Walter (Dick Miller) is a busboy at a beatnik coffeehouse with aspirations of doing something more. After accidentally killing a cat, he turns it into a sculpture and makes a splash (splatter? squish?) in the art world. Unfortunately staying popular involves making more art, and Walter finds himself killing people on purpose—and growing increasingly more vicious.
The most striking thing about the film for me is its resemblance to The Little Shop of Horrors, which was released the next year. It’s the same director (the legendary Roger Corman) and production company. The main characters are similar in demeanor (meek), self-esteem (poor), and willingness to murder to get their dream girl. Both become increasingly crazier and harder to empathize with. Both films feature bosses finding out the horrible secret and overbearing mother figures.
So what makes them different? Little Shop considers the plight of the poor and Jewish stereotypes, while Bucket concerns the cliché of the beatnik and the shallowness of the art scene and the nature of fame. It asks the age-old question of what makes art. Is it training or raw talent? Are art patrons so willing to conform to popular notions of avant garde art that they’re willing to applaud a dead cat encased in clay? The film pokes fun at beatniks and artsy types, but poet Maxwell is a likable and not too stereotypical character—a better protagonist than the loony Walter.
Going back to Little Shop, another thing that correlates them in my mind is the touches that aren’t the wholesome 1950s-1960s. Little Shop briefly features a hooker; Bucket directly references heroin use. Walter, having no idea what it is, accepts it from a crazy fan, and is busted by an undercover cop, whom he promptly kills.
All in all, it’s an amusing watch—mostly because it’s extremely dated. The acting is acceptable, the plot is thoughtful, and the special effects aren’t bad. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a short (65 minutes) trip to the past.