Friday, October 23, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Yes, It's Murder... But Is It Art? Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood

Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a busboy at The Yellow Door, a cafe frequented by self-proclaimed artists, pompous poets and the like. Walter is usually mocked by the arrogant crowd as he serves them their espressos. He would like to be an artist himself, telling whoever will listen that he's "working on something." One evening, he heads to his lowly apartment and tries to mold clay into a piece of art. Uninspired and unable to create a sculpture, the disheartened man gives up. When his landlady's lost cat begins to meow, somehow stuck inside the wall, Walter drives a knife through the drywall, inadvertently killing the feline. He removes the cat's body and suddenly has an idea.

The next day, Walter presents to the people at The Yellow Door his first sculpted piece, called
Dead Cat. Not surprisingly, the cafe patrons love it, and the busboy is finally given respect. One woman, enamored by Walter and his work, hands him a tiny bottle to take with him. Unfortunately, an undercover cop witnesses what he believes is a drug deal, and he arrives at Walter's place, demanding to know the name of his supplier. Walter's resistance leads the officer to pull his gun, and Walter reacts by swinging a pan at the man's head. The budding artist works this in his favor, creating Murdered Man, which he proudly displays for Lou, the cafe owner, and Carla, the object of Walter's affection. No longer a busboy, Walter is enjoying admiration from others and his flourishing popularity. But it isn't long before people are demanding a new masterpiece from the artist, leaving Walter with few options.

Director Roger Corman is well known for his low-budget B-movies, having helmed such classics as
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and, perhaps his most famous, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which enjoyed future success as a Broadway musical and a film adaptation in 1986. A Bucket of Blood (1959) is one of his earlier features, and in spite of the budget and time restraints, Corman made a witty and memorable horror movie. Some may categorize A Bucket of Blood as a black comedy, but Corman presents the humor in a gleefully subtle fashion. When one particular woman scoffs at the idea of the busboy sitting at their table and claiming to be an artist, she then offers her services as a model, asking if Walter would like "to do" her. "I just might," he replies. When Lou begins to suspect what Walter is doing, he hears the news vendor calling out the day's headline of a vicious murder, right before Walter produces his latest sculpture. Corman even incorporates a literal interpretation of the title!

Corman specialized in films of low budgets as a director and producer -- he wrote a book entitled
How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. Many directors who worked with Corman moved on to successful films careers, such as Martin Scorsese, who directed Boxcar Bertha (1972), and Francis Ford Coppola, who made Dementia 13 (1963). Other filmmakers who began by working with Roger Corman include James Cameron, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich and Joe Dante. Jack Nicholson's film debut was the Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer in 1958. In addition to The Little Shop of Horrors, Nicholson also acted in two other films directed by Corman, The Terror and The Raven (both 1963).

Roger Corman could make films fast and efficiently (hence, the reason he was able to boast about "never losing a dime"). But his movies, whether he directed or produced, do not typically feel like products off an assembly line. There are gifted crew members behind the camera. Corman has proven himself numerous times as a director, but one cannot deny his aptness in the producer's chair as well, with so many of his proteges attaining future success. His films may not be embraced by the mainstream, but the world of cinema would most certainly not be the same without Roger Corman.

A Bucket of Blood
was remade in 1995 for the Showtime network, starring Anthony Michael Hall as Walter and Justine Bateman as Carla. It was also co-written and directed by Michael McDonald -- who would later achieve fame on the Fox sketch comedy series, MADtv -- and was subsequently released on video as The Death Artist.


  1. Sark, it sounds like Corman was inspired by Mystery of the Wax Museum and it's remake, House of Wax. I've not seen Bucket of Blood, but I remember liking The Man With The X-Ray Eyes because I always loved Ray Milland. Great article, as usual.

  2. Sark, this was a very informative and fun blog. I haven’t seen BUCKET OF BLOOD in years, but remember being amused by its central premise and, best of all, Corman’s take on the beatnik culture of the 1960s. I thought Michael McDonald was a talented performer in MADtv, but had no idea he directed a made-for-cable remake of BUCKET…so that’s definitely something I want to check out. Way-out review, man!

  3. Sark, I have not seen this movie.. but, it sounds like it's a great little black comedy. Awesome!! Review.

  4. This was a great article, Sark! I agree with ClassicBecky, the plot is similar to the "Wax Museum" and "House of Wax" pictures. Still, the photo you posted is quite effectively creepy. And you are absolutely correct about how much can be learned from Corman's movie making abilities on a shoestring budget. I love reading your reviews, Sark!