31 October 2014

A Bucket of Blood (1959)
66 min.
Directed by Roger Corman.
With Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Anthony Carbone, Julian Burton, Ed Nelson, John Brinkley, John Herman Shaner, Judy Bamber, and Myrtle Vail.
Jose Cruz
Dig those crayzay sculptures, man!

The artistic horrors of House of Wax collide headlong into the beat counterculture of the 50’s to produce an amusing piece of schlock that proves entertaining for the mind and good for the funny bone.

Genre regular Dick Miller (It Conquered the World, The Howling) stars as lowly waiter Walter Paisley, working within the smoky halls of a beatnik coffee house and ceaselessly idolizing the surreal verses of the poets and admiring the lovely Carla (Morris) from afar.

Wanting to make it big as a legitimate artiste himself, the poor schlub tries his untrained hand at sculpture but gets no luck. His art skills are as good as his animal rescue abilities, as Walter soon finds out when he tries to free his landlady’s walled-in pussycat with a knife.

Now with a dead cat on his dinner table, Walter gets the bright idea to mold his modeling clay over the stiff kitty corpse and (voila!) a bona fide piece of innovative art has been made! With drugged up patrons and lucid customers alike praising Walter’s piece, he gets a hankering for the notoriety.

Soon an undercover cop becomes his next project when the dick gets a frying pan to the skull after he tries to arrest Walter for inadvertently holding drugs. Success and fancy hats soon follow, with Walter’s hunger for Carla’s attention pushing him ever further to the brink of sanity. And the poor nebbish’s hands are only becoming bloodier with each new addition to his exhibit!

This low-budget programmer from director Roger Corman (The Terror, House of Usher) is good cheap fun. The fact that the picture was shot only in a matter of days lends a nice, deranged atmosphere to the proceedings, an atmosphere that is best appreciated when you’re watching it in a weird, half-sleep trance at some ungodly hour in the early-early morning, the twilight land of TV infomercials and chronic insomniacs.

Probably the greatest asset the movie has is its actors. It goes without saying that it’s pretty much Miller’s show for the most part. Walter’s antics are played with just the right amount of sympathy at first; this guy is a complete loser, the butt of some particularly awful cosmic joke.

We see a great 180° transformation in him when he strangles a particularly snotty model… his movements are deliberate and calculated, his hands are firm, and his eyes are cold and unflinching.

Miller’s comrades shouldn’t be underestimated either. Burton’s turn as bohemian Maxwell is entertaining in his obliviously arrogant, self-appraising ways and Carbone as café owner Leonard gets to work his comedy muscles to genuinely humorous effect as he becomes aware of Walter’s macabre method of obtaining his subjects.

You can practically smell the empty coffee mugs and stubbed cigarettes in the beatnik café scenes (one suspects there’s also a faint whiff of marijuana hanging in the air).

For a film that was probably conceived and executed in the span of roughly a month, A Bucket of Blood runs on well-oiled gears through its blackly comic scenes of slaughter and sculpture to a satisfying climax.

For film fans whose humor runs a grimmer gamut. Make it a midnight showing with The Little Shop of Horrors and bask in the oddball horrors of it all.

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