The Film: 4/5
Flush with success and fortune thanks to a series of best-selling horror novels – many of which were adapted for the big and small screens usually to positive receptions (Children of the Corn notwithstanding) – Stephen King was hired by the freewheeling Italian cinematic giant Dino De Laurentiis in the mid-80’s to script a horror anthology consisting of two of his short stories from Night Shift, “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge”, and a third original tale designed to exploit the talents of young rising star Drew Barrymore and the creature effects gifts of Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi.
The result was the 1985 MGM release Cat’s Eye, a rather lighthearted entry in King’s screen oeuvre De Laurentiis produced with his wife Martha and Milton Subotsky (Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror films) that falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to the ultra-prolific author’s film output but is one of the more entertaining efforts to have his name attached in a decade that brought audiences the exhilarating highs of The Shining and The Dead Zone and the debilitating lows of Maximum Overdrive and Creepshow 2.
In the first scene, our feline hero is chased by a rabid St. Bernard and almost flattened under the wheels of a 1958 Plymouth Fury (Hi Christine!). As the cat weaves in and out of the first two stories he receives visions of a young girl imploring him to help her. In our opening tale, “Quitters, Inc.”, longtime smoker Dick Morrison (James Woods) is directed to try the titular service in order to kick his nasty habit once and for all. Run by the sinister Dr. Vinnie Donatti (Alan King), Quitters, Inc. has a near-perfect rate of success because it adheres to a strict enforcement policy whenever a member of its clientele refuses to give up the cigarettes. This includes intimidation, torture, and eventually, murder.
The protagonist of the second story “The Ledge”, tennis player and gambler Johnny Norris (Robert Hays), has been having an affair with the wife of the criminal casino magnate Cressner (Kenneth McMillan), and Cressner shows his displeasure at having discovered he’s been cuckolded by framing Norris for drug possession and threatening to sic the authorities on the poor bastard unless he agrees to a little wager: if Norris can successfully make his way around the narrow ledge surrounding Cressner’s luxurious penthouse apartment, Cressner will agree to a divorce so his wife and Norris can live happily ever after. But Norris learns as he is attempting to make the treacherous journey that his tormentor has no intention of making his night an easy one or honoring his end of the bet.
Now we head into our third and final mini-opus, “The General”. After receiving more visions of the helpless girl, the cat makes his way to Wilmington, North Carolina where he finds the home of Amanda (Drew Barrymore), the girl from his visions, and is quickly embraced by her as a loving pet against the wishes of her mother (Candy Clark) and father (James Naughton). Amanda names the cat General and one evening while she is sleeping General discovers why he was summoned to her side in the first place: within her bedroom wall dwells a troll that comes out every night and steals her breath. The diabolical imp now has a nemesis in the form of a cat who must become his precocious new owner’s protector.
Thanks to some sturdy direction from Lewis Teague, whose previous credits included the hit King adaptation Cujo as well as the John Sayles-scripted gangster flick The Lady in Red and giant creature feature Alligator, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude of King’s screenplay, Cat’s Eye isn’t particularly frightening but it sure is a hearty serving of macabre fun perfectly ideal for parent-supervised family consumption at Halloween or any time of the year for that matter. The three stories are quintessential King, laced with the master’s trademark strange scenarios and offbeat humor, and the film plays like three episodes of a television anthology series – albeit one that I would happily watch every week if it was actually on the air.
None of the stories adapted for Cat’s Eye would make sense expanding into feature films because there is only so much that can be mined from their premises. “Quitters, Inc.”, the first story, is by far my favorite thanks to James Woods’ manic intensity and the charming malevolence of comedic great Alan King’s performance as Woods’ tormentor. Since there are no clear-cut heroes and villains in the tale, anything can really happen and we’re constantly kept on our toes. Same goes for “The Ledge”, in which Robert Hays, forever known as Ted Stryker, acquits himself more than well as the ordinary man placed unexpectedly into an extraordinary situation that he must use whatever wits he possesses to survive. Kenneth McMillan (Dune) hams it up like a seasoned pro as the menacing crime boss, and you can also spot Mike Starr (Goodfellas) and Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3) in early roles as McMillan’s hired muscle.
The bulk of the film’s visual effects budget was doubtlessly directed to the last tale, the grand finale Cat’s Eye has been building towards, and it’s a modestly exciting wrap-up with a creepy killer troll designed by the late Rambaldi (Alien) and vocally brought to life by Frank Welker (Transformers, Scooby-Doo). Drew Barrymore, one year after playing the titular child heroine of another King adaptation (Firestarter), is precocious and not the slightest bit annoying in the lead role, with Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell to Earth) and James Naughton (The Devil Wears Prada) both just fine as the typically disbelieving parents every child dealing with monsters has to deal with.
This segment of the film is when the irritating synth score composed by the usually dynamic Alan Silvestri (Predator, The Avengers) truly shines with adventurous spirit and tension. The final battle between General and the troll is inventively staged with some much welcome humor. The cinematography by the legendary Jack Cardiff (The African Queen, The Red Shoes) has a luminous, dreamlike quality during the daytime scenes, but the atmospheric night scenes are where Cardiff is at his best in Cat’s Eye.
In full 1080p resolution, Cat’s Eye looks pretty great for its age. Warner Bros. really went all out for this release, creating a new 2K scan of the interpositive and performing the necessary color correction to get the film looking its absolute best. The 2.40:1 widescreen framing of the high-definition transfer really opens up the visuals and the picture is clean and sharp with vibrant colors, vastly improved details, and a moderate amount of grain that appears consistent throughout the film. Print damage is nonexistent. This is the best Cat’s Eye has ever looked on home video. No complaints either on the 24-bit English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which features a spacious and clear presentation of the sound mix, complete with audible dialogue, undistorted music and effects, and absolutely no overlap or muffling. There is also a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track and subtitle options in English, French, and Spanish.
Held over from Warner’s 2002 Region 1 DVD are a commentary with director Teague and the original theatrical trailer. Teague does just fine without a moderator or guests, talking extensively about the making of the film, how he had been instructed by Dino De Laurentiis to fashion the project as a starring vehicle for Drew Barrymore, tricking the legendary producer into securing the rights to a song by the Police for several scenes, working with his cast and Stephen King, getting the cat to hit its marks, and more. It’s a strong commentary full of great anecdotes and insight.
If you’re looking for an easy fright on a lonely weekend night, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye will sorely disappoint. The first two stories belong strictly in the author’s lengthy and often underrated crime and mystery column and only the closing tale has a monster that isn’t all that scary, but this anthology feature from the great Lewis Teague makes for a ghoulishly entertaining little funhouse ride perfectly safe for the family to enjoy. Kudos to Warner Bros. for the stunning new high-definition transfer of the film.