The Yellow Door club is the haunt for the most fashionable beatniks around, or a few of them anyway, but for Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) it's just somewhere to work, as he has a job as a busboy there. He may carry out menial tasks, but he does have ambitions of his own as his heart's desire is to become a sculptor, though everyone around him denigrates his dreams and does not believe he will amount to anything more than cleaning up after the patrons of his boss, Leonard (Antony Carbone). Only Carla (Barboura Morris) encourages him, and he is grateful for that, but when he finally gets some clay home to his one-room apartment, events take an unexpected turn...
A Bucket of Blood is probably the Roger Corman-directed movie that is most associated with Dick Miller, that familiar face in American cinema for a number of decades, almost always in a supporting role or even bit part. He became one of Corman's ensemble and as a result, one of his most admired thanks to the habit of those who had worked with the notoriously penny-pinching filmmaker adopting him as a kind of mascot on their own productions once they had the chance to turn director themselves; as a result, Miller was one of the most enduring cult stars of the twentieth century, since he had that kind of quirky face that proved memorable: ideal for a character actor.
It wasn't merely his face that was his fortune, as his whole demeanour was indelible too, whether he was a shifty villain or comic relief he had a knack for bringing a little something extra special to every role, and none more than his tragic bad guy Walter here, his signature part though he was usually a shade sharper about the wits. Walter was not exactly a simpleton, but he was easily led, and comes to believe the patter peddled by the exponents of the beatnik scene the film was keen to expose as posturing and a pretentious sham. It was odd that whenever the counterculture was depicted in exploitation flicks of the day, it was nearly always with deep suspicion, at least until the hippies arrived.
You might have thought Corman and his ilk would be sympathetic to the beat movement, yet on this evidence he and his screenwriter Charles B. Griffith were certain this lot with their poetry, drugs and art affectations were pulling a fast one, whereas presumably a more honest seeker after patrons' cash, like, ooh, like a certain Mr Corman, was more likely to have their finger on the pulse of human nature and what the public wanted to be entertained by. All that said, the beats were skewered in A Bucket of Blood better than many observers - from the outside - ever managed, identifying a vicious snobbery in the In Crowd that was not regularly brought into the spotlight for a caustic exposure. It wasn't a case of the squares defending themselves against the attacks of the self-appointed cool, it was keener than that.
Walter, you see, has a solution to his lack of talent that he accidentally realises when he tries to free his pet cat from the wall of his apartment and stabs it to death by mistake, one bread knife through the heart. Suddenly inspired, he covers the corpse with clay, allows it to set, and brings it to the club as an artwork, to be greeted with admiration at the piece's perceived truth and skill (it has the knife still sticking out of it!), and soon the trendies are wanting a follow-up. They get one with "Murdered Man", a life study of a figure afflicted by a deep crack in its skull, which should give you an idea of what it actually is, an undercover cop Walter panicked and killed when he was accused of holding narcotics. Sweet Carla remains oblivious, as does everyone else except Leonard who twigs but hypocritically sees the high prices the art is amassing and keeps his mouth shut, though suffers with angst for his duplicity. Sort of a House of Wax with satirical flavour, Miller was correct when he said the low budget hurt, but it contained a cynical verve that sees it a favourite of buffs to this day. Music by Fred Katz.