On DVD: Dick Miller in Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959)


A Bucket of Blood (1959) perfectly illustrates why producer Roger Corman never lost a dime on a film. Produced in five days, with a budget of $50,000, this dark comedy took a playful swipe at beatnik and art culture with thrift and efficiency, relying on sensational content and bizarre characters for impact. I recently revisited this darkly quirky film on a new DVD release from Olive Films.

It saddens me to live in a world where an intriguing face like Dick Miller’s isn’t considered matinee idol material, but sometimes life gets things right. Often a supporting player in Corman productions, A Bucket of Blood was one of a few films in which the actor starred.

Miller is Walter Paisley, a busboy in an arty beatnik café who aspires to be a sculptor, despite the mocking of his workplace patrons. After struggling hopelessly with a lump of clay, Paisley discovers a novel way to make art when he mistakenly stabs a cat to death and decides to cover it in clay. The resulting sculpture is a hit at the café and, much to his horror, he soon finds himself following up with human subjects. As his reputation as an artist blooms, the hapless busboy suffers guilt and fear of discovery.

In this twist on the House of Wax concept, the villain is neither imposing or outwardly horrific. He’s just a weak, unlucky, and untalented man. The horror is in what he is willing to do in order to escape being ordinary.

This is one of the best films Roger Corman directed, primarily due to the one-two punch of Miller as lead and Charles Griffith as screenwriter. Griffith was expert at creating oddball characters who would never dream that the strange things they do are unusual in the least. He creates a ridiculous world, made all the more wild by the fact that these people are actually quite familiar.

A year later, Corman would direct The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) under much the same conditions, with Dick Miller in a small, but memorable role as a man who eats flowers, Charles Griffith as screenwriter, and a soundtrack which recycled much of Fred Katz’s jazzy Bucket score. The formula worked again.

The Olive disc has good sound and a clean, slightly soft image. It’s great to have this film available in a high quality release.

Many thanks to Olive Films for providing a copy of the film for review.

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