Friday, January 22, 2010

A Bucket of Blood (1959) A Film by Roger Corman

Having directed over 50 features and acting as producer on more than 300, Roger Corman established himself as a skillful craftsman with an uncanny ability to work at hyperspeed, and A Bucket of Blood is no exception. The film, just over an hour, was shot in 5 days for a scant budget of around $50,000. Its tale of a naive busboy desperate to fit in with the sophisticated beatniks around him is ridiculous enough to warrant this kind of on-to-go treatment, but what's surprising is how generally entertaining the film is, and not always by way of kitsch. Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is the central character, a neurotic loner working in a coffee shop filled to the brim with folk musicians, pompous poets, far-out junkies, and art-world hacks. Unaware of their phoniness, and pathetically determined to appeal to them despite his complete and utter lack of artistic talent, he lives a life of starry-eyed clumsiness. His small apartment, kept up about as well as Henry's in David Lynch's Eraserhead, is the only other location he occupies in life besides the cafe. He is in dire need of a rejuvenation.

This of course being a film in the most primitive, campy traditions of genre horror, Walter finds that rejuvenation - and eventually local and art-world fame - through the macabre. After accidentally stabbing and killing his landlord's cat when attempting to retrieve it from between the walls of his apartment, he finds that the best way to cover up the murder, and benefit from it personally in the process, is to cover the whole corpse with clay, fashioning it as a sculpture of a dead cat with a knife in its side. The corpulent poet from the cafe, Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton), and Carla (Barboura Morris), Walter's love interest, immediately deem the sculpture a masterpiece, forwardly impressed by its acute sense of anatomy. Art critics get word of the piece, and soon he is a hidden phenomenon. Unfortunately, they're curious to see more, and this newfound enthusiasm influences the stubborn Walter to continue creating sculptures. Although his next work is also the product of an accident, killing a local cop with a frying pan out of fear when he threatens with a gun to arrest him for drug possession, Walter begins actively murdering members of the town to fulfill his "artistic calling".

In these startling effronteries, as strange as they are loaded with impracticalities, death becomes creation in an in-your-face manner rarely seen in films. Such a concept would normally be explored obliquely, but Corman lays it right on the table, suggesting that art can spring from even the most unlikely sources. Of course, no one (except for the Walter's boss) raises an eyebrow about the continued absence of the cafe regulars that Walter murders, nor do they ever truly inquire about how he gained his artistic prowess, preferring instead to marvel at it as if it stands on a lofty pedestal, a divine creation erected from God-given talent. Not to mention, where is the ghastly smell of fleshy decay? For Corman, these logistical obstacles were of no bother, for he realized his ultimate goal was to create entertaining movies in short periods of time. If anything, the stubbornness of the Paisley fans and their relentless blindness towards Walter's sketchy methods only amplifies Corman's overall critique of the pretensions existing in the art world, the fact that surface details such as words and forms are of more importance than whether or not their sources are authentic. Made in 1959, A Bucket of Blood effortlessly and humorously deconstructs the emerging beatnik counterculture and - with its jaunty jazz soundtrack - the conventions of horror as well.