A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Dick Miller plays artist Walter Paisley

A Bucket of Blood

One night after hearing the words of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton), a poet who performs at a café called The Yellow Door, socially awkward busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) returns home to attempt to create a sculpture, in the face of Carla (Barboura Morris), a girl frequently hanging out where he works that he has a crush on. As much as he tries, he cannot form the clay to resemble a human face. He stops when he hears the meowing of Frankie, the cat owned by his inquisitive landlady, Mrs. Surchart (Myrtle Vail), who has somehow gotten himself stuck in Walter's wall. Walter attempts to get Frankie out using a knife, but accidentally kills Frankie when he sticks the knife into his wall. Disgusted with himself, Walter cries himself to sleep and hears the poetry of Brock pour through his tormented mind, giving him a radical inspiration. Instead of giving Frankie a proper burial, Walter covers the cat in clay, even leaving the knife stuck in it.

The next morning, Walter shows the cat to Carla and his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone). Though Leonard is dismissive of the oddly morbid piece, Carla is enthusiastic about the work, and the piece goes on display in the café, where Walter gets newfound respect from the beatniks and poets who hang out in the café. He is approached by an adoring fan, Naolia (Jhean Burton), who gives him a vial of heroin to remember her by. Not knowing what it is, he sticks it in his pocket, and is followed home by Lou Raby (Bert Convy), an undercover cop. Lou attempts to intimidate him into confessing being a narcotics mule by brandishing his gun. When Lou attempts to arrest Walter, Walter in a blind panic accidentally smashes his frying pan into Lou's head. The fracas alerts his landlady and Walter fast talks her out of the apartment as he tearfully tries to hide the body. Meanwhile, Walter's boss finds out the secret behind Walter's "Dead Cat" piece. The next morning, Walter uneasily works while plainclothes police case the coffeehouse, much to the chagrin of the stoners and barflies. Leonard starts sarcastically praising Walter until Carla and the others come to his defense. Walter haltingly tells them he has a whole new piece, which he calls "Murdered Man." Knowing Walter's secret, Leonard is horrified. While attempting to call the police, Leonard is approached by an art collector who offers him $500 for "Dead Cat," and so, he hangs up the phone. Both Leonard and Carla come with Walter as he unveils his latest work and are simultaneously amazed and appalled at the sight of it. Walter is very uneasy as well but his mood improves as Carla critiques it as "hideous and eloquent" and deserving of a public exhibition. Leonard is aghast at the idea, even as he realizes the potential for wealth if he plays this right. He and Carla quarrel over giving Walter a show, a prospect that delights the simpleton, especially as Leonard gives him a paltry cash advance to keep quiet. Once they leave, Walter gleefully shows off the statue to his horrified landlady.

The next night, Walter is treated like a king by pretty much everyone, except for Alice (Judy Bamber), who has been out of town for the last few nights. Despite being pinup gorgeous and pop-culturally savvy for the time, it is clear she is not very much liked. Seeing Walter at the table with Brock, she wonders what the busboy is doing sitting with them. As Brock explains that a great artist is in their midst, Alice goes mercenary and preens a bit at Walter, declaring her fee outright. Leonard tries to interdict any notion of him doing more figure work, even despite Carla's insistence. The stoners put their two cents in and eventually the bristling Alice escalates the conversation into an argument that seriously angers Walter and he leaves in a huff. Walter later follows her home, trying to apologize and getting the door slammed in his face. His reaction is one of seething rage but he calms down and persists, explaining that he wants her to be his model and is willing to pay her price. At that notion, she is all ears and eager to work. At Walter's apartment, Alice strips nude off camera, and poses in a chair. Walter suggests she put back on her scarf and, in a pretense of adjusting it to look right, uses it to strangle her. The latest work is brought to Brock's house, where the gang is gathered for a sumptuous organic breakfast. Once unveiled, the statue of Alice renders them awestruck and Carla is so pleased that she kisses Walter on the lips. Brock is so impressed, he throws a party at the Yellow Door in Walter's honor. Costumed as a carnival fool, Walter is wined and dined to excess. Leonard keeps an eye on him, worried that he will make some mistake that will blow this deal. Brock composes a poem especially for Walter that provides him more twisted inspiration.

Walter later stumbles back home, realizing he has to make good on his promise to make more work. Still drunk and with his rage unleashed, he holds down a factory worker to cut his head off with a buzz-saw to create a bust. When he shows it to Leonard, with the word of a horrible decapitation in the neighborhood fresh off the press, his boss realizes he has to take care of things right away. He promises Walter his show to offload these "statues." At an exhibit of Walter's works, he professes his love to Carla and proposes to her. She rejects him, stating that she likes him for his work, but that she doesn't love him. Walter is distraught at her answer, since fame and fortune didn't bring him the love he sought after all. Yet, despite this, he offers to do a sculpture of her, and she happily agrees to after the reception. When they get back to the exhibit, however, she finds a chip in the "sculpture" of Alice. When she tells Walter that there's a body in one of the sculptures, he tells her that he "made them immortal," and that he can make her immortal too. She runs out of the exhibit, and he chases after her. Meanwhile, the others at the exhibit learn Walter's secret as well, and chase after them. Walter and Carla wind up at a lumber yard where Walter, haunted by the voices of Lou and Alice, stops chasing after Carla, and runs home. The police, Carla, Leonard and Maxwell break down Walter's apartment door to find that Walter has hung himself.
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