Friday, October 6, 2017

A Bucket of Blood (USA, 1959)

"You're a real artist now. Now go back and scrub down those garbage cans."
Leonard de Santis (Antony Carbone)

(Spoilers.) Another super-low budget quickie from the great Roger Corman that defies its origins to become a truly enjoyable if minor low-budget classic.
By 1959, the year A Bucket of Blood was made and released, the prolific Roger Corman had already been in the film biz, seriously, for six years if one looks at the script he sold to Allied Artists for what was to become Highway Dragnet (1953) as his "official" beginning. Wheeling and dealing, Corman produced his first movie the following year, Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954 / trailer), directed by the unknown Wyott Ordnung, [23 May 1922 — 28 Aug 2005], whose most famous feat is the screenplay of the classic disasterpiece that is Robot Monster (1953 / trailer). Monster from the Ocean Floor was a success, as was Corman's next production, John Ireland's The Fast and the Furious (1954 / movie) — yes, the granddaddy of today's unstoppable franchise — and thereafter Corman never looked back. By the time he made A Bucket of Blood (USA, 1959) for AIP, Corman was a successful low-budget producer and director who regularly put together movies for various movie companies, including his own, The Filmgroup, for which he made (among many movies) Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), the original Little Shop of Horrors (1960 / trailer), The Intruder (1962), Dementia 13 (1963 / trailer) and The Terror (1963).

"I'm proud to say my poetry is only understood by that minority which is aware."
Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton)

Corman already had more than 20 official directorial (vs even more producer) credits to his name by 1959, and as cheap and on-the-fly as A Bucket of Blood is, an ease and experience in direction can be gleaned from how the movie is filmed, be it due to the composition, use of depth, economy of action within the frame, or simply knowing what does and doesn't need to be shown. That is not to say that A Bucket of Blood is directorially exceptional, it is merely obvious that by this low-budget quickie Corman was visually already a better director than many contemporary directors that now emulate and/or work for him (Fred Olan Ray, Jim Wynorski and David DeCoteau come immediately to mind).
This becomes especially obvious when one considers the difference in time that those directors usually have to prepare and make a movie to that which Corman had to for this one, which famously enough was shot in only five days with a budget of $50,000 using the sets left over from Burt Topper's Diary of a High School Bride (1959 / trailer). (In turn, luxurious conditions when one thinks of The Little Shop of Horrors, with it legendary budget of $28,000, two-day shooting schedule, and sets left over from A Bucket of Blood & Diary of a High School Bride.)

"Walter, you've done something to me. Something deep down inside of my prana. Oh, Walter, I want to be with you. You're creative."
Naolia (Jhean Burton)

Hampered, perhaps, by an overly dominant free jazz score by Fred Katz (25 Feb 1919 — 7 Sept 2013) that is, actually, also a perfect reflection of the period and scene in which the movie is set, A Bucket of Blood is a wonderfully quotable grotesque of the beatnik generation and the self-important culture vultures that inhabited it (and, indeed, still inhabit any given in-scene at any given time).
The plot is a blackly comic take on the spiraling descent of the oddly sympathetic and obviously intellectually challenged Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a picked-upon and eternally disrespected busboy at the oh-so-hip beatnik artists' cafe, The Yellow Door. Surrounded by artist types, he dreams of becoming an artist and winning the heart of Carla (Barboura Morris [22 Oct 1932 — 23 Oct 1975] of The Dunwich Horror [1970 / trailer], The Haunted Palace [1963 / trailer] and Teenage Doll [1957 / trailer]), who has some indefinite position at the café. (Co-owner? Sister? Hostess?)
Inspired by the free-form poetic ramblings of the locally adored beatnik poet Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton [4 June 1932 — 27 March 2006] of The Masque f the Red Death [1964]), whose onscreen beat poetry is as memorable as that of Phillipa Fallon's great recital (scene) in High School Confidential (1958 / trailer), Walter inspires to create art, but fails. But when he accidentally knifes his landlady's cat to death, he has an inspiration, one which makes him the toast of the local beatnik scene and confronts him with the pressure faced by all "great" artists: What do I produce next?

"Be a nose! Be a nose!"
Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), as he struggles with his clay,

Where does the bucket of blood come into play here? Nowhere, really, unless you count the fact that at one point in the movie you lightly hear — but never see — the "drip drip drip" of blood dripping into a bucket. But it is a catchy title, isn't it?
Needless to say, A Bucket of Blood looks and feels as low budget as it was, but the overall cheapness of the production is rather endearing. The acting is, in general, perfect: some of the minor characters overdo their obvious drug-induced casualness, but most play their parts straight, which definitely works to the advantage of this obviously inane fifth-cousin to The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933 / trailer) and House of Wax (1953 / trailer). Dick Miller in particularly appealing as the sub-intellectual nebbish in search of recognition and love: he even manages to retain the sympathy of the viewer for most of the movie, and even after he's gone over the deep end one still sort of feels sorry for him once the movie ends.
The pretentious beatniks and culture vultures, in turn, are one and all a fun persiflage of types still recognizable today, pompous in their self-importance, illogical and insincere in their appreciation. Perhaps the most honest person among them all is the money-hungry blonde model Alice (Judy Bamber, seen below as cheesecake), whose combined greed and honesty and lack of respect lead to her eventual sculptural immortalization. She, like the cat and an overzealous undercover cop (Bert Convy, of [23 July 1933 – 15 July 1991] of Jennifer (1978 / trailer], Hanging by a Thread (1979 / trailer], and Ebony, Ivory and Jade (1979 / intro]), ends up as art, covered in plaster. (In theory, they are covered with clay, but not only is the material obviously plaster, but Walter's pile of clay neither diminishes not gets replenished at any point in the movie.)
It is perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie that for the last scene they didn't go the full monty and present the physically impossible but logical conclusion of Walter as a full statue as well.

"Nobody asked your opinion, Walter! You're just a simple farm boy, and the rest of us are sophisticated beatniks."
Alice (Judy Bamber)

Interestingly enough, as witty as the dialogue is, one can't help but notice that many jokes no longer work. When the beatniks talk of vitamins or food, for example, the exchanges are obviously enough meant to be inane and off-the-wall, but in the almost 50 years that have passed since the movie was made, such exchanges are now daily realities. Who doesn't remember talking about the supposed of effects of Vitamin E when young?
Nevertheless, the dialog of A Bucket of Blood is generally quirky, funny and oddly insightful, and packed within a quick and fat-free script that zooms by in only slightly more than an hour's running time. In that sense, the success of the movie is probably as much due to the scriptwriter Charles Byron Griffith (23 Sept 1930 – 28 Sept 2007) as it is to Corman's direction. Griffith, to whom Quentin Tarantino dedicated his sub-par film Deathproof (2007 / fan-made trailer) and credits as one of his main influences, worked with Corman on a number of his movies, including the previously mentioned Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Eat My Dust (1976 / trailer) and the trash classic Death Race 2000 (1975 / trailer).

"Walter, it's a masterpiece. I've never seen anything like it before... And I hope I never see anything like it again."
Carla (Barboura Morris)

An interesting filler in the movie is the (un-credited) appearance of the singer-guitarist Alex Hassilev, who performs two thematically related songs at the café: the English song The Ballad of Tim Evans and the Russian traditional Gari, Gari. Hassilev was one of the founding members of The Limeliters, one of the leading trios of the American folk music scene that flourished in the sixties. Aside from being a pleasant musical interlude, the song The Ballad of Tim Evans was still of some political resonance at the time the movie came out: it tells the true story of Tim Evans (20 Nov 1924 – 9 March 1950), an Englishman tried, convicted and put to death for the murder of his wife and daughter, who were both actually victims of the serial killer was John Christie.* Evans himself wasn't even posthumously pardoned yet when A Bucket of Blood was made (the pardon — a lot of good it did Tim Evans — came around seven years later).

Ewan Maccoll's original version
Go Down Ye Murderers (The Ballad of Tim Evans):
* In 1971, Richard Fleischer released an intriguing film about the case, 10 Rillington Place (trailer), starring Richard Attenborough as Christie, Judy Geeson as Beryl Evans, and John Hurt as Timothy Evans.

A Bucket of Blood went on to inspire H.G. Lewis's  less successful gore flick Color Me Blood Red (1965 / trailer) and, in 1995, was remade by Michael James McDonald as a TV comedy, likewise entitled A Bucket of Blood but later released on video as The Death Artist (scene), featuring an unknown Will Ferrell as one of the culture vulture hanger-ons. The original, now long in the public domain, is easy to find online. It is well worth taking a look at.

"I refuse to say anything twice. Repetition is death... When you repeat something, you are reliving a moment, wasting it, severing it from the other end of your life. I believe only in new impressions, new stimuli, new life!"
Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton)

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