"It was an enjoyable film to make because the spirit on the set was high. I was working with a group of actors who were mostly friends of mine, and they added improvised jokes and lines, taking off from the spirit of the script as we went along.” – Roger Corman
In his first four years as a director, Corman had given us westerns, science fiction, horror, rock & roll drama, gangster pictures, and even a cut-rate Viking picture, some of which were very good low-budget films: Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Undead, Rock All Night, Machine Gun Kelly. What he hadn’t done was a comedy, and in 1959, handed a $50,000 budget and a five-day shooting schedule, he huddled with writer Chuck Griffith and they decided a macabre spoof set in one of the beatnik coffee houses springing up all over Los Angeles was an interesting concept that would make a profitable picture. Griffith conjured up Walter Paisley, a sad-sack loser who busses tables at The Yellow Door and longs to not only be an artist but to also spend time with Carla, the establishment’s most beautiful regular. When Walter accidentally stabs a cat to death, he finally finds his milieu: he covers the corpse with clay and presents it as a sculpture called “Dead Cat.” A success at last, Walter unfortunately discovers that a parade of new works of art is necessary – and that means a parade of new victims is called for.
Not sure how funny this all sounds, but the both Walter and the film are tragically hip, with authentic-sounding beat poetry and music spiced up with coffee, drugs (there’s an undercover cop afoot) and of course murder as Roger Corman (who never directed a B movie in his life, don’t believe anything you read to the contrary) keeps things moving briskly. Mostly, there’s a terrific cast led by Corman regulars, including Dick Miller in his breakthrough role (he’d play many characters named Walter Paisley as his career rolled on) and the loveliest leading lady in Corman’s stable, Barboura Morris, with Burt Convy as the cop and Anthony Carbone as the pretentious café owner.
Coffee-shop patron: "Walter has a clear mind. One day something will enter it, feel lonely, and leave again."
The promotional campaign for this really played it up as a Charles Addams-type black comedy and it definitely set a new bar for bizarre death humor in the movies. Corman was so pleased with the result that even before Bucket was released he commissioned Griffith to write another one; Dick Miller passed on the playing the lead in the follow-up, thinking it was the same role he’d just played, and instead suggested his pal Jackie Haze to play Seymour in what was to become Little Shop of Horrors (Miller didn't totally leave himself out of the fun: he played the guy who likes to eat carnations).
A Bucket of Blood has been in the public domain for a long time; Corman was too, er, thrifty to copyright his productions properly. The film therefore has been in poor shape for close to forever, and the new release from Olive Signature (Olive Films’ answer to Criterion) is more than welcome, it’s a revelation, mastered from a new 4K scan and packed with great bonus information, notably an interview with Mr. Miller (who passed away last year) by his wife, a featurette starring Corman reminiscing, a visual essay on scripted sequences that didn’t make the final – you should excuse the expression – cut, a stupefying German prologue created to pad the film’s running time in that country, commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of the celebrated documentary That Guy Dick Miller, and much, much more – it’s a coffee shop in a can.
Corman continued to hone a combination of comedy and terror, and eventually hit perfection with Tales of Terror and The Raven, but it all started with Walter Paisley, The Yellow Door, and A Bucket of Blood, and this ranks as one of the best, most enjoyable releases of the year. Don't miss the fun, it's a perfect movie for Halloween - or any time you feel like a cup of coffee, some poetry, and a corpse in clay.