A Bucket of Blood (1959)
A BUCKET OF BLOOD
WRITER: Charles B. Griffith
DIRECTOR: Roger Corman
STARRING: Dick Miller as Walter Paisley
Barboura Morris as Carla
Antony Carbone as Leonard de Santis
Julian Burton as Maxwell H. Brock
Ed Nelson as Art Lacroix
Judy Bamber as Alice
Myrtle Damerel as Mrs. Swicket
Burt Convy as Lou Raby
Lynne Storey as Sylvia
QUICK CUT: A struggling artist struggles no more when he discovers you can make very life-like creations...through murder.
Walter - Our star, who spends most of his life trying to make ends meet as a lowly busboy at the local beatnik coffee shop. He watches talented artists and poets all day long, and longs to be one himself, but fails miserably until inspiration hits his landlady's cat.
THE GUTS: Bucket pours out of the gate with an opening monologue of hilarious beat poetry. It is the most unique thing I've seen over opening credits in awhile, and I am not sure if this is supposed to be legit beat poetry, someone's wrong idea of beat poetry, or a hysterical send up of beat poetry.
Whatever it is, it is deep, deep gibberish, man.
The beatnik coffee house is under watch by the cops, which we find out when one of them phones home his latest findings, which are pretty much jack and shit. But we'll need those cops later when the bodies hit the floor.
Eventually we get to meet our lead, Walter, slinging mud and talking with the patrons, including the poet from the credits. And the guy is just as hilariously over the top when he's not being poetic and just having a cup of joe.
As Walter wanders around the place, we learn that he's also a frustrated, lonely artist. Which probably means he'll be a big hit after he dies, if history is anything to go by.
Walter heads home and his landlady asks him if he's seen her cat, which ends up being a plot point when Walter hears the cat's incessant mewling while trying to sculpt something. The cat somehow got stuck in the walls, and it is driving Walter crazy.
Tired of listening to the Telltale Meow, Walter decides to help the cat out by uh...grabbing a knife and stabbing the wall. I'm sure he meant to cut a hole there, but all he seems to have done is killed the cat. He stopped the noise at least, right folks? Somehow, this plan seems ill conceived.
Walter wakes up the next day to the sounds of the beat poet. No, wait. It's just the voices in Walter's head. That is SO much better.
He tries to go back to his sculpting, but doesn't get very far when he gets the idea to cover the cat itself in clay and plaster, to make his 'sculpture'. Because that's what you do, right?
Walter takes the dead cat with him to work to try and sell it, cleverly calling the sculpture Dead Cat, and the owner decides he'll try and sell it. Heck, it can't be any worse than the mud he serves people. The best part, without a doubt, is that Walter left the knife jabbed into the side of poor Frankie.
The cat is a big hit, and so is Walter, and this is mildly disturbing. I do not get art, sometimes. And I really don't get beatniks. Walter's brilliance ends up causing such a commotion that nothing else is getting done at the Yellow Door, so the boss sends Walter home to make another cat.
Because he's now a true artist, the ladies are all over Walter. He tries to escape the advances of one, but she is most persistant. And the look of bemusement on the face of the undercover cop at poor Walter's sudden fame is great.
The woman gives Walter something and he heads home, followed by Lou the cop. He's just about to make his latest sculpture...er, wait, no. Just pancakes. He's just about to make pancakes when Lou knocks and asks about the gift the girl gave him.
It seems that what she passed along to Walter was heroin, which baffles the poor guy, because he's never seen it before, which is no good when you have a cop practically interrogating you about illegal narcotics.
Lou tries to arrest Walter, and he freaks out. He didn't knowingly do anything wrong, and that would be cleared up at the station, but Lou foolishly pulls out his gun to threaten Walter and make him come along.
Walter spazzes and cracks Lou over the head with what may be the most unique weapon I've seen since a corn cob killed a man; a pancake pan.
The landlady comes by hearing all the racket and barges in, but not before Walter somehow has managed to shove Lou's body in the ceiling, or something. I dunno how he managed that, considering how small and weasley this dude is.
He couldn't manage to shove Lou's arm up there though, and the dead body's busy dripping all over the floor. So, Walter takes care of it like you would a leaky roof, and catches the blood...in a bucket. And we have our title! From a minor bit of business. This has no further bearing on anything else in the film.
As Walter cleans up, he starts rambling to himself, and hits on the idea that Lou would make a great second sculpture. Okay, the first cat was an accident, and almost understandable to try and hide it, but I am starting to worry about the guy now!
While another undercover cop tries to find Lou, and calls in some help, the boss at the Yellow Door is closing up and accidentally knocks over Walter's cat, and sees what's inside. And it's not candy.
Leonard confronts Walter the next day, teasing him about the cat, and asking what he's got up his sleeve next. Walter says he has something, something he calls The Murdered Man. Dude, when the cops are around looking for the guy you killed, best not to name the statue you turned him into something like that!
The boss freaks out, because he's not some beatnik idiot, and tries to call the cops when a patron comes over trying to buy the cat, offering up to 500 bucks for it. Funny, how a wad of cash turns someone's opinions right around, huh?
Walter takes Leonard and a girl back to his apartment to show them the statue. He yanks off the sheet and both of them looked shocked at what they see. The girl is shocked because it's so good, so lifelike, a real masterpiece. Leonard, well. He's about ready to collapse because he knows exactly what - and who! - he's looking at. It's a good scene with good, different acting between the two characters.
They suggest Walter do a whole showing of his art, and I do not see Leonard's incentive here to encourage him. He does at least try and nudge him towards more freeform modes of expression, but now that Walter has carved out his niche, that doesn't seem likely. Telling the guy he can have a show once he has more statues, AND paying him for Dead Cat, AND promising more money, just seems to send the wrong mixed messages, doesn't it?
Walter comes back to the Yellow Door, no longer as a busboy, but as one of the respected beatnik artists. And he flaunts his new status for all to see. The poet from the start shows him way more respect than before, as do many others. Amazing what just a shift in perception does, eh?
A girl who works as a model, and no one can stand, offers herself up to Walter, and the boss intervenes before that goes too far. He keeps trying to nudge Walter to just do freeform sculptures, but Maxwell the poet gets angry at the man trying to stifle the creativity.
Walter was tempted by her, since no one likes her, but another girl offers to model for free. Carla's actually a nice girl though, and Walter can't bring himself to do it, no matter the money he'd save by switching.
The other girl no one can stand keeps taunting Walter, so yeah, when she heads home, Walter follows her. This is not how inspiration works, people.
He somehow convinces her to come back to his place after appearing on her doorstep all stalker like. She gets naked, except for a scarf he has her put around her neck. Oh, and he uses to strangle her.
Walter shows his work off to Maxwell and friends, and they are suitably impressed by his work. I am too, considering he somehow got her hair sculpted perfectly and with detail, but I digress. Max decides to throw a party in Walter's honour, which I am sure Leonard will not be happy about, considering the party comes with more sculptures.
There's a line in here, while Walter is celebrating, that really gets to the core of his character. He's off talking with someone else, and Maxwell cries out that he's being ignored. Walter shakes it off and says he'd never ignore Max, he knows what it's like to be ignored. And there we go. He's loving this attention, he craves it, and that's what is driving him, what drives many of us really, but Walter has taken it to such extremes, all in the name of attention. It is so deep, and such a simple idea, and put across beautifully.
After the party, Walter stumbles home, wondering what he's really going to do next. He gave a big speech about his plans, but I hope he's not gonna make statues out of movie stars and the mayor.
On his way home, he happens upon some poor guy doing some back alley carpentry. No, really. He stumbles on a guy cutting wood on a table saw, in the middle of the night. I guess they had the saw and were going to use it, by damn!
Walter shows off his new sculpture to Leonard, just as a paperboy is yelling about the factory murder. At least Walter is showing some creativity by not doing whole figures all the time! ...Right?
Leonard tries again to talk Walter out of sculpting, but instead shifts into saying it's time to put on his show. Well, that's...another mixed signal, I guess.
Carla walks Walter to the party, and oops, it looks like he's been receiving mixed signals from her too. He thought she liked him, and he starts admitting his feelings, and you can just watch the situation become ever more awkward. And now that he's been rejected, he asks her to make a statue of her. Dude just cannot handle the friendzone.
Fortunately for Carla, she's looking at Walter's work, and the doofus did a crap job on Alice, didn't cover her up completely, and left a finger exposed. You'd think that would have been noticed earlier, but I guess skin is the same colour as clay in black and white films.
As she runs away and Walter chases her, one of the patrons, the other cop I think, recognises Lou. He grabs a chair and smashes it over the statue, revealing the truth for all to see.
With everyone chasing Walter as he chases Carla, everyone ends up at the factory where he killed the other guy with the saw. I assume. It sure looks the same, and they probably couldn't afford any other sets. And as Walter stumbles through the lumber, he starts to hear the voices of the people he's killed. A nice touch, and a classic one, echoing back to the meowing he couldn't escape, and Poe, naturally.
The voices culminate as he reaches his apartment, and his pursuers aren't far behind. Walter does the only thing he can think of to avoid capture, and that is to hang himself. Although, he grabs a bunch of clay first. It would've been nicely poetic to have him end up a statue. Not really sure WHY he grabbed the clay, but whatever.
Corman tries to go that route by having someone called Walter's death, "Hanging Man" and "his greatest work" but it just doesn't quite come off the way it should.
Video: Not too great, but it's a black and white movie by Roger Corman, made in the 50s. I don't expect stunningly perfect transfers. But things are clear enough, thanks to the high contrast. If it was in colour, it would need work, but the gritty softness of the transfer almost works. Almost.
Audio: Not great, but you can make out most things. Again, it becomes soft, but it's a low budget production. What do you expect?
Sound Bite: Any and all of Max's beatnik poetry.
1 - Frankie the cat, stabbed in the wall.
2 - Lou gets a pancake pan to the head as the first real death, 24 minutes in.
3 - Alice, strangled by a scarf.
4 - Some poor schmuck runs afoul of Walter and a saw.
5 - Walter executionals himself with a noose.
Best Corpse: Lou was killed by a pancake pan. A pancake pan. You don't beat that easily.
Blood Type - F: There's very little, to no blood in this movie. I will say the sculpting is nice, though.
Sex Appeal: Alice gets naked, but you see nothing.
Movie Review: Hmm. It's clearly low budget, it's clearly a hallmark of Roger Corman. The story is simple. But as far as these things go? It could have been worse. It is at least coherent, if short. But it's not great, and full of holes. But hey, it meets the bare minimum requirements for a movie, three out of five buckets.
Entertainment Value: I gotta admit, and I almost hate to, but I found myself having a lot of fun with this. I've been rewatching Mystery Science Theater 3000 a lot lately, and this is just the sort of thing thet would have loved to do. And being in that wheelhouse, I just found I was having a good time. Walter is a lovable loser, and you feel for him despite him stumbling his way into being a sculptor...AND murderer. If you don't take this piece of fluff seriously, there is a lot of fun to be had. Yes, especially in the poetry. Now, there is a big problem here, and you might have picked up on it by now; this story is VERY VERY similar to Little Shop of Horrors, and that is no coincidence, I am sure. Both were made by Corman, and they even filmed on the same sets! So, similarities abound, although this is clearly less monster driven. But it's still fun, and has its own way of telling a similar story. For campy fun as only Corman can deliver, it gets a three out of five sawed off heads.