B&W, 1959, 65m.
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone
The Film Detective (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
B&W, 1959, 65m.
The first and best of its kind, Roger Corman’s low budget black comedy laid the groundwork for cinematic murderers who parlay their bloody craft into artistic acclaim. Though it has been more than outdone in terms of grotesque imagery by similarly plotted films like Crucible of Terror, Scream Baby Scream, and especially H.G. Lewis’s Color Me Blood Red, this one has yet to be topped for sheer effectiveness.
At a dark and smoky cafe, mistreated waiter Walter Paisley (Corman regular Miller in a rare leading role) envies the praise heaped upon the pretentious beatnik poets and painters whose nonsensical creations dazzle the java-sipping patrons. One night Walter accidentally impales his unpleasant landlady’s cat on a knife; to hide the evidence, he simply covers the body in plaster and passes it off as a sculpture called, naturally, “Dead Cat.” The local artistic community gushes over Walter’s creation, and he even finds approval from the powerful Leonard DiCenzo (Carbone, another Corman favorite) and the lovely object of Walter’s affections, Carla (Morris). Unfortunately Walter finds himself inadvertently responsible for the deaths of several human beings, whose bodies he transforms into more grisly sculptures to build his artistic reputation. How long can Walter carry on this gruesome charade without being caught?
A valuable transition film between Corman’s monster marathons of the '50s and his beautifully polished Gothic horrors in the '60s (notably the Vincent Price/Poe series), A Bucket of Blood has enough visual style and satirical bite to overcome its lack of budget. The beatnik atmosphere is both captured and ridiculed extremely well, complete with a funky pseudo-beat score throughout the entire film. Incidentally, Corman used many of the same sets and cast members after filming to create his infamous three day wonder, Little Shop of Horrors, which recycles virtually the same plot with a man-eating plant standing in for sculpting. Twenty five years later, Corman returned to the material again for a middling Showtime remake (called The Death Artist on home video) starring Anthony Michael Hall and Justine Bateman, with cameos from Paul Bartel and Mink Stole. It’s not awful, but it can’t touch the original.
One of the few AIP titles to fall into the public domain, A Bucket of Blood has turned up over the years in several transfers, most egregiously as part of Slingshot’s Roger Corman triple header (along with The Wasp Woman and The Giant Leeches), all derived from inferior tape sources. MGM came to the rescue in 2000 with a clean, sharper presentation from the original Orion master created for an aborted laserdisc release. Like Little Shop, this was filmed open matte and actually masks off perfectly to widescreen with the flick of a TV remote. The source material is virtually free of any blemishes whatsoever, which will come as a welcome change for most B-movie fans. The film was shot with a somewhat odd visual texture presumably meant to mimic the smoky look of beatnik cafes, with shots ranging from relatively crisp to hazy and muted with wide shots in particular looking flatter and fuzzier than you might expect. Unfortunately, contrary to the back of the packaging, there is no theatrical trailer on the disc.
In 2015, the film received its inaugural Blu-ray release (well, BD-R) from The Film Detective, and the results are definitely better than you might expect for a PD title with such consistent element problems over the years. The film itself isn't as slick as The Bat, another film released simultaneously by the same company, but it appears to be a pretty accurate rendition of the original theatrical appearance with the more compositionally satisfying 1.85:1 framing snapping everything back into place. The film source is free of any major damage and looks quite clean throughout, but the film grain appears to be intact without any attempts to smudge it into submission. The opticals of the opening and closing credits result in that footage looking an extra generation or two removed from the source with an unavoidable drop in resolution, but otherwise fans should be pretty happy with the presentation. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds fine throughout, and optional English subtitles are also included.