Cat’s Eye (aka, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye) (Lewis Teague, 1984)
After the tasty morsels of The Dead Zone and Firestarter, big-time genre-friendly producer Dino De Laurentiis continued merrily along the cinematic S King adaptations highway with Cat’s Eye, a good ol’ 80’s anthology, with a screenplay straight from the author himself – two of the tales taken faithfully from his own works, and the third, final story an original (with a nasty li’l troll monster) – linked together with a story device created specifically by King for the feature; namely, that of a common street tabby (the garden-variety of which, I somehow only recently discovered, each have a large ‘M’ across their forehead, something I’d never noticed before and now — like the ‘Big Dubya’ hiding in plain sight in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World! – I can’t figure out how I never noticed it before) — stumbling through each of the tales as it follows the psychic calls for help from an unknown young girl (Drew Barrymore), leading from the dangerous concrete streets of New York City (“Quitters Inc.”), to the glittering boardwalk bettor’s paradise known as Atlantic City (“The Ledge”) and, finally, on into the idyllic suburbs of Wilmington, North Carolina (“General”), where awaits the young girl and a series of battles with the troll trying to take away her breath as she sleeps each night (transposing the long-time cat myth onto the mean little creature).
Opening on our kittycat chased and escaping from a Cujo-lookalike (with nasty foaming mouth and blood-specked face so exact it seems like they must have led the rabid pooch right off the set from the previous film), then almost getting run over by a red 1958 Plymouth Fury (yes, you got it – alas, they couldn’t leave it as a cute unnamed reference, but had to cut to an artless shot of a bumper sticker with the name ‘Christine’), with this quick referential gimmick (and the film’s got more than a few gimmicks – including the entire cat saga), the film announces its more playful, laissez-faire agenda.
Other than an extremely quick, bloodless shot of a cut-off-head-rolling out of a bag (a horror gag that’s so harmless today I’m quite sure it could show on the cartoon channel without raising a hint of ire), this PG-13 movie (which easily could have been PG… ) pretty much plays as close to family entertainment as any of these King adaptations so far (well, to be fair, they’ve all been family entertainment in my house – but considering how many of my daughter’s friends I’ve discovered aren’t allowed to join us on ‘movie night’? I’ve quickly realized I’m the exception).
With the inclusion of recent King-film alumns Barrymore (following up her startlingly good performance as the tragic pyrokinetic Charlie in Firestarter, this time — in the most unnecessary gimmick of the lot — essaying three different roles, differentiated by hairstyle and glasses, with the only remotely substantial one being Amanda, the girl who can’t convince her parents – especially mom – she’s under nightly troll attack in her bed) and director Teague (after helming the aforementioned intense white-knuckler Cujo the year before), as well as the film being another go at the anthology format like Creepshow, and all those not exactly subtle visual King cues, it was clear that the massively-selling horror author was smoking hot cinematic property… and Dino was gonna make damn sure the viewing public wouldn’t miss this as the latest King jaunt (which, as time went on and the King films began to consistently underwhelm at the box office, producers would eventually start to take the opposite tact – they’d keep doing the adaptations, yes, but less and less would promote King’s brand as part of the package).
The first story, “Quitters Inc.”, following stressed-out smoker Dick Morrison (James Woods) who gets way more than he bargained for after joining the titular organization in a bid to quit the nasty habit, only to find the company’s stern methods a bit… harrowing, to say the least… including shock rooms for family members if he cheats (forced to helplessly watch the jumping about, shrieking loved one through a one-way mirror); and that’s just the first few times, the punishments grow much more permanent after that (with the first test for Morrison being the cat, hopping about the room – with this moment, and a few others, making it kinda hard to believe this little kitty didn’t face at least a bit of abuse in the making of this film) – with absolutely no way for the desperate Morrison allowed out of his contract.
Woods keeps his twitchiness in check and delivers another of his worthwhile performances… and the part of the gold chain wearing, f-bomb dropping (hence, the PG-13 rating) counselor Donatti practically seemed written (already in the original written story) for entertainer, and tough talking New Yorker, Alan King. It’s got a nice underlying sense of humour, with an amusing (if not particularly inventive – it doesn’t go wild enough) hallucination scene at a party, with Morrison spinning over the edge into mania over his nicotine cravings, and ends up overall being a clever look at the difficulties of quitting smoking, concluding with a fittingly appropriate (if not wholly unexpected) Twilight Zone style twist at the end.
“The Ledge”, like “Quitters”, doesn’t have a supernatural element or monster to speak of, yet is another engaging bit of fun, this one around a former tennis star (Robert Hays, who will forever be the shamed ex-pilot with the drinking problem from the Airplane films to me) forced by gunpoint to take up the bet of the local crime boss Cressner (long-time first rate character actor Kenneth McMillan) whose wife he’s been cheating with… the bet being to traverse the exterior of the wealthy man’s penthouse apartment (via the titular very small appendage), with the reward if he (unlikely) makes it around not only the lady in question, but a bagful of cash… and the punishment? Well… fairly obvious.
The ledge awaits… as well as strong winds, freezing weather, ankle-pecking seagulls… and a few extra surprises from Cressner, having the time of his life.
The last segment isn’t particularly surprising or inventive, but the tiny troll monster is cool enough, in a kid’s story manner (one with a slightly violent heart, that is). Makes me wonder if the presence of his own growing children in his household wasn’t starting to have a growing effect on King’s story-telling (the same for the next entry, the werewolf saga _ Silver Bullet_, which while much more rated R violent, still has a strong young adult appeal… but more on that one in a later post).
Stocked with familiar 80’s second-tier faces (including Candy Clarke, a sort of lesser known version of the dipsy Terri Garr persona, and James Naughton from the _ Planet of the Apes_ TV series, playing Barrymore’s parents in the last segment), Cat’s Eye has the unmistakable feel of one of those enjoyable TV anthology shows of the period (in fact, the first two stories would work perfect as eps for the surprisingly good 80’s The Twilight Zone re-vamp, and the last perhaps a passable one for Laurel Entertainment’s _ Tales from the Darkside_ or _ Monsters_ My 15 year old daughter certainly enjoyed the viewing.
Re-reading the actual “Quitters Inc.” and “The Ledge” stories, I found them to be nice divergences from the rest of the more sensationally eye-popping (and in the case of the unforgettable “I am the Doorway”, I mean that literary…. read it and you’ll know what I mean) tales contained in King’s _ Night Shift_ his first, and most essential, short story collection that exploded onto the literary horror scene in 1978 (similar to what happened with Clive Barker’s Books of Blood a decade later).
Tales of chain-smoking businessmen and ex-tennis stars fending off dangerous forces much larger than them (with one of them motivated by an affair with the crime boss’ wife?), they lean way more into traditional crime (and even noir) than into horror and the grotesque; they could easily have found a home with a publishing label like “Hard Case Crime” (a company that has already published a coupla King original novels), dropped right in there with noted hardboiled authors like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. And that’s far from a crime in my eyes.