Movie Review: “A Bucket of Blood” (1959)


Do not let the title fool you: this is not typical B-level schlock, but an intelligent thriller which serves  to shine a light on the Beat Generation in 1950’s America. A Bucket of Blood is a cheaply made, verbose, sometimes top-heavy film, but as is the case with much of Roger Corman’s productions, it works. Walter (Dick Miller) is a frustrated and jealous waiter working in an artsy beatnik bar who is tired of getting no recognition for anything. Surrounded by poets and artists, he is determined to crack the upper echelon and be considered one of the intellectuals he is normally just serving coffee to. Living alone in his apartment, he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat one night and something clicks inside of him. He decides to cover the cat with clay, pass it off as a sculpture, and bring it to the cafe’s gallery for sale. It is an instant hit, and the people want more. He becomes a celebrity overnight. The owner (Antony Carbone, the doctor in Corman’s later The Pit and the Pendulum) realizes what is going on, but he is making money off the new-found sensation. To what lengths will he turn a blind eye?

The “sculptures” soon become the focus of human subjects, as young Walter becomes drunk with fame and attention. He quits being a waiter to become a customer, sitting among the greats including a poet named Maxwell (Julian Burton) who is obviously modeled after Jack Kerouac. The murders increase, including a police officer who stumbles upon his plot, and a few others who he has disagreements with. Each one becomes a statue, and each is regarded as a work of genius by the cafe’s customers.

There is an echo of House of Wax here, only clay is substituted. The acting is probably as top-notch as a B-level film can get. Miller does an outstanding job giving his character a childish mental instability. The rest of the cast is also pretty convincing in their roles. There are many recitations of poetry to establish the intellectualism of the beatniks, but sometimes it can be a bit too much. Quite a few times you will just want to skip ahead as it never seems to go more than 10 minutes without someone standing there giving a soliloquy or monologue. In a film that is barely over an hour, this can be a bit of a problem. A Bucket of Blood encapsulates much of that era, showing the drug use and using slang that would have been common. In a way, it is just as much an insight into the lifestyle as it is a horror movie (though the portrayal is not always flattering). It is a highly unique production. Also starring Barboura Morris and Ed Nelson. Written by Charles Griffith.

7 out of 10 stars.


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