BLU-RAY REVIEW: A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)
Not really being a big fan of my horror mixed with comedy (or comedy really in general), the black comedy horror film A BUCKET OF BLOOD is a film that really is an exception to the norm for me. The story of a dimwitted busboy, Walter Paisley (Dick Miller, GREMLINS ), who after hearing a poet speak during a spoken word at the beatnik cafe he works at decides to go home and sculpt his own masterpiece. While attempting to
sculpt a bust of the cute hostess Carla (Barboura Morris, THE WASP WOMAN), the incessant purring and whining of his landlord’s cat drives him to anger and he stabs at the plaster wall where he hears the cat’s whining, believing the cat to have gotten stuck inside the wall, and accidentally stabs and kills the cat.
Dick Miller, a favorite of director/producer Roger Corman has been cast in loads of films made by Corman, many of them low-budget or exploitation/horror fare. The fact that Miller was not only cast but had the starring role in A BUCKET OF BLOOD was something new for him. He usually just played smaller characters with bit roles or smaller supporting roles. Miller is well-remembered as the flower-eating Burson Fouch in Corman’s THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
While falling into depression and a nap, the words of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) linger in his (Miller’s) head and he covers the dead body of the cat in clay and passes it off as an actual sculpture (knife still in body), one of which all the regular beatniks and artists praise and admire him for. Walter finally gets some respect and admiration from the group of would-be and wanna be artists. With the approval of Maxwell Brock, Walter has attained celebrity status within the cafe.
Inspired to make more sculptures, Walter continues to kill more because he can’t really sculpt anything without it being dead and covered in plaster. Throughout the course of the film, more and more people lay victim to Walter’s anger and lack of intelligence. When an undercover cop tried to bust Walter for accepting some drugs from an insane fan of Walter’s dead cat statue, Walter freaks out against the cop once the officer draws his gun and ends up killing him. This begins the deadly cycle of murder and art for Walter Paisley.
The film was directed by exploitation master Roger Corman (IT CONQUERED THE WORLD), who worked on the screenplay with writer Charles B. Griffith (DEATHRACE 2000). A BUCKET OF BLOOD was the first of three collaborations in the comedy genre that Corman made with Griffith, which also included THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA. A BUCKET OF BLOOD was Corman’s first foray into the comedy genre. The comedy within is black, but the cast play their characters straight throughout, which makes the satire within the film that much more effective.
While I watched the film, I noticed the beatniks and the art scene within the cafe and the portrayal of characters by the actors within the film to be over the top in their portrayals. I almost had difficulty distinguishing between the elements of humor within characters and how artists and beatniks really do act. I find many artists to be so viscerally abstract and passionate about their artform that the characters Corman and Griffith wrote seemed authentic to me.
Dick Miller shines and carries this whole film as the lead, his weak-minded and dimwitted nature evolving into the strong-willed and confident artist, which quickly is shattered when he meets the platinum blonde with a knockout figure Alice (Judy Bamber, DRAGSTRIP GIRL), who ridicules and demoralizes him by treating him just like the busboy he was only a day ago. This fuels his drive even further and gets him even more motivated to continue making his “murder art”.
The rest of the cast’s performances are at the top of their games, in both quality and believability, and for a film with such a barebones budget, Corman really got the most out of his cast and crew. Although there are some quotes from interviews where Dick Miller was somewhat aggravated that the poor budget did detract somewhat from the film, a film in which Miller feels that the film was hurt by using mannequins for the sculpted bodies of art and a scene at the very end, he felt that “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.”
Regardless of the budget, I feel the film is a classic and Dick Miller shines bright within the film. Other notable performances were Antony Carbone’s (CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA) portrayal of Leonard De Santis, Julian Burton’s characterization of Maxwell H. Brock, and Barboura Morris’ performance as Carla. With a runtime of only 66 minutes, A BUCKET OF BLOOD fleshes the story out nicely and almost does not feel like the film is as short as it is.
Another film in the public domain, there are countless editions and versions of this film and many of them are either on dvd or vhs. The blu-ray edition of this film of which I am reviewing is another restored classic from THE FILM DETECTIVE, with no extra features of sort except for subtitles but the print looks excellent and the sound is terrific. I first viewed A BUCKET OF BLOOD on the big screen at the Music Box Theater in Chicago and with each and every viewing the film never has lost its charm or distinctive character. It ranks highly as one of my favorite dark comedy films of all time.
The blu-ray has an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, has Dolby Digital sound, and comes with English subtitles. The blu-ray retails for $14.99 and can be found directly here at THE FILM DETECTIVE’s shop on their website.