“Walter Paisley is a bit of a square and he very much envies the hip beatniks he sees at the club where he works as a busboy. Walter has dreams of being an artist but has no talent. He tries sculpture but has little success until he finds a unique way of capturing vivid images of a dead cat, a dying man and a sexy model. His employer soon figures out exactly what Walter is up to but when his work becomes a hit, would rather have the money.” (courtesy IMDB)
Did you know that this week’s film, A Bucket Of Blood (1959), was one of a trilogy of comedies directed by Roger Corman, along with The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960), and Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961) were all written by the same person? I speak, of course, of the legendary Charles Byron Griffith, cited as the Father of American Black Comedy. So without further ado, let’s start with A Bucket Of Blood.
But first off you should know a little more about Charles B. Griffith. He had a major (if not truly appreciated) influence on American schlock cinema. After all, he wrote not just the three films I’m discussing, but also It Conquered The World (1956), The Wild Angels (1966), Not Of This Earth (1957), and the first classic reality TV parody, Death Race 2000 (1975). He became a script writer by working for his grandmother Myrtle Vale, who was the star and writer of one of the first ever radio soap operas, Myrt And Marge. Myrtle actually plays the landlady in A Bucket Of Blood, as Griffith wanted to give his relatives work. It was Jonathan Haze, star of The Little Shop Of Horrors, who introduced Griffith to Roger Corman, creating a match made in heaven. Corman liked cheap and fast, and Griffith could work cheap and fast. A Bucket Of Blood was famous for being made in five days – that is, until Corman and Griffith broke their own record with The Little Shop Of Horrors, in two days. Corman and Griffith were a major influence on all those film festival entrants who manage to get their films in ten minutes before the deadline – in terms of speed, not quality, that is.
The star of A Bucket Of Blood is Dick Miller, who was a good friend of Griffith’s and went on to play characters in pretty much every Joe Dante film ever made. He’s Walter Paisley again in Hollywood Boulevard (1976), The Howling (1981) and in Dante’s segment of The Twilight Zone (1983) and also played Paisley in Chopping Mall (1986), Night Of The Creeps (1986), and gets a promotion to Officer Paisley in Allan Arkush’s television remake of Shake Rattle And Roll (1994). He’s Mister Futterman in Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins II (1990), appears in Innerspace (1987), Small Soldiers (1998), Explorers (1985), etc, etc. It’s like Dante owes him money. He’s also a favourite of other Corman alumni, appearing in Rock’N’Roll High School (1979) directed by Allan Arkush, and even James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), but thankfully not Titanic (1997) – Dick Miller does have standards, after all.
Barboura Morris, who plays Carla was an old school friend of Corman’s. He first cast her as the lead in Sorority Girl (1957), and she went on to make The Wasp Woman (1959), Teenage Cave Man (1958) with Robert Vaughn, The Haunted Palace (1963), X The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963) and The Dunwich Horror (1970). The morally elastic cafe owner is played by Antony Carbone – you’ll see him again in Creature From The Haunted Sea. He’d be mainly familiar as the heavy from a lot of seventies and eighties television. The beatnik poet was played by Julian Burton who, rather than publish the poems and join the ranks of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Pam Ayres, went on to become another nondescript television actor.
The art director of A Bucket Of Blood, Dan Haller, is better known as Daniel Haller. He did the art direction for most of Corman’s Poe cycle, such as House Of Usher (1960), Pit And The Pendulum (1961), Tales Of Terror (1962) and Masque Of The Red Death (1964). He also directed Die Monster Die (1965) and The Dunwich Horror (1970), both part of an unofficial Lovecraft cycle produced by Roger Corman. Dan Haller was later swallowed up by an Elder God known as Glen A. Larson and forced to direct for television.
There’s an Edgar Allan Poe reference in A Bucket Of Blood, too: The cat behind the wall. There’s a reason for this reference. There was a 1934 film called Bucket Of Blood based on Poe’s famous story The Tell-Tale Heart, an obvious inspiration for Griffith. A Bucket Of Blood was remade for television in 1995 with Anthony Michael Hall as Walter Paisley, Shadoe Stevens as the cafe owner, and Will Ferrell as ‘Young Man’.
A Bucket Of Blood is probably best known for ripping the lid off the scandal that plagues the contemporary art world to this day, basically, that none of it is any good. But worse than that, many popular artists were incorporating corpses in their work, exploiting the little-known ‘Fair Use’ provision in American homicide law. You don’t want to know how Jackson Pollock did Blue Poles. And with that slightly unnerving image, let me now quickly wrap-up this review. Remember, the moral of the story is, Bad Poetry Can Lead To Murder. Anyway, please join me next week when I have the opportunity to inflict upon you the tortures of the damned from that dark, bottomless pit known as Hollywood for…Horror News! Toodles!
A Bucket Of Blood (1959)