The story of Tony and Robyn DiTocco, their quest to make a movie, and how it became an underseen classic of the ’90s video store era.
“A moment of impassioned idiocy” is how producer Tony DiTocco described his decision to enter the movie business.
Speaking to The Miami Herald in 1997 , the Fort Lauderdale attorney recalled how he and his wife, Robyn, watched Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects (1995) and felt inspired to do something similar. It was that whim that became CATHERINE’S GROVE.
They remortgaged their house, which instantly filled their coffers with $200,000, then two investors in their real estate company got excited about their proposal which swelled the budget to just over half a million. At the time, Tony was enrolled in an acting school; and with his project escalating, he tapped up one of his teachers for some advice – legendary Big Trouble in Little China (1986) star James Hong.
Hong loved the script that Robyn had come up with. Within weeks, Hong brought Jeff Fahey on board as well as journeyman director Rick King, who had just wrapped the Lorenzo Lamas vehicle Terminal Justice (1996). By this point, word of Catherine’s Grove had began to circulate, which, in turn, attracted the attention of Canada-based distributor Norstar Entertainment. Norstar’s involvement led to the film’s budget rising above the two-million mark, and the addition of cast members like Michael Madsen and Maria Conchita Alonso.
And suddenly, DiTocco was on the precipice of producing a real motion picture.
Fahey is Jack Doyle: an undercover cop hunting a serial killer who’s left a trail of dead transvestites in their wake. Off the clock, Doyle moonlights as a private eye, picking up jobs from the station that his colleagues are too busy to commit to. One such gig is the plight of Thomas Mason (Jeffrey Donovan). A wealthy young man, Mason hires Doyle and his girlfriend, Charley (Alonso), to investigate the disappearance of his sister, Catherine. It’s a situation that raises hackles for the pair of them – first, because of the endless red herrings (which range from Madsen’s mysterious uncle to Priscilla Barnes’ raging alcoholic), and second because their investigation soon starts to consume every waking moment of Doyle’s life…
Considering the presence of Fahey and Madsen, both of whom have been guilty of accepting just about any old role, you’d be forgiven for approaching Catherine’s Grove with a degree of caution. Happily, all prudence can be cast aside. The DiToccos’ script (which they co-wrote with Barry Hickey) is excellent, bursting with kooky and well-crafted characters (check out Robert Gwaltney’s porn shop proprietor) and a narrative perfectly suited to a pulpy paperback. Fahey clearly knows he’s stumbled on a diamond and his performance echoes the quality of the content – although it’s Donovan who steals the show, layering Mason with a shadowy intrigue that’s obsessively addictive.
Props also to the inclusive nature of the whole shebang. Transvestite-themed serial killer thrillers of the era (Rough Draft (1998) for example) were hardly renowned for their queer-friendly approach, but Catherine’s Grove is a notable exception. A bullish takedown of a bigoted cop, and Doyle’s partner being a gay man all contribute to a crafty thriller that deserves better than its current status languishing in obscurity.
Delivered to Norstar in February ’97, the DiToccos soon discovered what they were up against from the get-go: the Ontario outfit were unwilling to shell out for a broad release in America. The home video market was experiencing a downturn, and cable television stations – a previous shoo-in for a mid-budget thriller – were switching to producing original content in-house. With no distributor, and concerned with what their next move should be, they took the unusual step of sending screeners to a host of theatrical outlets which enabled them to give Catherine’s Grove a small theatrical release across eighteen screens in South Florida during the first weekend of September ’97. It grossed a little over $26,000 – but perhaps more disappointingly for the DiToccos, the film failed to provide any impetus for a wider residency on the big screen. It eventually landed in U.S. video stores the following October courtesy of PM Entertainment.
Also known as ‘Crossover’.
USA ● 1997 ● Thriller ● 91mins
Jeffrey Donovan, Jeff Fahey, Priscilla Barnes, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Madsen ● Dir. Rick King ● Wri. Tony DiTocco, Robyn DiTocco, Barry Hickey
U.S. video art courtesy of VHS Collector
 Making of Grove Like a Movie Itself by Todd Anthony, The Miami Herald, 5th September 1997