“I will talk to you of Art, for there is nothing else to talk about, for there is nothing else… Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of Art. Burn gas, buggies, and whip your sour cream of circumstance and hope, and go ahead and sleep your bloody heads off. Creation is, all else is not.”
Enter The Film Detective. Founded by Philip Hopkins, the organization has made it something of a mission to re-master old cult favorite films for broadcast and the high-definition video market. They have a working library of about 3,000 titles. Now some of those films are making their way to Blu-ray, many for the first time. Recently two titles joined the high-definition treatment: Roger Corman’s cult classic Bucket Of Blood and Vincent Price’s ode to the haunted house of classic film, The Bat. Both films were originally released in 1959.
“Let them die, and by their miserable deaths become the clay within his hands”
Roger William Corman was born on April 5, 1926. If he ever dies, his funeral will be legendary. It is always possible that he will re-enact some scene from one of his Poe classics and emerge from his crypt. The fact is that many famous people in Hollywood owe an enormous debt to Corman. Some of the people I am talking about are Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Charles Bronson, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Martin Scorsese, David Carradine, Johnathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Robert Towne, Francis Ford Coppola, Gale Ann Hurd, Nicolas Roeg, John Sayles, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Matheson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, William Shatner, and others too numerous to mention. It should also be noted that Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurasowa, Francois Truffaut, and other greats reached much wider audiences under the guidance of his distribution company, New World. Not everyone has outlived him, but he has never stopped working, so each new generation has their chance to bask in the glow of the great mentor. Corman has produced nearly 400 movies and directed close to 60. His latest directorial effort is in production (Sharktopus Vs Mermantula, one of many SyFy channel epics). He was the youngest director honored by the Cinematheque Francaise and has received honors from many institutions including an honorary Academy Award in 2009.
Among those early works is Bucket Of Blood. The filmed stared Dick Miller, who would become somewhat of a lucky charm for both Corman and Joe Dante over the years, appearing in many films by both directors. This time Miller was pretty much the star of the film. He was Walter, a busboy for The Yellow Door. The place was a coffeehouse where the local artistic beatnik crowd lounged. Walter admired the poets and other artists and wanted very much to be noticed and respected by them. He lives vicariously through them. He attempts to be a sculptor, but he’s pretty bad. That is until one night he accidentally kills his landlord’s cat and covers him with clay. The result is heralded by the denizens of The Yellow Door as a masterpiece. It doesn’t take much imagination to see where this is going. Think House of Wax, and you quickly get the idea. Throw in a greedy boss and a couple of undercover narcs, and you end up with a tight little low-budget film with little pretense and a lot of entertainment value for the money.
This improbable plot becomes a cult classic in the hands of a different kind of sculptor. Roger Corman doesn’t work in clay. He molds this low-budget film that did exactly what it was intended to do. Entertainment? To turn a profit. But it did manage to entertain anyway. That was the secret. Bucket Of Blood never takes itself seriously. It’s a farce set in a beatnik culture that Corman exagerates for effect. Dick Miller is the clay used by Corman here. He plays the awkward Walter with more nuance than you might expect in a farce. He’s a likable guy who just wants to get noticed and liked. He should have skipped the silly murder and just asked Corman how it was done. Bucket Of Blood is an amusing example of just that.
This restoration isn’t going to win any awards. There are still plenty of print scratches and other artifacts. What does remain is actually pretty sharp and about as good as these budget films are ever going to look and sound. No tape hiss or high-end distortion. Also no extras.
Corman’s genius was creating an empire on a shoestring. He sized up the business and only had one film that didn’t make money. That was the openly issue-oriented The Intruder with William Shatner. So Corman made sure to hide his messages in the future. He made films cheap, easy to digest, and above all, profitable. He has made so many films because he gives people what they want. Sit back that “he might take you in his magic hands and wring from your marrow wonder”.