The first of Roger Corman’s black and white, black humor trilogy of horror films (the following two films being THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA), BUCKET OF BLOOD gets the Blu-ray treatment from The Film Detective/Allied Vaughn.
Catering to the pompous windbags, aspiring musicians, painters and beat poets who frequent a Bohemian cafe in Southern California, dimwitted busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller, THE TERROR) has aspirations of being an artistic type and swooping pretty patron Carla (Barbara Mouris) off her feet. In his one room apartment, Walter frustratingly molds a mountain of clay, not being able to sculpt a simple nose. At the same time, his landlord’s cat is stuck behind his wall, and when Walter attempts to free it by plunging his knife into the sheetrock, he kills it, freeing its stiff carcass with the sharp instrument still inside. Covering the dead animal with clay, Walter brings his creation to the coffeehouse, calling it “Dead Cat” to much fanfare, as now everyone is interested in his work and seeing more. Even his greedy boss, Leonard (Antony Carbone, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM) sees the potential when a wealthy art collector (Bruno Ve Sota, THE GIANT LEECHES) offers a considerable amount of money for the macabre feline sculpture. When there’s demand for further works of arts, Walter hits a narcotics officer (Bert Convy, JENNIFER) over the head with the rim of a frying pan, covering him with clay and for his latest masterpiece,“Dead Man”. Soon, Walter becomes something of a sensation, but his anxious fans want more sculptures and murder may be his only option if he intends to continue.
After Corman told frequent collaborator Charles Griffith he wanted to do a horror comedy, the screenwriter found inspiration from the coffeehouses they visited on the Sunset Strip. The resulting film, shot for $50,000 in five days, works well not only as a horror film with black comedy tossed in, but as a satirical time capsule piece centered around the beatnik culture of the era (even Allen Ginsberg is lampooned by actor Julian Burton, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH). Most of the humor is relegated to the beginning of the film, as there’s more of a macabre feel to the proceedings once Walter starts murdering and it takes the obvious bows to MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM and HOUSE OF WAX. Although Miller would become one of the most recognizable character actors of all time, this is his only real starring role, and he’s quite marvelous as the timid underdog who goes to insane measures to impress a girl. Miller was also offered the lead in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS but turned it down, feeling it was too similar to this one. He later regretted his decision (he did use the “Walter Paisley” character name in a number of later films for other directors, including THE HOWLING and CHOPPING MALL). The film runs a swift, enjoyable 66 minutes and features AIP regular Ed Nelson (THE BRAIN EATERS, NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER) and contains the inviting novelty of seeing future game show host staple Convy as Walter’s first victim.
In his autobiography How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime, Corman writes, “In the middle of 1959, when AIP wanted me to make a horror film but only had $50,000 available, I felt it was time to take a risk, do something fairly outrageous. I wanted to have fun and change the equation. I decided to do a horror-type film with a hip, cutting edge. I called Chuck and we decided to create a comedy-horror-satire about the trendy beat coffeehouse scene. For research we spent a long evening drifting in and out of coffeehouses along Sunset Strip. We kicked around story ideas as we wandered and by evening’s end, had a plot structure.” He continues, “The audience at the sneak laughed throughout the film and applauded at the end. I had made a successful comedy that also commented on the ambitions and pretensions of the art world. When a critic wrote that the art world was a metaphor for the movie world, I didn’t deny it”.
Although MGM appears to still have “official” rights to the film, A BUCKET OF BLOOD has fallen into the public domain with a number of budget DVD releases abound over the years. This Blu-ray release from The Film Detective utilizes original 35mm elements for its 1080p HD transfer, and this is the first time the film has been commercially available in its original 1.85:1 ratio. Manufactured here on BD-R rather than a “pressed” Blu-ray, the black and white image is satisfying overall, with decent contrasts and gray scales, and black levels are nice and deep. Judging by textures and the ample grain structure, no DNR or other blatant smoothing techniques have been applied, so the film has a nice organic appearance to it. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds perfectly fine, with no detectable defects. There are no extras on the disc, but optional English SDH subtitles are included. (George R. Reis)
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