“Mark well this lad, his is the silent voice of creation.”
In Venice Beach, California Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a nerdy busboy who works at a beatnik hangout called “The Yellow Door”. Walter is a wanna be artist. He believes that is what girls are impressed by and, having little in the way of social skills, he needs a hook to try to impress the girls he is having difficulty talking to. He is impressed by the beatnik crowd and wants to fit in. One night, after being inspired by the poetry of one of the café’s regulars Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton), Walter goes home determined to create a sculpture. His inspiration is the face of the café’s hostess Carla (Barboura Morris).
As he is in the thrall of what he hopes is inspiration his thoughts are disrupted by the meowing of his landlady’s cat Frankie. After searching for the source of the meowing Walter finds that the cat somehow managed to get stuck inside the wall. He attempts to free the cat from its predicament but when trying to cut a hole in the wall he accidentally stabs the cat with an ice pick, killing it. Befuddled as to what to do, Walter covers the cat with clay, ice pick and all. The result is a sculpture, of sort, of a cat with an ice pick sticking out of it.
The next day Walter takes his “sculpture” to The Yellow Door. Carla is suitably impressed and convinces Leonard (Anthony Carbone), the owner of the café, to display the artwork. The sculpture “Dead Cat” is a hit. Walter is now all the rage and is fawned over by all the other beatniks. Now the art world is clamoring for his next great “work of art”. The old adage “Be careful what you ask for” is proven portentous. Walter has what he asked for, but it has come with a price. To satisfy his growing fan base Walter begins a trip down the rabbit hole that entangles him in the dark world of a serial killer.
“A Bucket of Blood” was released in 1959 and was produced and directed by Roger Corman. It is a black comedy that was filmed over 5 days with a budget of $50,000. The movie has been referred to as a “Mystery of the Wax Museum” with beatniks. The Bohemian aspect added texture. That plus the black humor, gives “A Bucket of Blood” its own uniqueness. The movie is a quick 66 minutes long and packs in quite a lot, especially considering the budget and time constraints that Roger had to work with.
There have been differences of opinion on the production values. Some say that, had there been more money invested in the film, it could have been a better and far more impressive movie. Even a great movie. Others believe that the lack of production values added to the satire aspect of the movie and that it is a better movie because of it. Either way, it is what it is, and Roger Corman managed to wave his magic wand and produce a classic.
Part of what makes “Bucket of Blood” so good is Dick Miller. Quite often schlubs are portrayed as simple minded and one sided. Miller brings much more to the character of Walter. He brings depth and, to some extent, warmth to poor Walter. You feel sorry for him, even when he gets over his head and does horrendous things.
I also liked the names that Walter gave to his artwork. Short, simple and more to the point than his fellow artists realize. “Dead Cat”, “Murdered Man”.