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A Bucket of Blood (1959) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • A dim-witted busboy finds acclaim as an artist for a plaster-covered dead cat that is mistaken as a skillful statuette. The desire for more praise soon leads to an increasingly deadly series of works.

  • Walter Paisley, nerdy busboy at a Bohemian café, is jealous of the talent (and popularity) of its various artistic regulars. But after accidentally killing his landlady's cat and covering the body in plaster to hide the evidence, he is acclaimed as a brilliant sculptor - but his new-found friends want to see more of his work. Lacking any artistic talent whatsoever, Walter has to resort to similar methods to produce new work, and soon people start mysteriously disappearing...

  • Walter Paisley is a bit of a square and he very much envies the hip beatniks he sees at the club where he works as a busboy. Walter has dreams of being an artist but has no talent. He tries sculpture but has little success until he finds a unique way of capturing vivid images of a dead cat, a dying man and a sexy model. His employer soon figures out exactly what Walter is up to but when his work becomes a hit, would rather have the money.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • At the Yellow Door café, a popular hangout for the beatnik crowd in Venice, California, busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is deeply impressed by Maxwell H. Brock's spontaneous poetry recital. Despite the poet's open disdain for his simplistic, gullible nature, Walter clings to Maxwell's words and admires his associates, especially sketch artist Carla (Barbour Morris). Unknown to the customers and Yellow Door owner Leonard De Santis, two undercover police officers, Art Lacroix and Lou Raby, take turns staking out the café for possible drug deals.

    After his shift ends, Walter returns to his small apartment frustrated over his inability to convince the Yellow Door patrons of his artistic potential. When his attempt at sculpting proves futile, Walter lashes out angrily at his landlady's cat and accidentally kills the animal. At first horrified, Walter then covers the cat's body with clay and the next day presents it to Leonard and Carla as a work of art.

    Amazed by the realistic quality of the "sculpture," Leonard displays the cat in the café and that evening Walter is showered with praise by the Yellow Door regulars, including Maxwell. One customer, Naolia, is so moved by the work that she offers Walter a small vial as a gift. Lou notices the exchange and, following Walter home, asks to see the vial and discovers it contains heroin. Walter is surprised and confused when Lou reveals his identity and demands to know the name of his dealer. Frightened when Lou pulls a gun and places him under arrest, Walter lashes out with a frying pan, splitting Lou's skull. Meanwhile at the café, Leonard is closing up when he accidentally knocks over Walter's cat sculpture and to his horror, discovers fur underneath the clay.

    The next afternoon when Walter returns to work, Leonard makes sarcastic remarks to him about his artistic talent, but Carla and Maxwell come to his defense. Emboldened, Walter reveals he has a new work to show them, entitled "Murdered Man," which stuns Leonard. On his way to telephone the authorities, however, Leonard is approached by a wealthy art collector who offers five hundred dollars for the cat sculpture. Leonard warily agrees, then later goes with Carla to Walter's apartment to see the new work, which is Lou's body covered with clay. Shocked, Leonard refuses to display the work at the Yellow Door, but when Carla and Walter express puzzlement, Leonard suggests Walter make other pieces in order to put together a show. The distressed café owner encourages Walter to move away from realism and try "free form" art, then pays him fifty dollars from the cat sculpture sale.

    Ecstatic by his newfound success, Walter ceases working at the Yellow Door, and, affecting a beatnik style, becomes one of the café's customers, where he joins Maxwell's table of artists. One afternoon soon after Walter's initial success, Alice, a part-time model who has been out of town, joins the group but is critical of Walter, whom she knows only as a busboy. Offended by Alice's put-downs, Walter departs, but later follows her home to ask her to pose for him. Alice agrees and goes to Walter's apartment, where he strangles her with a scarf, then makes another "sculpture" that he takes to the café the next day.

    Profoundly affected by Walter's abilities, Maxwell delivers a poetic homage to him that night at the Yellow Door. After a drunken, boisterous night of acclaim, Walter heads for home, but grows frightened at the notion that his fame might be short-lived. Spotting a man cutting wood at a lumber mill, Walter attacks the man and cuts his head off with a large table saw. The next day, Leonard is mortified when Walter brings in his newest work, the bust of a man, and pleads with him to stop sculpting, declaring they have enough pieces for a show. Walter agrees and Leonard sends out invitations for his exhibition.

    On the night of the show, Walter takes Carla aside and proposes, but Carla insists that while she admires Walter's works, she is not in love with him. Angered and hurt, Walter asks Carla if she will pose for him later and she agrees. At the show, Walter, distressed over Carla's rejection, ignores the renowned art critics admiring his work. A little later, Carla closely examines Alice's sculpture and is terrified when some melting clay reveals a real finger. Carla confronts Walter who quotes Maxwell's poetry and insists he has only immortalized worthless people. Appalled, Carla flees from the café and Walter follows. Meanwhile, Art has also examined some sculptures and, realizing they are dead bodies, pursues Walter. Maxwell and several of his friends also discover the truth behind the sculptures and run after Walter.

    Haunted by the voices of his victims who assure him that he will be reviled now that he has been discovered, Walter abandons chasing Carla and instead rushes home in fright. When Art, Maxwell, Carla and the others arrive at the apartment, they find that Walter has hanged himself in despair.

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