April 17, 2015 Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye 30 years later
Horror anthologies were at their peak when Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye made its big screen debut on April 12, 1985 in the US through the Dino De Laurentiis Company. With other collections like Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Creepshow (1982) and Nightmares (1983) all finding success, Hollywood thought it was the perfect time to create a Stephen King-centric compilation comprised of two short stories from his 1978 collection, Night Shift, and one original story for the film. Starring Drew Barrymore (King’s Firestarter 1984, Scream 1996), James Woods (Videodrome 1983, John Carpenter’s Vampires 1998), Alan King (Bonfire of the Vanities 1990, Casino 1995), Robert Hays (Airplane! 1980, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey 1993), Kenneth McMillan (Amadeus 1984, Dune 1984) and Scooby Doo’s Frank Welker as the voice of the cat and the troll, Cat’s Eye was directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo 1983, Jewel Of The Nile 1985) and produced by husband and wife team Dino and Martha De Laurentiis (King’s Silver Bullet 1985, Hannibal 2001).
The Master of Horror himself wrote the screenplay, combining the short stories “Quitters, Inc” and “The Ledge” with a third tale about a little girl and her cat to tie the other stories together. The music was composed by Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump 1994, The Avengers 2012) while special effects were created by Carlo Rambaldi (Alien 1979, E.T. The Extra-terrestrial 1982) and Jeff Jarvis (Poltergeist 1982, King’s Firestarter 1984). Cat’s Eye was the first of King’s many films to receive a PG-13 rating and was mostly filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, the location of another King film, Maximum Overdrive (1986). Other nods to King adaptions were Dick Morrison (Woods) watching The Dead Zone (1983), Sally Ann (Candy Clark) reading Pet Sematary, and the 1976 issue of Penthouse on Cressner’s (McMillan) coffee table – the one that originally contained the story that particular segment was based on. The luckless kitty was also chased by a St. Bernard, a reference to Cujo (1983), and nearly run over by a red Plymouth Fury with the ominous bumper sticker “I Am Christine,” a nod to King’s possessed, killer car. Unfortunately, a prologue that would have explained the cat’s motivations was cut by the studio, making the connection between the three stories tenuous at best.
The story is seen through a cat’s eye – an adventurous, stray tomcat that passes through problem after problem that are mostly caused by his human counterparts. Throughout the movie, he hears the disembodied voice of a young girl asking for his help. His first dilemma comes in the form of the smoking cessation company, Quitters, Inc. It seems the company has some pretty staunch methods for getting their clients to quit, including but not limited to locking loved ones in metal rooms that conduct electricity through the floor. The unlucky kitty happens to be the display model for how this voltaic torture works for the company’s newest client, Dick Morrison (Woods). As the now crispy tiger looks on, Morrison is told his wife and then his daughter would be the ones in the room, should he smoke another cigarette. With twenty-four hour surveillance, it is not long before the cat sees Morrison return as he battles the company in an effort to free his wife from the electric room. You see, Dick Morrison smoked, and his punishment was severe. Kitty escapes in the chaos, but not before learning that Quitters, Inc. also frowns upon weight gain. Although Morrison eventually makes it as a non-smoker, he has put on a few pounds – too many, and the company will remove his wife’s pinky. Thinking this is a joke, Morrison is not laughing when he toasts Quitters, Inc. with the couple who referred him and sees that his friend’s wife’s pinky is missing.
Just as he hears the girl calling him again for help, the cat ends up in the clutches of rich casino owner Cressner (McMillan), a man who loves a good gamble. As the feline watches from a highrise window, Cressner blackmails his wife’s lover, John Norris (Hays), into an all-or-nothing bet – if Norris can circumnavigate the entire building by walking the five inch, exterior ledge of Cressner’s penthouse apartment, he can walk away with a bag full of money and Cressner’s wife. Should he refuse, the cops will be called on the drugs that have now been planted in Norris’ car. The gambler will not make it easy for Norris, though. As the terrified man inches his way around the building, Cressner adds a blaring trumpet and the high pressure jet from a fire hose to the biting wind, blood-thirsty pigeon and unstable neon sign that Norris has to contend with on his trip. As he pulls himself back onto the balcony, Cressner gives him a shopping bag containing money and his wife’s head. Enraged, Norris overtakes his kidnapper as the cat once again escapes and forces the older, slippered man to undergo the same ordeal out the ledge, a trip he does not survive.
The cat finally finds his way to the mysterious little girl, Amanda’s (Barrymore), house. There, he finally gets a name – General – and a mission: save the girl from the tiny, jingling troll that lives in her wall that tries to steal her breath at night. Amanda’s parents do no believe that there is a monster under her bed, even though she pleads with them to understand and let her keep the cat for protection. During General’s first night in her room, the troll tears a hole in the wall and kills Amanda’s parakeet before stabbing General with his tiny knife and getting away. Amanda’s parents (Candy Clark, James Naughton) think the cat killed the bird. The little girl pleads his case, but mom drops General off at the pound anyway. That night, the determined feline breaks out of his prison and rushes to Amanda’s aide as the troll is actively stealing the girl’s breath. A scuffling fight and the screams of Amanda bring the girl’s parents, who smash open the door just as General sends the troll into a spinning box fan via a high speed record player. They find a tiny arm and knife in the fan debris and realize their daughter was right all along. Amanda uses General’s heroics as justification to keep him. He has finally found a loving home.
Cat’s Eye has gotten mostly positive reviews from critics, standing at a 67% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The film itself was nominated for the International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film in 1987, and Drew Barrymore was nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Starring Performance by a Young Actress in a Motion Picture in 1986. Roger Ebert said, “The special effects are effective and understated, allowing the foreground to be occupied by some of our basic human fears, of pain for loved ones, of falling from a great height, of suffocation. Stephen King seems to be working his way through the reference books of human phobias, and Cat’s Eye is one of his most effective films.” Released on DVD by Warner Home Video in 2002, the film grossed over thirteen million dollars at the box office, almost doubling its initial budget. With Horror compilations a rare treat in this day and age, a trip back to the nostalgic ’80s may be the only way for a Horror fan to get their anthology fix.