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A Bucket Of Blood
(1959)

Director: Roger Corman  
Cast:
Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone


Many years ago, I came across a saying that has stuck in my mind ever since, a saying that I later found came from the mind of the immortal bard William Shakespeare. It came from his play Twelfth Night. At one point in the play, a character says, "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." I'm not sure why that saying has stuck with me for so long. It might be because it is so true, that those three kind of greatness mentioned in the saying are all the kind of greatness that is possible for a person in this world of ours. But I think another reason why this saying has stayed in my mind is that it has lead me to thinking deeply about potential greatness, and what greatness would be welcome and what greatness would not be welcome. After mulling it over in my mind, I have concluded that Shakespeare was wrong, and that some greatness may not be welcome. I can also tell you that after thinking about it for so long, I don't think I would have liked to have been born great. Maybe some such positions would have advantages like wealth or power, but it would also have the disadvantage that you would find it hard to be treated like an ordinary person. Some born famous people can't just take a casual walk out in public without being mobbed by people, for example. And then there are the people who have had greatness thrust upon them. I know for a fact there are some people who have cursed greatness coming uninvited into their lives. A lot of times for these particular people, they don't know how to handle the greatness that has come into their lives, nor do they seem able to return to a normal life if the greatness suddenly goes away, and often the rest of their lives can be a miserable existence.

That leaves the greatness that people achieve on their own, totally by their own way. That kind of greatness I have no problem with, and I think that most people would agree with me. I like to think that I have achieved greatness on my own with this web site, by focusing on the reviewing of movies that most other critics would pass on by. I get a feeling of greatness whenever readers write in to tell me they enjoy the reviews or have watched a movie I recommended and they subsequently really enjoyed. I am comfortable with this level of greatness, and I plan to maintain it for a long time to come. I know I am luckier than some people who have achieved greatness but still feel somewhat unsatisfied. Let me give you an example. You have probably heard of writer R. L. Stein, the children's author who has written all those books in the Goosebumps series. He has not only made a mint with all of those books, he has a large fan base of loyal readers. So you would probably think that he is completely happy with the career he has chosen. But I actually read otherwise when I flipped through his autobiography in a book store one day. In one part of his autobiography, he said that his dream from childhood was to be one of the artists of MAD Magazine. He was so driven by this dream that he even took some art classes. But there was one problem that quickly came up: he discovered that he couldn't draw very well at all, and even the art classes he took couldn't help polish up his miserable art skills. So he had to eventually abandon his dreams of working with The Usual Gang Of Idiots. And while he eventually did find great fame and fortune with his writing for children, he said that he would give away all of the success and fortune he's gotten from writing if he could only become an artist with MAD Magazine.

To some degree, I can understand R. L. Stein's beliefs and thoughts when it comes to the desire of being famous from being some kind of artist. When I was young, I too had an interest in cartooning, but no matter how much I practiced, my various pen scratching were downright pathetic. And while I have managed to accomplish a lot with the eventual discovery of my writing skills, there are A Bucket Of Bloodtimes when I still have dreams of working with my hands as some kind of artist. So when I got a copy of A Bucket Of Blood as a birthday present from my brother, you might understand why I was so attracted to the movie, enough that I decided to review it. It concerned a character who was hopeless in the skill of art until finding a method that could have his own artworks considered masterpieces. Though since the movie is a Roger Corman production, for American-International Pictures, you can probably guess there's a ghoulish aspect to the artist's new found skills. The events of the movie center on one Walter Paisley (Miller, Get Crazy), a meek busboy who works at The Yellow Door Cafe, the hip place in town for various beatniks and artistic types. Walter has his eye on the cafe's hostess Carla (Morris, The Wasp Woman), but she is clearly out of his league. So Walter brings home some clay in an attempt to create something artistic that will impress Carla, but it turns out art is out of his league as well. But not long afterwards, he accidentally kills his landlady's cat. In fear of what he did, he covers the cat up with his clay. The next day, he brings the clay-covered cat to the cafe, which is proclaimed a great piece of art by Carla and others, which pleases Walter greatly. That night, a policeman follows Walter home after Walter was given illegal drugs from an admirer. When the policeman attempts to arrest Walter for narcotics possession, a panicking Walter kills the policeman. Walter then covers the policeman with clay, and the next day displays the clay-covered policeman as a new piece of art, which receives as many raves as the cat got. It doesn't take long for Walter to see that he's onto a good thing, and soon afterwards starts killing in earnest, taking the corpses of his victims and covering them with clay in order to make new artworks. As it turns out, Walter's boss Leonard (Carbone, Pit And The Pendulum) knows what Walter has been secretly doing, though he is staying silent due to the extra business Walter is bringing in. But how long can Leonard remain silent, especially since Carla is unknowingly in danger from the now homicidal Walter, who is more determined than ever to get Carla in his clay-covered hands?

In your typical movie that follows a serial killer doing his thing for pleasure and/or personal gain, the portrait of the serial killer is usually a very negative one, showing the killer to be a very dangerous and unbalanced individual who poses risk to just about anyone he encounters. In short, he earns the disapproval of the audience, who hope he gets what's coming to him. However, in the case of the killer in A Bucket Of Blood, while the movie in the end portrays him as dangerous and unbalanced, before that happens a great deal of time is spent building sympathy for Walter Paisley. In the opening scenes, his meek demeanor and lack of skills make him stick out like a sore thumb in this beatnik world. He wants to belong but can't, and we can all identify with that. Sure, he soon after murders a cat and a policeman, but the cat was an accident, and the policeman was unfairly trying to arrest him. Eventually his killings do start to not be accidents, and when we see this formerly meek man become homicidal, the abrupt change comes as quite a shock. Yet we still have a little sympathy for him, knowing where he came from. As you can see, this character has to be written to more complex than what we usually get in a low budget B movie. But the character is really sold to the audience by the performance of Dick Miller. He is able to do both portrayed extremes of the character well, both the wimpish loser and the psychotic madman. Not only that, he is able to make the transition between the two polar opposites in a believable way, careful to show signs of a still vulnerable side to his character even when he's all of a sudden bathing in success and getting away with murder.

The screenplay for A Bucket Of Blood was written by Charles B. Griffith, a frequent collaborator with Roger Corman, The Little Shop Of Horrors and Death Race 2000 being two such examples. Although Griffith did write the screenplay with the main intent clearly to entertain the audience, he adds some touches that show more thought than usual went in certain areas. For example, it's not just the character of Walter Paisley that's less predictable. Walter's boss Leonard is not the tyrant that you usually get in a movie like this. He comes off instead as a pretty decent guy, one who is willing to give Walter a chance in many aspects. And when he discovers Walter's secret, he doesn't blackmail or threaten to call the cops - as I said earlier, he decides to stay silent because Walter's artworks are bringing in customers. Carla, the movie's female interest, is also less predictable that you might imagine. She is not a snooty b*itch, instead having a good amount of sympathy for Walter right from the start, even if it's not quite the amount of affection that Walter is wanting from her. The warmer than average look on the movie's characters extends even towards the supporting players. The beatnik clientele of The Yellow Door Cafe you might expect to be mercilessly poked fun of, but that's not the case. Yes, the movie does make a little fun of them, from their weird poetry readings to their declarations of Walter's ugly sculptures to be masterpieces, but it's a gentle comic prodding. They come across as just being a little eccentric, and we see they are actually pretty decent people that you wouldn't mind getting to know better in real life.

I don't want what I have said so far about A Bucket Of Blood to make you think that the movie does not succeed in its advertised intentions - to make you laugh as well as squirm a little. The various killings actually do pack a little jolt, even though some are accidental from Walter. And while the movie does not contain any gigantic laughs, it manages to be lightly amusing in almost every scene. As I indicated earlier, the movie's portrayal of the whole modern art scene and the beatniks that are in it provide some nice humor. There are other kinds of attempts at humor that work as well, like some good one-liners, my favorite being when a sexy nude model (played by Judy Bamber) who hears of Walter's sculpture skills, asks him, "Would you like to do me?" While you may not consider Roger Corman to be a great director, I was really impressed with what he accomplished here. For one thing, he was working with a really low budget (only $50,000), yet the look of the movie looks pretty professional for the most part, from the decoration of the sets to things like the lighting as well as the placement of the actors in a shot. The lean budget of the movie I think was actually an asset for Corman, because he makes every scene come across as necessary and never as padding, and the sixty-six minute running time ends up feeling just right. If there is a real flaw in the movie (if you don't count a couple of sequences where you can see the shadow of the boom mike) it is the final few seconds of the movie. Though the scene does resolve Walter's fate, at the same time it looks and feels sloppy and rushed. I wish that Corman would have thought and planned things over a little more before shooting this scene. But otherwise, while A Bucket Of Blood may not be great art, it is indeed a lot of fun.

(Posted January 5, 2016)

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See also: The Convent, Gas-s-s-s, Psychopath

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