Horror Movie A Day: A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) Life is an obscure hobo, bumming a ride on the omnibus of art!
Published at: Oct. 26, 2008, 5:47 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
As I stated at the end of yesterday’s HMAD (DEAD & BURIED) I’m a huge fan of Dick Miller. The man populated my childhood. CHOPPING MALL, TERMINATOR, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, V, GREMLINS and all of Joe Dante’s movies. Into my teen years, when I started attending the Quentin Tarantino Film Festival every year and hitting the Alamo Drafthouse on a nearly religious basis, I started discovering his ‘70s exploitation work like CANNONBALL, TRUCK TURNER and BIG BAD MAMA.
The man has a face that instantly brings a smile to my own. He’s comfort food, one of my Linus blankets. Miller has the chops, he has the talent and he has such a great voice/face combo… in short, he’s a real character, someone flawed, but instantly relatable.
And if you haven’t seen his turn in ROCK ALL NIGHT, track it down. It’s another Roger Corman flick, pre-dating today’s movie by 2 years. Miller is front and center again in a one-location cheapie by the B-movie master.
I’m trying to remember another film besides ROCK ALL NIGHT and today’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD where Miller got the opportunity to lead and I can’t come up with anything. Surely I’m wrong and he wasn’t only given two leading roles in his career, right? Maybe someone can help me out in the talkback below.
Because seriously… the dude was born in the wrong era. In today’s age where leading men can be Seth Rogens and Paul Giamattis and Steve Buscemis Dick Miller would have been a star.
Take a look at this film. He plays a beaten down, put upon busboy at a Beatnik joint. He’s desperate for love, for friends and for meaning in his worthless life. He sees the poets, artists and musicians day in and day out, all seeming to have what most desires: popularity and respect.
To the audience these people are fucking ridiculous, not to be looked up to or emulated in any way. Julian Burton plays the superstar Beatnik poet, a sandaled, bearded phoney named Maxwell, idolized by Miller’s Walter Paisley (a name, by the way, he used in many films including a great many of Joe Dante’s movies).
Maxwell, to steal a South Park-ism, loves the smell of his own farts. The self-importance in this place is thicker than the cigarette smoke and it’s hard for me to see where the desire to be accepted by these people in Walter Paisley comes from. It’d be impossible for me to relate to the dude if someone else besides Dick Miller was playing him.
I like Miller so I want to see him happy, which makes that leap possible for me. Also add on to the fact that the actors and Roger Corman (director as well as producer on this one) seem to be taking the piss out of these pompous douche-nozzles and it ain’t no big thing.
Walter Paisley is a struggling artist, trying to find his reason, his motivation… and any tiny bit of talent at anything. He has a ton of modeling clay in his tiny, horrible dirty apartment, but can’t do anything with it. The boy just doesn’t have any talent.
Then one night he hears his landlady’s cat mewling. It’s stuck in the wall. Being a nice guy, Paisley tries to get the cat out. Being a little bit of a dumb guy, he tries to get the cat out using a knife. The first plunge into the plaster kills the poor thing and when Paisley pulls it from the resulting hole it’s dead as a doornail… In fact, so dead it looks stuffed already (c’mon, it’s Roger Corman, what were you expecting?).
He gets the idea to conceal this by making it his art.
Now, yes… these statues he makes throughout the movie require talent to make and in no way look like they’re supposed to… They look like crazy sculptures, not dead bodies covered in wet clay. But goddamnit, they’re cool as hell.
As you can tell, I’m sure, he takes the dead clay cat to work and catches the eye of Carla (Barboura Morris) the girl he’s sweet on who talks the asshole owner of the bar Leonard (Antony Carbone) into letting him include it in their art show.
Walter Paisley becomes the talk of the bar for his work, which he inventively calls “Dead Cat,” and suddenly he’s earning the respect and acceptance that he so sorely wanted.
But the problem is he’s expected to come up with more, which, obviously, leads to some killings.
First off is an undercover cop who sees some loopy broad pass Paisley some drugs, which he mistakes for Tylenol. The cop follows Paisley back home and is a dick, so Paisley cracks him one with his pancake skillet. He’s got a new statue, and probably my favorite of the ones showcased in the movie… It doesn’t really look like the dude, but it was a way for Corman to show something really graphic. The statue is bloodless, colorless, so the fact that its head is split open and brains are showing was perfectly acceptable to the censors, apparently.
Ultimately, Paisley spirals more and more out of control, addicted to his popularity and willing to do anything to keep it. The poor bastard ends up a little on the crazy side, but I still had trouble seeing him as a villain.
In fact, there’s a chase at the end and I really was kind of hoping for Miller to get his victim. Is that wrong?
The whole while the asshole bar owner, Leonard, realizes what Miller is up to, but is stopped from turning him in by his “art” selling at huge prices. But that makes him squeamish whenever he’s around the art or sees a new piece.
The DVD cover says the shooting on this film ended early and Corman used the sets and did a quickie shoot for a little, off-the-cuff film… LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. However, the release date on that one is 2 years later than A BUCKET OF BLOOD, so I don’t know how accurate that is.
But the two movies are very similar in basic story. A down and out loser of a guy, working a dead-end job starts getting what he wants, acceptance, a girl, by killing people. His asshole boss profits off of it, but knows what’s going on. I wonder what it’d be like to watch those two films back to back…
And I want to know who the fuck has the statues made for this movie. Why are there no reproductions available? I demand answers! These things are awesome. “Dead Cat,” “Murdered Man,” and the bust are f’n awesome.
Interestingly enough, there was a remake of this film done in the mid-90s that I’ve never seen, but it starred Anthony Michael Hall in the Dick Miller role and featured Justine Bateman, David Cross, Paul Bartel and Will Ferrell! How bizarre! I’ll have to see if that versions available… I’m sure it can’t be as enjoyable as the original Roger Corman/Dick Miller version, but still… that’s gotta be a fascinating watch nonetheless, right?
Final Thoughts: We end up with a flawed film… the budget shows through a lot, however Miller’s performance is so damn good you don’t care about some of the dodgy effects or the short 66 minute run time. Forgetting that the title of the movie is A BUCKET OF BLOOD and there’s really no bucket of blood in the movie (minus one short use of a bucket catching blood falling from one of the corpses), what we end up with is a supremely entertaining film that races from start to finish, without lagging. Dick Miller was a leading man, whether or not he got the roles in his career. No doubt.
Nice. I was hoping we’d get a real-deal giallo before the month ended. Speaking off, we’re in our last week of HMAD. I think starting Monday I’m going to take a little time at the end of each column leading up to Halloween to spotlight a second film, one of my personal favorite Halloween-time movies. It won’t be a double review, but a brief spotlight shined onto some of my favorites of the genre. See you folks tomorrow for THE BLOOD STAINED SHADOW!