Thursday, January 24, 2013

Movie Review: A BUCKET OF BLOOD

A BUCKET OF BLOOD
1959, MGM #1000978, DD-2.0, $19.98, 65m 18s, DVD-1

By John Charles
Originally published in slightly different form in Video Watchdog #68

While only marginal as a horror film, Roger Corman's A BUCKET OF BLOOD excels as both a black comedy and a cagey send-up of the fifties beatnik scene and gives the great Dick Miller his most memorable role. Dense, naive coffee house busboy Walter Paisley (Miller) greatly admires the establishment's bohemian regulars but is incapable of garnering their approval. While trying his hand at sculpting one evening in his hovel of an apartment, Walter accidentally stabs and kills the landlady's cat while trying to free it from inside a wall. Getting nowhere with his work, he decides to cover the feline's corpse with clay and passes it off as his first creation. "Dead Cat" is an immediate hit, even earning kudos from his idol, the resident monologist, Maxwell Brock (Julian Burton). Walter accidentally finds the subject of his next creation in the form of an undercover narc (Bert Convy!) whom he brains over the head with a frying pan after the latter tries to arrest him for his accidental possession of "horse." With "Murdered Man" now done, Walter decides to expand his repertoire with a rendering of the female form and a bust.

Charles B. Griffith's hilarious, endlessly quotable beat lingo and poetry (the latter delivered with the perfect mixture of sincerity and pomposity by Burton) is a highlight, as is the lazy, self-important bohemians going on about trivialities like the merits of wheat germ bagels and garbanzo omelettes (sprinkled with smoked yeast!). However, it is Dick Miller who really shines here, doing a remarkable job of relating the hurt and desperation Paisley experiences trying to gain acceptance. He very accurately captures the self-deprecating speech and mannerisms of a lonely, wounded child. While A BUCKET OF BLOOD may be regarded as a black comedy, it is actually a very credible dramatic performance and the humor would definitely not work as well if Miller had adopted a more cartoonish approach. Of course, this is also the role that made him a legend among cult film fans and one he has "reprised" several times over the years. Fred Katz's marvellously quirky score would also be re-used the following year in Corman's equally wonderful THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which co-stars Miller, and is very similar in a number of ways. Barboura Morris (as the one person who treats Walter with kindness and becomes the object of his obsession), Antony Carbone, Ed Nelson, and Bruno VeSota also appear.



Like much of Corman's work from this time, A BUCKET OF BLOOD slipped into the public domain and has been available from numerous labels over the years. There is even another DVD edition (which presents the film on a triple bill with ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES and THE WASP WOMAN) from Triton that preceded this one but is reportedly no better than the standard budget tapes have ever looked. MGM's transfer (also available on VHS for $12.95) was actually produced and syndicated to television by Orion Pictures a decade ago and still has that company's logo at the height of the film. A newer rendering might have provided sharper whites but the presentation is vastly superior to the way this movie normally looks on video and the source material is in mint condition; the sound is crisp and clear. The short running time allows for an extremely high bit rate and the DVD has been encoded with a very generous 24 chapters. There are French and Spanish subtitles (one can only wonder how lines like "Burn gas buggies and whip your sour cream of circumstance and hope" play in those languages!) and the English closed captioning does an effective job of getting the beat lingo across. Unfortunately, there is no sign of the theatrical trailer promised on the back of the keep case and the insert incorrectly lists Carbone's "DeSantis" character as "DiCenzo." The disc was compressed by Sunset Digital Studios.

(If you cannot find the MGM DVD, the above YouTube posting is a complete rip of that company's transfer from the disc)

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