bonafide artist, has folks desperately trying to outbid one another for his work, and shows up at The Yellow Door wearing a beret, carrying a cane he calls his “Zen Stick” and orders Papaya Cheesecake and Yugoslavian white wine. Fame went to his head very quickly. And although he has become a bit of a pretentious jerk, He’s still just likable enough to keep us rooting for him. We can see that he is in way over his head, but all we can do is pretty much sit back and watch this whole thing run its course. When Carla suggests that Walter sculpt her, he promptly but politely refuses, as that would surely mean the end of Carla. However when the overly obnoxious blonde diva Alice (Judy Bamber of 1963’s Monstrosity) hints that she’d let Walter sculpt her, he responds with “I just might”, with a murderous glint in his eye! 

Shot in just five days with a budget of $50,000 and using a recycled set from the film Diary of a High School BrideA Bucket of Blood was written by Charles B. Griffith, who also collaborated with Corman on Little Shop of HorrorsBeast from Haunted CaveSki Troop Attack and Death Race 2000 as well as directing a half-dozen films himself (including Up from the DepthsForbidden Island and Eat My Dust! starring Ron Howard). Griffith was also instrumental in helping Roger capture the comedic tone of the film, as he did with Little Shop of Horrors. Corman found the idea of doing comedy a bit unnerving, stating in an interview once “If you make a comedy and no one laughs, you’re dead!”. Griffith, however was born into a vaudeville family, and his parents even offered advice on how to make the comedic aspects of the film work. In addition to being a skilled filmmaker, able to make things happen with minuscule budgets and insanely tight schedules, Corman was (and is, for that matter, still kicking in his 90’s these days) a great businessman and very sharp at making pictures that will pique the interest of the movie-going public. The beat scene was a subculture of the 1950’s that brought us the work of one Jack Kerouac, but compared to other subcultures that have been overly exploited in films over the years (Bikers, Hippies, Gangsters etc.) Beatniks never really got a whole lot of screen time, the only other film from the era that comes to mind would be Julian Roffman’s The Bloody Brood, featuring a young Peter Falk, also released in 1959. Corman and Griffith reportedly spent several evenings frequenting beatnik coffee bars and hangouts in doing research to make the characters as “authentic” as possible. 

Is A Bucket of Blood one of Corman’s best films? I suppose it depends on who you ask. What the film is to me, however, is 64 minutes of kooky fun. Like many of Corman’s early work, or just about any other wacky 1950’s horror/sci-fi/monster fare, it’s not exactly “terrifying” or even mildly disturbing, but a fun little flick for those who truly appreciate these films for what they are, and how they came to be. 

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