A Bucket of Blood

Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles B. Griffith
Stars: Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Barboura Morris (Carla), Antony Carbone (Leonard de Santis), Julian Burton (Maxwell H. Brock), Ed Nelson (Art Lacroix), John Brinkley (Will), John Shaner (Oscar), Judy Bamber (Alice), Myrtle Vail (Mrs. Swickert), Bert Convy (Lou Raby), Jhean Burton (Naolia), Bruno VeSota (Art Collector)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1959
Country: U.S.
A Bucket of Blood Olive Signature Blu-ray
A Bucket of Blood

Roger Corman produced and directed the delightfully macabre horror-comedy A Bucket of Blood during one of the most creative periods in the prolific low-budget auteur’s career. In the four years between 1955 (when he directed his first film) and 1959 (when A Bucket of Blood was released), he produced and directed nearly two dozen films in various genres (and of varying quality) , including the gangster film (I Mobster, Machine Gun Kelly), horror (Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Wasp Woman), and teen flicks (Sorority Girl, Rock All Night, Teenage Doll). Corman was always pushing himself to be more efficient and effective in his productions, and when he made A Bucket of Blood, his goal was to shoot the film in just five days.

Interestingly enough, despite its low budget and minimal production values, you wouldn’t guess that A Bucket of Blood was made quite that quickly, which is testament to both Corman’s proficiency in making the most of every opportunity and resource at his disposal and the fantastic central performance by Dick Miller, who was already a Corman veteran, having starred in 11 of his previous films (he would go on to star in 8 more on his way to racking up more than 150 screen credits during his six-decade career). Miller stars as Walter Paisley, a meek busboy at a beatnik coffee house, whose self-absorbed patrons barely pay him any notice while he pines to be taken seriously as an artist. One night, he accidentally kills the cat of his busybody landlady Mrs. Surchart (Myrtle Vail) while trying to cut the poor animals out of the wall where it has gotten stuck. In a moment of bizarre inspiration, he decides to cover the dead cat in clay and pass it off as a sculpture. The denizens of the coffee house are duly impressed by Walter’s “realist” artwork, particularly sweet-natured Carla (Barboura Morris, another Corman regular), after whom he pines with great earnestness. When he is followed home the next night by an undercover cop (Bert Convy) who wants to arrest him for heroin possession, Walter panics and kills him by splitting his head open with a frying pan. The same trick that worked on the dead cat works on the dead cop, and Walter has another gruesome “masterpiece” with which he can wow his new audience of adoring admirers.

Hooked on the adulation of others and his newfound place as a serious “artiste,” Walter can’t help but keep killing in order to create new artworks, strangling one woman and cutting off a man’s head with a table saw. What starts as desperation quickly morphs into premeditation, which makes A Bucket of Blood surprisingly complex since we both pity and loathe Walter as he changes from wimp to murderer (there is something in there to be said about the cruel nature of what it takes to get ahead in the world). The grisly nature of these murders certainly pushed the limit of screen representation in the late 1950s and helped pave the way for the increasingly gruesome depiction of bodily harm in horror movies, although Corman cleverly ameliorates the violence by keeping it just off-screen and then presenting the grisly results as Walter’s sculpture. Thus, even though we see a decapitated head and a man’s skull split open in gory detail, we are really just seeing the clay, rather than exposed flesh and bone. It also helps that the film is purposefully humorous in nature, an experiment of Corman’s that he would use in two subsequent films, Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and The Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961), both of which were also written by Charles B. Griffith, who scripted more than half of Corman’s first 25 films. Griffith was a quick writer and a quick wit who could find subversive humor and quirky nuance in the most ridiculous of scenarios, and in A Bucket of Blood you can really feel him channeling a Grand Guignol sensibility (the story would have been right at home on the turn-of-the-century Parisian stage).

Griffith’s decision to set the film within Southern California’s self-possessed beatnik culture—complete with heavily bearded word artists in black turtlenecks making pompous pronouncements like “I refuse to say anything twice. Repetition is death” amid an endless supply of coffee and cigarettes—gives it a delightfully absurd satirical edge. The fact that all these snooty, egotistical connoisseurs of modern art are so easily taken by dimwit-turned-madman Walter’s disguised murders (which, by any criterion, look lousy) points directly to the film’s true satirical target, which also helps to bolster its subversive, low-budget bona-fides. After all, what better way to undercut the worst of artistic pretensions than to do it with a slapdash movie produced in five days called A Bucket of Blood?

A Bucket of Blood Olive Signature Series Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of That Guy Dick Miller
  • “Creation Is. All Else is Not” video interview with director Roger Corman
  • “Call Me Paisley” video interview with Dick and Lainie Miller
  • Archival audio interview with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith
  • “Bits of Bucket” visual essay comparing the original script to the finished film
  • Rare prologue from German release
  • Super 8 “digest” version
  • Theatrical trailer
  • German theatrical trailer
  • Gallery of newly discovered on-set photography
  • Essay by Caelum Vatnsdal
  • DistributorOlive Films
    Release DateSeptember 24, 2019

    I have grown so accustomed to A Bucket of Blood looking like garbage on home video (so many mediocre public domain DVD releases, and even an MGM DVD looked bad and was presented in the wrong aspect ratio), that it is genuinely shocking to see it look so good on Olive Films’ Blu-ray. Mastered from a new 4K scan, Olive’s high-definition image looks dramatically different from previous home video releases, with a darker, but much more detail-rich presentation that brings out nuances in the image that have been lost in other transfers. The image is also very heavy on grain, but not in a way that detracts from the image, but rather enhances its low-budget celluloid origins. In other words, the image looks great—a real revelation. The soundtrack is presented in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio two-channel monaural mix that works fine for the film. Olive has also packed in a host of supplements, beginning with a highly enjoyable new audio commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of the 2014 feature documentary That Guy Dick Miller. Drenner dispenses a great deal of information about Miller and his unique career, and it is a genuinely enjoyable listen. We also get two video interview featurettes: “Creation Is. All Else is Not,” in which director Roger Corman reminisces about the film’s production, and “Call Me Paisley,” an interview with Dick Miller and his wife Lainie that was shot not long before his death in early 2019. We also get an archival audio interview with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith, who worked with Corman on numerous films in the 1950s and ’60s. Other supplements include “Bits of Bucket,” an intriguing visual essay that compares the original script to the finished film; a rare 10-minute prologue from the German release; an awful-looking Super 8 “digest” version of the film; a U.S. and a German theatrical trailer; and a gallery of newly discovered on-set photographs.

    Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Olive Films

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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