A Bucket of Blood is my favorite film directed by Roger Corman. It’s been that way ever since I saw it for the first a number of years back. Like most things in my life I first heard about A Bucket of Blood thanks to “The Simpsons.” Perhaps you’ve seen the episode entitled ‘Mom & Pop Art.’ Homer becomes an artist after failing to properly assemble a grill. There is a scene in which Homer channels his anger to help create art. This scene is a reference to A Bucket of Blood, which of course I didn’t know at the time, but later learned from a commentary on the episode. Naturally this caused me to seek the film out and it quickly became one of my favorites.
The film itself is pretty easy to find. It’s public domain so it has been released a billion times on DVD. The problem is that a lot of those releases leave a lot to be desired. Thankfully The Film Detective has come along and given this little masterpiece it’s first ever Blu-ray release! Hooray!
Now, how about we discuss the actually movie?
Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a busboy working at The Yellow Door, a bohemian café frequented by beatniks. Walter is extremely awkward socially but he desperately wants to fit in with the hip crowd. After being inspired by the spoken word poetry of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton), one of the café’s regular patrons, Walter heads home that night with a mission – to create a sculpture of the face of the café hostess Carla (Barboura Morris).
As Walter feverishly works on his sculpture, he is disrupted by the meowing of Frankie, his landlady’s cat. Walter soon discovers that poor Frankie has somehow gotten trapped himself inside Walter’s wall. In attempt to free Frankie by cutting a whole in the wall, Walter accidently stabs and kills him. Scared and unsure of what to do, Walter covers the dead cat with clay.
The next day Walter takes the cat into The Yellow Door. His boss Leonard (Anthony Carbone) is less than pleased, casting aside the cat as an odd morbid piece. Carla, on the other hand, loves it and convinces Leonard to display it in the café. Walter quickly becomes all the rage amongst the artists and poets at The Yellow Door and starts receiving requests for more sculptures. To deliver the goods, Walter heads down a murderous path.
With this effort Corman decided to mix it up a bit. While Corman’s earlier work certainly had its fair share of laughs and funny moments, A Bucket of Blood was his first venture into more of a straight comedy. Corman cleverly spoofs his own horror films in what I think is just a brilliant dark satire.
Shot over a mere 5 days with a $50,000 budget, A Bucket of Blood is quite the achievement and the perfect example of low budget filmmaking done right. Working with a small budget and little time, Corman and writer Charles B. Griffith were smart to avoid making a straight horror film and instead taking a more comedic approach. This allows the cheesiness of the statues Walter makes out of dead bodies passable.
In Beverly Gray’s Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, Dick Miller was quoted as being quite displeased with the film’s prodcution values.
“If they’d had more money to put into the production so we didn’t have to use mannequins for the statues, if we didn’t have to shoot the last scene with me hanging with just some gray makeup on because they didn’t have time to put the plaster on me, this could have been a very classic little film,” Miller said. “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 has a point to a degree, but I can’t fully back what he said. For one, I do think A Bucket of Blood is a classic little film. I mean I’ve already said I think its Corman’s best work ever and I fully stand by that. A big reason for that is the way the film holds up. Yes, some of the production values may be weak, but the story and the satire is just as good now as it was back in the 50’s. Replace beatniks with hipsters and bam, it’s all still relevant!
I also think you could make a case that the poor production values as actually help the satire. The sculptures Walter make look terrible. Like really, really, really bad. Despite this obvious fact everyone is highly impressed with the realism of his work. It’s just like when you go to an art museum and you see something that either looks incredible simple, like a painting of an all red background with a black line running down the middle, or you see something that just doesn’t look good but all the artist-types are super impressed with it. Walter’s bad sculptures do a good job poking fun at that aspect of the art scene.
With that all being said, and even with how much I love this movie, a bigger budget remake of A Bucket of Blood could be really good. You could take out some of the ha-ha funny and go with a much darker, morbid approach. Showtime did actually remake the film in 1995 with Anthony Michael Hall in the lead role. It’s possible that film goes that route with it, but I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t really comment on that.
Miller’s comments nailed everything else about the film. The story, humor and especially the acting are all superb. Miller really shines in what I consider to be his best performance. You really feel for Walter who seems to have had a rough go of it. He just wants to be accepted by this group of people that he’s respected and admired for so long. He’s been the butt of their jokes for so long that when he stumbles across something that allows for that acceptance he runs with it. On the surface you may not pick up on this, but Walter Paisley is quite relatable.
I’m really happy The Film Detective released this on Blu-ray. It’s a bare bones disc which I’ll admit is a bit of a bummer, but the picture looks great and at the end of the day that’s what counts. Plus the price is right as the film is available for around $13 from Best Buy and about $15 from Amazon. At those prices you can’t afford not to own this!
A Bucket of Blood is now available on Blu-ray from The Film Detective.