A Bucket of Blood is a 1959 comedy horror film directed by Roger Corman and starring Dick Miller. The film, produced on a $50,000 budget, was shot in five days, and shares many of the low-budget filmmaking aesthetics commonly associated with Corman’s work. Written by Charles B. Griffith, the film is a dark comic satire about a socially awkward young busboy at a Bohemian café who is acclaimed as a brilliant sculptor when he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat and covers its body in clay to hide the evidence. When he is pressured to create similar work, he becomes murderous.
A Bucket of Blood was the first of three collaborations between Corman and Griffith in the comedy genre, followed by The Little Shop of Horrors and Creature from the Haunted Sea. Corman had made no previous attempt at the genre, although past and future Corman productions in other genres incorporated comedic elements. The film works as a satire not only of Corman’s own films, but also of the art world and teen films of the 1950s. The plot has similarities to Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). However, by setting the story in the Beat milieu of 1950s Southern California, Corman creates an entirely different mood from the earlier film.
A Bucket of Blood was remade in 1995 as a made-for-television film for the Showtime network. The character name of Walter Paisley has been adapted by actor Dick Miller as an in-joke in productions such as The Howling and Shake, Rattle and Rock!, which credit otherwise unrelated characters played by Miller under the character name.
One night after hearing the words of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton), a poet who performs at a café called The Yellow Door, socially awkward busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) returns home to attempt to create a sculpture, in the face of Carla (Barboura Morris), a girl frequently hanging out where he works that he has a crush on. As much as he tries, he cannot form the clay to resemble a human face. He stops when he hears the meowing of Frankie, the cat owned by his inquisitive landlady, Mrs. Surchart (Myrtle Vail), who has somehow gotten himself stuck in Walter’s wall. Walter attempts to get Frankie out using a knife, but accidentally kills Frankie when he sticks the knife into his wall. Disgusted with himself, Walter cries himself to sleep and hears the poetry of Brock pour through his tormented mind, giving him a radical inspiration. Instead of giving Frankie a proper burial, Walter covers the cat in clay, even leaving the knife stuck in it.
The next morning, Walter shows the cat to Carla and his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone). Though Leonard is dismissive of the oddly morbid piece, Carla is enthusiastic about the work, and the piece goes on display in the café, where Walter gets newfound respect from the beatniks and poets who hang out in the café. He is approached by an adoring fan, Naolia (Jhean Burton), who gives him a vial of heroin to remember her by. Not knowing what it is, he sticks it in his pocket, and is followed home by Lou Raby (Bert Convy), an undercover cop. Lou attempts to intimidate him into confessing being a narcotics mule by brandishing his gun. When Lou attempts to arrest Walter, Walter in a blind panic accidentally smashes his frying pan into Lou’s head. The fracas alerts his landlady and Walter fast talks her out of the apartment as he tearfully tries to hide the body. Meanwhile, Walter’s boss finds out the secret behind Walter’s “Dead Cat” piece. The next morning, Walter uneasily works while plainclothes police case the coffeehouse, much to the chagrin of the stoners and barflies. Leonard starts sarcastically praising Walter until Carla and the others come to his defense. Walter haltingly tells them he has a whole new piece, which he calls “Murdered Man.” Knowing Walter’s secret, Leonard is horrified. While attempting to call the police, Leonard is approached by an art collector who offers him $500 for “Dead Cat,” and so, he hangs up the phone. Both Leonard and Carla come with Walter as he unveils his latest work and are simultaneously amazed and appalled at the sight of it. Walter is very uneasy as well but his mood improves as Carla critiques it as “hideous and eloquent” and deserving of a public exhibition. Leonard is aghast at the idea, even as he realizes the potential for wealth if he plays this right. He and Carla quarrel over giving Walter a show, a prospect that delights the simpleton, especially as Leonard gives him a paltry cash advance to keep quiet. Once they leave, Walter gleefully shows off the statue to his horrified landlady.
The next night, Walter is treated like a king by pretty much everyone, except for Alice (Judy Bamber), who has been out of town for the last few nights. Despite being pinup gorgeous and pop-culturally savvy for the time, it is clear she is not very much liked. Seeing Walter at the table with Brock, she wonders what the busboy is doing sitting with them. As Brock explains that a great artist is in their midst, Alice goes mercenary and preens a bit at Walter, declaring her fee outright. Leonard tries to interdict any notion of him doing more figure work, even despite Carla’s insistence. The stoners put their two cents in and eventually the bristling Alice escalates the conversation into an argument that seriously angers Walter and he leaves in a huff.
Walter later follows her home, trying to apologize and getting the door slammed in his face. His reaction is one of seething rage but he calms down and persists, explaining that he wants her to be his model and is willing to pay her price. At that notion, she is all ears and eager to work. At Walter’s apartment, Alice strips nude off camera, and poses in a chair. Walter suggests she put back on her scarf and, in a pretense of adjusting it to look right, uses it to strangle her. The latest work is brought to Brock’s house, where the gang is gathered for a sumptuous organic breakfast. Once unveiled, the statue of Alice renders them awestruck and Carla is so pleased that she kisses Walter on the lips. Brock is so impressed, he throws a party at the Yellow Door in Walter’s honor. Costumed as a carnival fool, Walter is wined and dined to excess. Leonard keeps an eye on him, worried that he will make some mistake that will blow this deal. Brock composes a poem especially for Walter that provides him more twisted inspiration.
In the middle of 1959, American International Pictures approached Roger Corman to direct a horror film, but only gave Corman a $50,000 budget, and a five-day shooting schedule. Corman accepted the challenge, but was uninterested in producing a straightfoward horror film. Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith developed the idea for producing a satirical black comedy horror film about the beatnik culture. Corman and Griffith proceeded to research the film at various coffeehouses along the Sunset Strip, developing the film’s plot structure by the evening’s end, partially basing the film’s story upon Mystery of the Wax Museum.
The film was shot under the title The Living Dead. According to actor Antony Carbone, “[The production] had a kind of spirit of ‘having fun,’ and I think [Corman] realized that while making the film. And I feel it helped him in other films he made, like [The Little Shop of Horrors]—he carried that Bucket of Blood ‘idea’ into that next film.” Actor Dick Miller was unhappy with the film’s low production values. Miller is quoted by Beverly Gray as stating that “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. 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.”
American International Pictures’ theatrical marketing campaign emphasized the comedic aspects of the film’s plot, proclaiming that the audience would be “sick, sick, sick—from laughing!” The film’s poster consists of a series of comic strip panels humorously hinting at the film’s horror content. When Corman found that the film “worked well,” he continued to direct two more comedic films scripted by Griffith, The Little Shop of Horrors, a farce, and Creature from the Haunted Sea, a parody of the monster movie genre.
The film is in the public domain and has been widely distributed on home video from various companies. The film’s negative was acquired by MGM Home Entertainment upon the company’s purchase of Orion Pictures, which had owned the AIP catalog. MGM released A Bucket of Blood on VHS and DVD in 2000. MGM re-released the film as part of a box set with seven other Corman productions in 2007. However, the box set featured the same menus and transfer as MGM’s previous edition of the film.
Cast – in credits order (verified as complete)
Dick Miller … Walter Paisley
Barboura Morris … Carla
Antony Carbone … Leonard de Santis
Julian Burton … Maxwell H. Brock
Ed Nelson … Art Lacroix
John Brinkley … Will
John Shaner … Oscar
Judy Bamber … Alice
Myrtle Damerel … Mrs. Swickert
Burt Convy … Lou Raby
Bob Mark was the makeup artist for the film. He also did the makeup for many, many films and TV shows like Lost in Space, Angel and the Badman and Rio Grande
Source(s): Wikipedia, IMDB