One night after hearing the words of Maxwell H. Brock (Julian Burton), a poet who performs at The Yellow Door cafe, socially awkward busboy Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) returns home to attempt to create a sculpture of the face of the hostess Carla (Barboura Morris). He stops when he hears the meowing of Frankie, the cat owned by his inquisitive landlady, Mrs. Surchart (Myrtle Vail), who has somehow gotten himself stuck in Walter's wall. Walter attempts to get Frankie out using a knife, but accidentally kills the cat when he sticks the knife into his wall. Instead of giving Frankie a proper burial, Walter covers the cat in clay, leaving the knife stuck in it. Carla and Leonard admire Walter's "sculpture," Dead Cat.
The next morning, Walter shows the cat to Carla and his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone). Leonard dismisses the oddly morbid piece, but Carla is enthusiastic about the work and convinces Leonard to display it in the café. Walter receives praise from the beatniks and poets in the café and is approached by an adoring fan, Naolia (Jhean Burton), who gives him a vial of heroin to remember her by. Naively ignorant of its function, he takes it home and is followed by Lou Raby (Bert Convy), an undercover cop, who attempts to take him into custody for narcotics possession. In a blind panic, Walter tries to knock the gun out of his hand with the frying pan, but the gun goes off, killing Lou.
Meanwhile, Walter's boss discovers the secret behind Walter's "Dead Cat" piece when he sees fur sticking out of it. The next morning, Walter tells the café-goers that he has a whole new piece, which he calls "Murdered Man." Both Leonard and Carla come with Walter as he unveils his latest work and are simultaneously amazed and appalled. Carla critiques it as "hideous and eloquent" and deserving of a public exhibition. Leonard is aghast at the idea, but realizes the potential for wealth if he plays his cards right.
The next night, Walter is treated like a king by almost everyone, except for a girl named Alice (Judy Bamber). Walter later follows her home and confronts her, explaining that he wants her to model. At Walter's apartment, Alice strips nude and poses in a chair, where Walter proceeds to strangle her with her scarf. Walter creates a statue of Alice which, once unveiled, so impresses Brock that he throws a party at the Yellow Door in Walter's honor. Costumed as a carnival fool, Walter is wined and dined to excess.
After the party, Walter later stumbles towards his apartment. Still drunk, he beheads a factory worker with his own buzz-saw to create a bust. When he shows the head to Leonard, his boss realizes that he must stop Walter's murderous rampage and promises Walter a show to offload his latest "statues." At the exhibit, Walter proposes to Carla, but she rejects him. Walter is distraught and now offers to sculpt her, and she happily agrees to after the reception. Back at the exhibit, however, she finds part of the clay on one figure has worn away, revealing a human finger. When she tells Walter that there is a body in one of the sculptures, he tells her that he "made them immortal," and that he can make her immortal too. She flees the exhibit, and he chases after her. Meanwhile, the others at the exhibit learn Walter's secret as well, and chase after them. Walter and Carla wind up at a lumber yard where Walter, haunted by the voices of Lou and Alice, stops chasing after Carla, and runs home. With discovery and retribution closing in on him, Walter then vows to "hide where they'll never find me." The police, Carla, Leonard and Maxwell break down Walter's apartment door only to find that Walter has hanged himself. Looking askance at the hanging corpse, Maxwell proclaims that this could be "his greatest work."
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