"You're a real artist now... now go on back and scrub down those garbage cans."
Poor Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is getting no action at all. He works bussing tables at a beatnik coffee house called The Yellow Door and is surrounded by painters, poets, performance artists and musicians, but has yet to come into his own as much of anything. He spends his days dealing with pretentious types who make fun of him and his nights all alone in his cramped apartment dreaming of winning over the respect and admiration of his peers. One evening he sits down with some clay to sculpt a bust of Carla (Barboura Morris) - one of the only people at The Yellow Door who is ever kind to him - and finds inspiration (and talent) completely absent. That all changes when he hears his landlord Mrs. Swickert's (Myrtle Vail) cat Frankie meowing from behind a wall. Trying to get the trapped cat out, Walter stabs through the wall and accidentally kills it. He then covers it with clay and takes it to work, where his boss Lenny DeSantis (Antony Carbone) agrees to stick it in the back corner of the alcove in case anyone is interested in purchasing it. And, surprisingly enough, they are.
Walter's new art piece (aptly entitled "Dead Cat") becomes all the rage for its authenticity and detail. He wins over the admiration of the other patrons, gains a few new female groupies and is dubbed "The silent voice of creation!" by bearded poet and coffee house attraction Maxwell Brock (Julian Burton). Because of his instant success, Lenny sends Walter home to create more of the same and on his way out the door one of his admirers hands him a little vial of heroin. Undercover cops have been staking the joint because of all the dope heads who've been hanging out there and one of them, Lou, follows Walter home, pulls a gun on him and ends up getting whacked over the head with a skillet. What's Walter to do with the body? Let's just say his next artistic vision will be a full-sized figured entitled "Murdered Man."
A Bucket of Blood is classic Corman. Shot in just five days for peanuts (just 50,000 dollars), this is a fresh, original, entertaining, highly-enjoyable black comedy with a clever premise, a good cast, lots of genuine macabre laughs and a reasonable run-time (65 minutes) to ensure it doesn't wear out its welcome or drag. Charles B. Griffith's screenplay is successful at both sending up the emerging beatnik coffee house subculture as well as taking jabs at the pretentiousness and self-righteousness of the fickle art scene.
Corman supporting player Miller, usually off to the side in these things, went on to get maximum mileage from this rare starring vehicle, which deservedly went on to become a cult classic. Miller would continue to reference this character in numerous other films throughout his career. In the Corman production HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976), he played a sleazy talent agent named Walter Paisley; in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983) he was a diner patron named Walter Paisley; in CHOPPING MALL (1986), he was a janitor named Walter Paisley, and so on. Ed Nelson (from ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS and many other Corman productions) and future game show host Bert Convy are also in it.
Amusing comic art from the original Bucket of Blood poster...
Corman's THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960), which was also written by Griffith and went on to become a cult classic, was shot around the same time on the same sets.
Bucket was remade in 1995 by Michael McDonald; a comedian best known for his 10 year stint on the Fox sketch comedy series Mad TV. That version debuted on Showtime, was released on VHS under the title Death Artist, starred Anthony Michael Hall as Paisley, also featured small roles played by Paul Bartel, Mink Stole, Jennifer Coolidge and Will Ferrell (making his film debut) and was again produced by Corman.