Home Video Hovel: A Bucket of Blood, by Alexander Miller
As long as there’s an art community, whether beatniks or hipsters, sport berets or truckers caps, a film like A Bucket of Blood will continue to be funny and relevant. The fact that it’s aged so well is proof that Corman is more than just a B movie guru; he’s also a perceptive director with a keen sense of social irony. This early Corman film (as director) might be my personal favorite. The drive-in monsters are fun and the Poe films are indisputably great, but as far as his intentionally funny efforts are concerned, A Bucket of Blood is hard to top.
Charles B. Griffith and Corman (who conceived the story and wrote the script in one day) deliver the requisite gaudy sexuality and violence for a B-movie. The film is clever enough to be on par with something by the Wilder/Diamond collaboration and the direction succinct and effective. The dialogue (something that usually suffers in B-films) is witty and at times downright hilarious.
Corman stalwart Dick Miller stars as Walter Paisley, a naive busboy at the Yellow Door Cafe, which is populated with starving artists, hungry poets, dozy painters and all other types of cooler-than-thou beatniks. Paisley yearns to be a part of of the in crowd. Only when he accidentally kills his neighbor’s cat and covers it in plaster does he achieve any acclaim, passing it off as an original sculpture aptly named “Dead Cat”. Of course, in the tradition of ill-gotten fame, Paisley’s world is further complicated when life imitates art, imitates life, thus resulting in murder. The dimwitted busboy grows from a curiosity to local hero in his circle of arty poseurs when his sculptures evolve from “Dead Cat” to “Murdered Man”. If the first piece turns out to be an actual dead cat underneath a layer of plaster, you can figure what the latter is going to reveal.
Once Paisley is the darling of the art community, he dons the beret and cigarette holder, waving his “zen stick” so he can order his papaya cheesecake and Yugoslavian white wine. Miller’s swaggering is such a fitting means of expressing the satirical tone of the film it honestly feels ahead of it’s time. Paisley’s manager, after declaring him an artist immediately afterwards, orders him to scrub garbages cans with an added “mach schnell” for motivation, and the very-thinly-veiled Alan Ginsberg parody embodied by the seething poet Maxwell Brock who refuses to say anything twice because “repetition is death.” This only scratches the surface of the many moments of laugh out loud wordplay. Given that it’s only 66 minutes, it’s remarkable how well this movie juggles its comedic and macabre story, A Bucket of Blood is indeed a loaded film. However, the economic direction pace the film out where the narrative doesn’t miss a beat nor does it lag or take shortcuts.
With its satire aimed at the more youthful art crowd, one might think it’s the product of an out-of-touch curmudgeon. Of course the opposite is true, and Corman and Griffith know when to pull their punches when jabbing the counterculture throughout A Bucket of Blood. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t just a satirical farce; Miller’s dimwitted naivete gradually mutates into a demented fixation as his sculptures take a more “daring,” homicidal approach to his work. His conversion from busboy to murderer places makes his sinister compulsions into a category recalling Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Henry Jarod, (House of Wax) and a hint of Norman Bates. You could throw a few more names in there, but that just proves how unspecific and original this material is.
While his filmography is monstrous, some Corman’s titles deserve standalone releases (not a part of the “50 Horror Movie Classics” grab bag you often see at department stores) and A Bucket of Blood is certainly one of them. This latest Blu-ray is crisp, the sound is touched up which (along with the picture) is a godsend after wading through years of poor public domain transfers and the original poster art on the cover is an added plus. An audio commentary would be nice but the important thing is that the film got the love it deserves by The Film Detective. It looks like this is an early Blu-ray release for them, and I hope we can see more titles like A Bucket of Blood in the future.
I feel like this film is special not for the sheer audacity and twisted humor (which is wonderful) but it does in a way reflect Corman’s subsequent career in Hollywood. Sure, he could have delivered artistically challenging movies; with the skill he exhibits in his Poe films, we all know he’s capable of it, but we can be grateful that he preferred to fill the screen with car chases, bikers, monsters and X-ray eyes. He could have just covered a dead cat with clay and called it art, but this film is evidence that he knew better. Corman’s art was in the trade of filmmaking. This not only led him to becoming the most profitable man in the business; his studio ended up schooling an entire generation of filmmakers that would change the scope of filmmaking.