Exploring fright in black-and-white. It's enough to make your spine tingle!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

But is it art?: "A Bucket Of Blood" Review

"A Bucket Of Blood" has been sitting on my DVD bookcase, lonely and neglected for more months than I care to share. I wish I could say this has something to do with the incredibly busy life I lead, but in truth it really has to do with the tremendous difficulty I have watching any movie where an animal bites it. Particularly a domestic animal. I avoid most animal movies like the plague, because despite the fact that they feature adorable pets being, ya know, adorable- they also tend to feature at least one pet casualty. Sorry "Marley and Me", I'm sure you're great but I know you're only going to break my heart in the end and I just don't want to get hurt.

Don't you look at me with those eyes, Marley!

As a cat owner, lover, and borderline fanatic I'm particularly sensitive to any film where a cat meets an unfortunate end. I recently tried to watch "Milo and Otis" because my own Grady is an orange tabby and I thought I would enjoy watching the antics on screen and pretending that it was my own cat having these adventures (there is nothing lame about that at all, I assure you.) To my surprise, I found that I could not make it all the way through the film. A cat jumping off a cliff into rough waters? A cat being attacked by vicious birds? A cat having his NOSE BITTEN BY A CRAB??!!! It was too much for my feline-lovin' heart to take. I later googled the film to find out about some alarming rumors that many cats may have actually been killed in the making of this so-called family film. I can only hope there's no truth to these allegations. Few things truly disgust me, but animal cruelty is certainly at the top of the list.

This guy goes on adventures too, but they are limited to my apartment.

Anyway, I'm going off on a bit of a tangent as cats are prone to make me do. My point is that as much as the Roger Corman fan in me wanted to see "A Bucket Of Blood", I knew that a major plot point involved the killing (albeit accidental) of a housecat. Eventually a rainy day rolled around and it was the only movie in my library that I hadn't seen. I put the DVD in and braced myself for the worst.

I was in for a pleasant surprise. "A Bucket Of Blood" opens with an art class that's being led by a super pretentious beatnik who doesn't so much teach as he spouts off pearls of wisdom like "Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of art." I swear I read something similar in a Hunter S. Thompson book once. Our "hero" Walter Paisley (played by Dick Miller, who later played ANOTHER character named Walter Paisley in the 1986 classic Chopping Mall) is a shy, awkward busboy who longs to be a great artist. His preferred medium is sculpting, although he seems to have the skills of a three-year-old who just got their first Play-doh set. He longs to impress the artiste crowd at "The Yellow Door", but they make fun of him and view him merely as the guy who clears their table while they discuss art, poetry, and the best way to rock a beret. He finally catches his lucky break when he accidentally stabs his landlady's cat to death. Poor kitty found himself stuck inside the wall of Walter's apartment and in his efforts to help free it, he sadly impales it. Instead of giving the landlady a heartfelt apology, or even giving the cat a proper burial he does what any frustrated sculptor in his position would do- covers the cat in clay and presents it as his new masterpiece. I mean, he doesn't even remove the knife! He creatively titles it "Dead Cat" and it becomes a hit among the bohemian elite, particularly with the beautiful Carla (played by the charming Barboura Morris.) No artist wants to be a one-hit wonder however, and because Walter lacks any creative spark of his own- well, you can imagine which way the story is going. He calls his next masterpiece "Murdered Man" (which mostly freaked me out because it was a sculpture of Bert Convy!). Personally, I think his artistic talent should have been discredited based solely on his unimaginative titles. As Walter moves on to human subjects, his work becomes in high demand and his dream girl Carla even rewards him with a kiss after being particularly moved by one of his pieces. However, as Walter is not very bright, the horror that lies beneath the clay begins to surface- literally.

Who doesn't feel all romantic after looking at a sculpture of a nude strangulation victim?

"A Bucket Of Blood" is structurally similar to Corman's "Little Shop Of Horrors" (which would be filmed shortly after on the same set, with some of the same actors.) In both films we have a man who longs for a life much more interesting than the one he's currently living. A man who finds a way to become respected among his peers and win the admiration of the girl of his dreams. A man who must shed blood in order to keep his fame and notoriety going. The main difference here, is that while Seymour is someone the audience can root for (even when he's doing some very bad things), Walter never really gains our sympathy. First of all, he's killed a cat so he's automatically not on Santa's nice list. Secondly, he never really wrestles with the moral dilemma of his acts. Thirdly, and to me the biggest blemish on his character, is the fact that he does all these bad things to impress the jerky artsy-fartsy crowd who have treated him like crap. The only thing more pathetic than the pretentious group who think they're above everyone, is the guy who longs to be a part of their clique. By the time we realize he's preparing to turn Carla into one of his masterpieces, we've had quite enough of Walter and look forward to seeing justice served. Carla was after all, the only one who was nice to Walter BEFORE he became a local celebrity. She certainly doesn't deserve to meet an unpleasant end merely because she doesn't want to go out with him! Pfffft....men.

"A Bucket Of Blood" shines as a dark satire. I wasn't born yet during the beatnik craze, but I live in New York City so I deal with my fair share of hipsters on a daily basis. I've met a lot of people who talk a lot about what's authentic and what isn't and what's art and what's garbage as though they are the final authority on such matters. Julian Burton is pitch-perfect as Maxwell Brock, the pretentious poet. I especially loved his description of his breakfast- complete with wheat germ pancakes and a garbanzo omelet. I was particularly taken with Barboura Morris' portrayal of Carla. In a sea of pretention, she stood out as the only member of the artiste crowd who wasn't trying too hard. She just was that cool. Beautiful to look at, and a charming presence she sadly never worked much outside of Roger Corman's films. I googled her and learned that she died of complications from cancer at the age of 43. I'm sad we didn't see more out of this woman who was apparently known in Hollywood as "the girl with the lovely smile". Also, she wins major points for spelling Barbara the coolest way in the history of ever. I prefer to think that it was pronounced with all three syllables: BAR-BORE-AH. Bad ass.

It was indeed a lovely smile!

Don't get me wrong, Dick Miller is hilarious as Walter- it's just that I never empathized with the character, and I wanted to see him get caught. That's just what you get from me when you commit felicide.

It's wonderful to see a B movie of its time filled with humor that was intentional. Well-acted, well-written and a fun social commentary on the beatnik movement, "A Bucket Of Blood" is certainly worth watching. If nothing else, it features Bert Convy as an undercover cop. What's not to love?

Just don't watch it with your cat.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it - I really liked Bucket of Blood, but have not seen it in years.

    You are right about how this was a jab at the beatnik crowd. I just hope it does not get remade using "hipsters", they'll just take all the charm out of it, and make a crap-fest.

  2. "Bucket of Blood" is a wonderful movie.

    And as a fellow orange tabby enthusiast, I'm with you on cinematic felicide. Still haven't been able to watch "Drag Me to Hell" because of the kitten sacrifice...