Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Monday, April 20, 2015

B-Movie Mystery Solved: Confessions of a Psycho Cat (1968)

Theatrical Poster
Virginia Marcus is rich and beautiful. Unfortunately, she’s also terribly deranged and looking for something more exciting out of life than the safari that her brother Anderson has invited her on. Instead, she opts to stay home and cook up a little hunt of her own.

She lures three men to her home—professional wrestler Rocco, washed-up stage actor Charles Freeman, and street hustling drug addict Buddy—and offers them each a deal of a lifetime: $100,000 in cold hard cash, no strings attached. All they have to do is stay alive in Manhattan for 24 hours while she hunts them down like the filthy animals they are.

You see, these three men were not chosen at random. Virginia pulled their names from a magazine article about acquitted murderers, a category that they all fall under, and she’s more than willing to cough up the cash if it means getting the opportunity to play judge, jury and executioner.

With the game afoot, it’s Buddy who is our primary character. He barges into the apartment of a friend who is hosting a sex-and-drug party looking for a fix, and winds up spilling the whole story. He narrates flashbacks to everyone’s origin and demise (Never mind the fact that he wasn't there and has no way of actually knowing what happened), which are occasionally interspersed with scenes of him jonesing for heroin, some random couples caressing each other seductively, or Virginia dealing with her psychiatrist—and believe me, she needs one.

Said psychiatrist, Dr. Max Schramm, senses that his patient has gone off the deep end and calls in her brother to help—who somehow arrives back in the city from whatever exotic locale he was hunting at in a matter of hours. Can they talk her down in time to save Buddy? And is he even worth saving?

Meh, probably not.

Eileen Lord as Virginia
CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT is a very strange movie. It’s got a strange title, it’s strangely structured, it's got some strange (but, at the same time, compelling) acting, and some really strange death scenes. In order to further her Human Safari scenario, Virginia has equated each of her prey with something of a spirit animal: Charles Freeman is a lion; Buddy is a jackal; and Rocco is a bull. The death scenes in which they are involved are ostensibly representative of their animals—but really, it's only obvious when it comes to Rocco. Virginia dresses up like a crazed matador and bullfights him to death, which is certainly one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Hell, one of the most memorable scenes in a lot of films.

The story itself isn't all that strange, however…or at least, it's not unheard of. This is a modernized version of The Most Dangerous Game, with the action transplanted from a Caribbean island to the island of Manhattan, and the gender of our Great White Hunter reversed.  

For as scattershot as the movie is, it's somewhat amazing how logical the payout scheme for Virginia’s hunt is: after their meeting with her, all three men return to their homes, and in the next few days, a post-dated check for $100,000 will arrive at their doors via registered mail. Once they sign for the check, their 24-hour countdown begins. Only if they survive until the next day—the date that the check is made out for—can they collect their winnings. And if they don't survive? Then they can't very well cash the check, can they?

Despite Virginia’s obvious insanity, she continues to act pretty logically throughout most of the film.
Jake Lamotta as Rocco
In order to lure her targets out into the open, she uses their weaknesses against them. For Charles Freeman, she arranges for him to get a last-minute part in a play, knowing that his love of the limelight wouldn't allow him to pass up the opportunity for a possible comeback. For Rocco, she merely calls him on the phone and taunts him until he loses his temper and goes out looking for her. And for Buddy, she knows that all she has to do is wait…and sooner or later, he’ll go out searching for a fix. (When he finally does get one, it's an extremely long and awkward scene in a public restroom, where he struggles to shoot up while simultaneously propping the stubborn stall door open for the benefit of the camera).

I suppose some credit should also go to the filmmakers for at least attempting to explain the reason behind Virginia’s deep rooted psychosis, where others would not have even bothered. In a flashback to her childhood, we see her brother Anderson toss her beloved puppy off the roof of a high-rise building. While this would certainly cause some emotional scarring, I'm unsure that it alone would result in triple homicide—not to mention, it actually says quite a bit more about Anderson than it does about her. Also, at the finale of the film, when Virginia’s psyche has completely fractured, she has regressed to childhood and begins shouting “Do you love me now, daddy?”, which points to issues rooted far deeper than previously hinted at.

CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT has always been something of a B-Movie Mystery, especially in regards to the cast and crew. There is surprisingly little background information about the film available, and the only definitive credits have always been Bill Boyd as screenwriter, Herb Stanley as producer-director (though he is credited onscreen as “Eve”), Eileen Lord as Virginia, and boxer Jake LaMotta—the inspiration for RAGING BULL—as Rocco, hence his spirit animal. The theatrical poster also lists Ed Brandt (a pseudonym for Ed Garrabrandt), Frank Grace (a pseudonym for Frank Geraci), and Dick Lord as the film’s stars, but which role each of these three actors fill has never been determined. There has always been much unknown, and as it turns out, even some of what we thought we knew was wrong.

I have managed to get ahold of someone who worked on the film and has agreed to share some information with me under the condition that their identity remains anonymous, reason being that they are no longer in the business and have spent the past 48 years distancing themselves from this project. This Crew Member (referred to from here on out as CM) is very knowledgable about the goings-on, but some details are understandably fuzzy after nearly five decades.

Starting right at the top of the food chain, CM tells me that Herb Stanley is a pseudonym for an unknown producer whose real name is lost to memory, and that “Herb” did not direct the film at all. The real director was an English fellow by name of Robert Worms whose name was left off of the completed film, and the producer gave himself (or rather his pseudonym) undue credit. Similarly, Stanley’s co-presenter of this film, Bob Page, is another fake name, though we don’t know of whom. Unfortunately, as Stanley, at least, is buried behind not one but two pseudonyms, their true identities will likely never be discerned.

Virginia Lord, Frank Geraci, Dick Lord, & Jake LaMotta
CM continues to fill in the casting gaps by informing me that Frank Geraci played Buddy the junkie, Ed Garrabrandt played Virginia’s brother Anderson, and Dick Lord played Freeman the actor.

Geraci had a minor television and film career following CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT, and I have since been able to confirm his appearances in an episode of KOJAK and the action-comedy film THE HARD WAY. Garrabrandt has no other known TV or film appearances; nor does Dick Lord, no matter what the IMDb would like you to think. The other credits that the IMDb associates with Dick Lord actually belong to a different person of the same name—a Catskills comedian who is still active today, and who was close personal friends with singer Bobby Darin.

Our Dick Lord, by the way, was married to Eileen Lord—not their real names, either. The names of every credited performer aside from LaMotta were changed without their permission before the release of the film. Although the couple had a lot of fun working on the movie together (and Eileen forever loved to remind him that when they went toe-to-toe on the silver screen, she came out the victor), they were devastated when they saw how drastically different the released project was from the one that they had shot.

If the storyline has an unlikely literary connection via Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, the casting has an equally unlikely connection to legitimate theater. Frank Geraci (billed in theater as Franco) and Ed Garrabrandt performed together in the off-Broadway play THE FANTASTICKS; and Robert Worms and Dick Lord were in a theater group together. After Lord was cast as Freeman, he suggested his wife Eileen for the lead. The gathering of most of the primary cast seems to have been an organic one, though it is yet unknown exactly how LaMotta became involved.

If CM’s memory serves, CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT was originally intended for television, but after the filmmakers were unable to sell it to any of the networks, the sex scenes were filmed and inserted without most of the primary cast’s permission, so that it could be sold to the grindhouse market. The only exception to this being Frank Geraci, who appears to have been called back in to shoot the footage of him at the party, recounting the events to his friends—a cinematic structure that was not used in the initial cut of the film.

It’s easy to tell which scenes are from the original production and which ones were shoehorned in, if only because the audio in the new footage is of such lesser quality. These scenes of sex and nudity are slowgoing and awkward, easily the most uninteresting part of the film, and the acting talent of the nubile young people within them are nowhere up to par with the rest of our leads. CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT would be a much better watch if not for these elements which put the brakes on the action and bring everything to a screeching halt at rather random intervals.

CM is not positive who it was that added these scenes, but suspects that it was the shadowy producer and that Robert Worms had nothing to do with it. Having recently rewatched the film, CM also believes that some of the original scenes were cut in order to make room for the sex scenes, but cannot recall any specifics—though further madness and motivation for Virginia seems a likely possibility. Whatever footage had been excised is likely lost to the ages, which is a real shame. Had this movie been left intact and played out like a more traditional thriller (seedy city elements notwithstanding), it could have been a diamond in the rough, and not just another roughie.

So there you have it, as much new information about this film that my pop cultural archeological dig was able to turn up. A few mysteries solved, but others still remain. History is uncovered in baby steps, after all, and not by leaps and bounds.


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