DAY 11. THE OLD WAY. Watch a classic from 1959 or before.
A Bucket of Blood aspires to art as much as it does junk. Written by Charles B. Griffith, whose name you can associate with films as disparate as Smokey Bites the Dust, Barbarella and Death Race 2000, it’s a tale of trying to figure out how to create art when all you can do is repeat words and images. Maybe that’s what art really is.
Roger Corman himself directed this one, shot in five days for $50,000. But hey — AIP wanted a horror film and had sets left over from Diary of a High School Bride. The same set would also be used for The Little Shop of Horrors.
We start by hearing the beat poetry of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton, The Masque of the Red Death) at The Yellow Door cafe. People only know when to clap when they’re told, as the people he decries as sheep really live up to it. But it’s art, baby.
Busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) yearns to be part of this hip crowd and wants to win the heart of Carla (Barboura Morris, The Trip), a friendly hostess at the club. As he fails to make her a sculpture, his landlady’s cat Frankie (Myrtle Vail plays the snooping older woman; she’s actually Griffith’s grandmother) gets stuck in the wall. He tries to cut it out of the wall, but ends up killing the cat. So he does what any of us would: he covers it in clay, sticks a knife in it and calls it art.
The next morning, Walter’s boss Leonard (Antony Carbone, Creature from the Haunted Sea) makes fun of the morbid art, but Carla loves it. So up it goes, on display, where the beatniks all fall in love with it. One of those crazy cats named Naolia gives him some heroin to remember her by, but Walter has no idea what it is.
As he’s followed home by undercover cop and total fink Lou Raby (Bert Convy!), he’s told he’s going to be arrested for possession. He panics and hits Lou with a frying pan, giving him another piece of art called “Murdered Man” for everyone to fall in love with. But the secret’s soon to get out, as Leonard sees fur sticking out of his “Dead Cat” piece.
Walter is now the king of the artistic set, except for Alice (Judy Bamber, Dragstrip Girl), a model who is pretty much disliked by everyone. Walter asks her to be in his model and she agrees, only to be strangled and turned into his next art object. The results so impress Brock that he throws a party for Walter, who drunkenly beheads someone directly after and shows the results to his boss.
This has to end like all wax-related films. Walter finally feels enough self-worth to propose to Carla, who rejects him and soon learns that the sculptures are really human bodies covered in wax. Everyone chases him home, where he makes his last piece of art from himself — the “Hanged Man.”
Dick Miller said of the film — in the book Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers — “The story was good; the acting was good; the humor in it was good; the timing was right; everything about it was right. But they didn’t have any money for production values … and it suffered.”
Miller would go on to play a character named Walter Paisley in the films Hollywood Boulevard, The Howling, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Chopping Mall, Night of the Creeps, Shake, Rattle and Rock!, Rebel Highway, The Adventures of Biffle and Shoosterror and Schmo Boat.
The movie was remade in 1995 as part of the Roger Corman Presents series on Showtime. While never available on DVD, it was released as The Death Artist on VHS. It adds perhaps the one thing missing from the original: Paul Bartel. He and Mink Stole play a rich couple looking for new artists. Walter is played by Anthony Michael Hall, Carla by Justine Bateman, Shadoe Stevens is Maxwell and Sam Lloyd is Leonard. Taking place in a cappuccino bar, it also features Will Ferrell and David Cross in some of their first roles.
If you want to see this, I recommend the Olive Films Signature Edition, made to commemorate the film’s 60th anniversary. It comes complete with a new 4K scan of the film, short docs on Corman and Dick Miller, commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of the documentary That Guy Dick Miller as well as an interview with Griffith, a rare prologue from the German release and even a digest version of the film that was released on Super 8!
Much like their release of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that came out earlier this year, this is another great release from Olive.