“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”— A Cult Classic

“A BUCKET OF BLOOD”

A Cult Classic

Amos Lassen

In honor of its 60th anniversary, Olive Films is releasing a Signature edition of “A Bucket of Blood” celebrates the film’s enduring legacy. The film was shot in five days on a shoestring budget of $50,000, yet it remains one of the most iconic collaborations between Roger Corman and Dick Miller, and has earned “cult classic” status. 

“A Bucket of Blood” is the first of Roger Corman’s black and white, black humor trilogy of horror films (the others are “The Little Shop of Horrors” and “Creature from the Haunted Sea”.  Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a dimwitted busboy at The Yellow Door, a Bohemian café that is frequented by beat poets, hopeful musicians, arrogant wannabes and aspiring artists. Walter would like to be on of this “in” crowd and has hopes of getting a pretty patron named Carla (Barbara Mouris) to fall for him.

In his one room apartment, Walter frustratingly molds a mountain of clay but has no sculpting ability. His landlord’s cat just happens to be stuck behind his wall, and when Walter tries to free it by stabbing into the sheetrock, he kills it, and pulls the body, still impaled on the knife, out. He covers the dead animal with clay, and brings his “sculpture” to the coffeehouse, calling it “Dead Cat”. There is a lot of  much fanfare, with everyone interested in his work and wanting to see more. Even his greedy boss, Leonard (Antony Carbone) sees the potential when a wealthy art collector (Bruno Ve Sota,) offers a lot of money for the piece. When there’s demand for further works of arts, Walter hits a narcotics officer (Bert Convy) over the head with the rim of a frying pan, covering him with clay and calls his latest masterpiece, “Dead Man”. Soon, Walter becomes something of a sensation, but his fans want more sculptures and murder may be his only option if he intends to continue.

“A Bucket of Blood” works well not only as a horror film with black comedy tossed in, but as a satirical time capsule piece centered around the beatnik culture of the era. Most of the humor is in the beginning of the film. Miller went on to be one of the most recognizable character actors of all time but this is his only real starring role, and he’s quite marvelous as the timid underdog who does crazy things to impress a girl.

On the one hand, this is cheesy slapstick comedy but it’s also full of subtle observational humor, playing on a lurid premise to make vicious digs at the creative communities that its writer, director and stars had themselves inhabited. It’s not often that shrewd commentary on postmodern art and messy murders come together in a film, and one wouldn’t expect them to do so as neatly as this. The success of the film comes from the perfect balance between the talents contributing to it and Corman as an essentially an A-list director.

The film is beautifully shot in crisp black and white, and you can really appreciate on the new Blu ray restoration. Alongside the comedy, there are some truly chilling scenes. Everything is played absolutely straight and Miller is wonderful as Walter and he somehow manages to keep viewers rooting for him as he grows increasingly unhinged. Although there’s scarcely a likeable character in the film, there are plenty of interesting ones, which makes it easier to see them as human beings and connect, through the laughs, with the real ugliness of Walter’s actions (because to remain a success, he has to keep giving his fans something more).

Smart, playful and beautifully composed, this may not be the most famous of Corman’s works but it’s well worth rediscovering. It is a parody of the hipster art world and those who seek fame and fortune even though pretending to be hippies. Its satire cuts deeper into this bohemian world than most other films.

Roger Corman singlehandedly created his own genre hyphenate: the black-comedy-beatnik-culture-horror film.

OLIVE SIGNATURE FEATURES include:
 

  • Mastered from new 4K scan
  • “Creation Is. All Else is Not” – Roger Corman on “A Bucket of Blood”
  • “Call Me Paisley” – Dick and Lainie Miller on “A Bucket of Blood”
  • Audio commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of “That Guy Dick Miller”
  • Archival audio interview with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith 
  • “Bits of Bucket” – Visual essay comparing the original script to the finished film
  • Essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of “You Don’t Know Me, But You Love Me: The Lives of Dick Miller”
  • Rare prologue from German release
  • Super 8 “digest” version
  • Theatrical trailer
  • German theatrical trailer
  • Gallery of newly-discovered on-set photography

Leave a Reply