This is a superb send-up of the Beatnik era “swim on, you maudlin, muddling, mad fools…” the coffee house poet Brock (Julian S. Burton) drones. He’s talking about blind fish (the bourgeois masses, I guess) who the artist baits, etc. Soon we have “Get a good night’s sleep, you fink” and that’s a detective, an obvious ‘square,’ talking to his undercover guy.
Even without our poor protagonist Walter (Dick Miller) and his lonely quest for recognition, this would be thoroughly entertaining. Actually, the premise of man’s search for meaning through art really goes to the core of the Beat movement, and the contemporary existentialist movement that propelled it.
Just as fate has its touchy influence on life, Walter’s accidental cat-stabbing jump-starts his art career; his criminal career too. He’s taken “the clay within/that he might form an ashtray or an ark”, according to Brock. Walter kind of splits the difference in value between the extremes that those two images conjure up. Or, rather, he splits the skull of the undercover cop sent to arrest him for drug possession.
So, “murdered man” is his next piece; and it’s hideous alright, according to Carla (Barboura Morris). In fact, it’s quite a bit scarier than the run-of-the-mill movie monster. Soon Walter’s more or less a celebrity, indulging in ‘light Yugoslavian white wine.’ A Marilyn Monroe lookalike, Alice (Judy Banner), tweaks him off, so she’s through. But not through modeling…
The reaction to Brock’s tribute to Walter “Man, like that was the greatest gas I ever heard!” kind of sums up the prevailing opinion. The only dose of reality comes from the coffeehouse proprietor Leonard (Anthony Carbone). He’s figured out Walter’s deal. So, Walter wants to junk everything, and marry Carla.
She not only spurns him, but makes a ghastly discovery as well. He starts to hallucinate that his victims call out to him during a noir-like chase through the shadowy streets and alleys. At this point, all the funny stuff is long gone–it’s straight horror until the end.
Although I did mention that a cool movie could’ve been done without the macabre elements, I’m also thinking that the opposite tack could work. Keep the Beat trappings as a backdrop, darken the tone (to resemble the last sequences here), and develop Walter’s character with some psychological depth.
As it is, A Bucket Of Blood makes its own mark on the horror genre. 8/10.