Starting in the early 1950s, no name is more synonymous with American pop cinema than Roger Corman. His 1959 film, A Bucket of Blood (1959) perfectly exemplifies the art of Corman’s specialty, the American exploitation film. More than just a Director and Producer, Corman created a movie making machines that powered through minuscule budgets to entertain decades of film-goers.
While Roger Corman may not have the infamous notoriety of contemporaries like H.G. Lewis, undoubtedly his unsurpassed volume of work makes him one of the founding fathers of exploitation cinema. Speaking of H.G. Lewis, he might have borrowed Corman’s notebook on this one. Color Me Blood Red (1965) shares more than a couple of plot points. More on this later.
With A Bucket of Blood, Roger Corman exploits the popularity of the bohemian beat-generation, and uses its characteristics to create a satire of the entire movement. This all provides the be-bop foundation for a silly little horror story.
Enter Walter Paisley
A Bucket of Blood features the eventual horror journeyman Dick Miller as the lead character of Walter Paisley. Interestingly, Dick Miller would a play a character named Walter Paisley in litany of films. It seems that the name became the pseudonym for the everyman.
In this particular case, Walter Paisley works as a busboy at a bohemian bar called the Yellow Door. Walter aspires to be an artist himself, but he struggles to be taken seriously. He finds it impossible to get respect from both his peers and his boss.
Fortunately for Walter and unfortunately for everyone else, this would soon change.
The Master Sculptor
One night, Walter Paisley makes an attempt at sculpting. As he needs the clay, the incessant drone of the landlady’s cat interrupts him. In a fit of rage, he lashes out with a knife, fatally impaling the kitty. Rather than disposing of the body, he encases it in clay. Proud of his handy work, he takes his creation down to the Yellow Door to rave reviews. The people love it, but remain skeptical that Walter has any more creativity.
Ultimately, this leads Walter down a hellish path of serial murder as he encases all of his victims in clay tombs. Much to his anticipation, this leads Walter to be the talk of the town, at least for a while.
Walter continues his artistic rampage until he hatches plans to “sculpt” Carla, the apple of his eye. Just then, then the truth about Walter’s talent unravels.
Thin on Horror, Thick on Satire
Only in the most technical terms does A Bucket of Blood qualify as horror. Yes, it has killings, but rather that a bucket of blood, it offers merely a trickle. Shot in black and white, the audience barely notices it. Corman’s instead focuses on the fickle nature of the beatniks at The Yellow Door. He pokes fun at the fact that they find art in the most ridiculous places.
Corman exacerbates his commentary when Walter shows up to the club wearing a silly beret, an ascot and 7 inch long cigarette holder. Rather than appearing as a real artist, he looks more like a caricature. It’s the ultimate in uniform non-conformity.
Corman would make the exploitation a center piece of his career. Each time he would paint these social construct that would fit neatly into a comic book frame. Not only would this create a target for external commentary, but would hopefully trigger introspection by the people exhibiting the characteristics in question. Nah, that likely never happened. It never does.
It serves as a bit of a progenitor to other counter-culture commentaries like Peter Cushing’s Corruption (1968) which would take the same shots at late 60s “Summer of Love” stereotypes.
Influencing Another Master of Exploitation
Clearly Roger Corman had an effect on another famous exploitation director of this era. In 1965, Herschell Gordon Lewis released Color Me Blood Red. It weaves a similar tale about a starving artist that struggles to make his mark. Only upon finding the most beautiful shade of red paint would he finally break through. Unfortunately, the paint he requires can only be sourced from the blood of beautiful victims.
Separated by 6 years, an eternity in cinema at the time, these film offer an interesting comparison as both directors riff off of a similar idea. Corman plays it very straight while the other dials up the red stuff.
A Bucket of Blood – An Interesting Curiosity
With A Bucket of Blood, Roger Corman creates a completely average film with exceptional charm. It only ages well because it represents the forgotten age of cinema. It harkens back to the days of the drive-in theater and dancing hot-dogs marching across the silver screen.
It’s sole purpose was to provide fodder for young mid-century adults to make-out to. At 65 minutes, it’s really more of a double-decker Twilight Zone episode. Still, it helped cement Corman as one of the master purveyors of this type of film. It also provided an outlet for Dick Miller and his Walter Paisley’s to make their way into the world of horror.
A Bucket of Blood amounts to a reasonably good time for lack of anything better to do.