A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood is an oft-hilarious comic horror picture that satirizes beatnik culture and the affected art world. Corman made the flick for just $50,000 over five days, but he never wanted to make a frank horror movie. Along with screenwriter Charles B. Griffith, the director hit the coffee house circuit on the Sunset Strip and the vein began to gel.

A Bucket of Blood is largely marketed as a drive-in movie, but it’s so much more than that. Despite its pithy running time, Corman gets a whole lot done. The movie evaluates the idea of art methodically and roundly takes on the beatnik ethos, with riotous reams of freeform poetry emerging from the bristly beak of one Maxwell Brock (Julian Barton).

The film centres on Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a busboy at The Yellow Door – a sort of coffee bar and art gallery for the beatnik crowd. Poor Walter isn’t overly bright; he lives alone under the vigilant eye of his landlady (Myrtle Vail) and doesn’t have any life prospects. He clings to the edges of the beatnik culture at The Yellow Door, only to have his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone) frequently urge him back to work.

One day, Walter somehow kills a cat that got stuck in his wall. He decides to cover up his crime by covering the cat in clay, leaving the knife stuck in. Walter takes the cat to work and shows it off as a piece of art, capturing the attention of Carla (Barboura Morris) and other beatniks. Drunk on the attention, it isn’t long before Walter produces more piece of art – each one more morbid than the last.

Corman’s picture is adorably unusual, with Walter making no effort to hide the fact that he’s making art out of murder. And nobody asks questions. The beatniks are taken by a brand new face on the art scene, Carla is taken by Walter’s inventive mind (at least somewhat) and Leonard is taken by the amount of dough he can take in.

A Bucket of Blood is filled with humour, from the repetitive lifestyles of the repetition-loathing beatnik bard Brock to the fortuitous bump of the lamp by Walter when he first kills the kitty. There are other devious touches too, like the dropping of a dead man’s arm when Walter’s meddlesome landlady snoops around or the Fritz Lang-influenced chase sequence to close out the film.

Miller is fantastic as the impressionable Walter. He captures the notion of getting swept up into the world of the beatniks superbly, transforming himself from a meek dope to a showy jerk at first light of popularity. He is a piece of gullible clay in the hands of his influences and the ease with which he slips into a pool of murder and bloodshed makes for a captivating character study.

Despite being largely branded a B-movie maker, Corman was no slouch – creatively or otherwise. He studied Freud and plunged into the works of Edgar Allen Poe, creating art based on foundational ideas of human psychology. Whereas today’s B-movies are made with massive budgets and buckets of effects, Corman’s take proved refreshing, intelligent and still downright fun.

A Bucket of Blood is part of the public domain, so you can pretty much see it anywhere. It is only about 66 minutes long and is well worth a look for those interested in probing the world of Corman and a time when B-movies were so more than just swollen excuses to spend money.

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