Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cat's Eye (1985)

Stephen King is a writer I really enjoy, arguably more for his novels than his screenplays. I’ve read only a handful but I find his style very engaging and he really knows how to keep the pages turning. I’m quite certain he’s had more film adaptations of his work than any other writer in history (with the possible exception of Shakespeare). The films are, in my experience, extremely hit or miss. The Shining and Carrie are my two favorite’s (although King apparently was so dissatisfied with that hack Stanley Kubrick’s take on his book that he decided to remake it with Steven Weber from Wings in the Nicholson role…needless to say it was the wrong call). Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye is one of a few anthology films he’s been involved in. It was his second one after the splendid original Creepshow film (which had the legendary George A Romero behind the camera instead of Cat’s Eye’s Lewis Teague who’s biggest claim to fame was another King adaptation, Cujo) and he later went on to write Creepshow 2 and apparently is at work on a Creepshow 4 as we speak. I believe it was his "Night Shift" short story collection that featured the first two of the 3 episodes in Cat’s Eye and the third he wrote especially for the young Drew Barrymore who he had just met through her work on 1984’s Firestarter (another King story if you weren’t aware). I’m actually reading one of his short story compilations at home right now that features The Langoliers (AWFUL movie, but I’m enjoying the story so far), Secret Window (GREAT movie, haven’t seen how the story compares yet) and two others (Sun Dog and The Library Policeman) that, as far as I know remain un-filmed.

The basic premise here in Cat's Eye is that these three stories are all connected by a stray cat which often plays a crucial role within the story itself and also serves to transition from one to the next. The stories are also similar in terms of a solid blend of comedy and horror elements (true of most of King’s work in my opinion).

The most compelling reason to see Cat’s Eye is the first of its three chapters, "Quitters Inc." We have James Woods in all his sleazy, smirking glory as a loving husband and father who goes to meet with a special smoking cessation company to try to kick the habit. He meets with a “doctor” named Vinny Donatti (the delightful Alan King who I mostly know from his dramatic turn in Casino but who apparently was also a famous comic once upon a time). Donatti explains that he has the ultimate program to stop smoking for good. He explains that he will have his people watching all the time, in his car, in his home, at his job, EVERYWHERE and that if they catch him, they will kidnap and torture his wife with progressing levels of punishment (cutting off fingers, electrocution, etc.) and that if that fails to work, his daughter will be next. There’s a very funny moment where he meets with another couple who “successfully” completed the program and we see the wife’s bandaged hand to demonstrate that Dr. Donatti is serious about it. I love this story first and foremost because I have had an ongoing battle with cigarette addiction for over 10 years now and I can relate. While they were too cheap to pay for the real song, I also love the ironic use of the Police classic “Every Breath You Take” during a hallucination sequence at the party (which prominently features memorable character actor James Rebhorn who has stood out in The Game, Meet The Parents and many others). I also want to mention how funny James Woods is throughout the piece, taking his energetic bundle of nerves persona a little over the top as he fights his cravings and tries to hide from Donatti’s spies and enforcers.

Each of the stories is roughly 30 minutes long. The second portion, “The Ledge” maintains the bizarre comedic thriller tone of the first and centers on a tennis pro, in love with a married woman, who gets caught by the rich, powerful husband of the woman he’s been snogging on the sly. The basic set up is that the husband is a degenerate gambler/mobster type who has decided to handle his wife’s indiscretions by presenting a wager to the young stud; if he can walk around the ledge of a building without falling off he can have “the girl, the watch and everything” (a sly comment which functions within the story but is also aimed at the actor playing the tennis pro…but we’ll get back to that). Both the leads in this section are actors that had very memorable roles in other movies, but really haven’t been in much else. Granted, I recently noticed that Kenneth McMillan (who plays the bad guy husband) has a small role in Amadeus but I have seen him 50+ times since I was a kid as the dreaded Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune (a film that is a bona fide classic in the Pritchard household and will definitely get a spotlight treatment here in the blog one of these days). Robert Hays (who appears as the tennis pro in question) most people would recognize immediately as Captain Ted Striker from the Airplane films. While it’s a bit jarring to watch Hays play a serious role (much Like Leslie Nielsen’s chilling turn in the aforementioned Creepshow) and this one is certainly the most genuinely creepy and suspenseful of the three, it’s still a breezy and enjoyable 30 minute short.

These first two sections are, as I mentioned earlier, originally short stories from King and as much as I love them both, I could see how the basic conflicts of each (overcoming addiction and overcoming fear) would be well suited to the internal dialogue that fiction writing lets breathe in a way that films can’t. It is ironic then that the one part written expressly for the film is my least favorite of the three. Don’t get me wrong, “The General” is a good closer for the film and isn’t at all bad. But if I saw the first two out of context, I’d still want to revisit them over and over, “The General” I just sort of sit through because I’m already there. The cat takes a more prominent role in this one as he is adopted by precocious youngster Drew Barrymore and her family. What the family doesn’t realize is that they already have someone (or something) living in their house, a vicious creature who lives in the walls and looks like a hybrid between a Keebler Elf and the Jigsaw mask from the Saw films. While he is a sharp dresser and has an even sharper little knife, the real danger comes when he stands on your chest and steals your breath!! Fortunately, the cat (lovingly named “The General” by Barrymore’s little girl) is there to save the child from peril. The parents, who are already reluctant to let the cat sleep in their daughter’s room, find the messy aftermath of the first cat/troll battle and decide to banish The General to the outdoors. Will the cat be able to save the little girl in time? Will we get to hear that cheesy cover band version of “Every Breath You Take” again?? The answer to both, of course, is yes. The song’s ironic repetition of “I’ll be watching you” in context with the cigarette Gestapo tactics was clever and for this portion I suppose the “Every Breath You Take” lines are used to playfully acknowledge the breath stealing mischief. I don’t remember if they managed to work this song into the middle portion but it seems to follow that darn cat everywhere!

In terms of the balance between humor and horror, I want to be clear that while there are definitely very funny parts, this is not a gore filled horror film by any means, each sequence feels more like a Twilight Zone episode (high concept and suspenseful) while being infinitely better than that dreadful Twilight Zone: The Movie anthology (and without accidentally decapitating any of the child or adult actors like John Landis did…note to Hollywood: if you’re going to plow ahead and still release a movie that cost two children and a movie star their lives, it should not be a total turd, in fact it really ought to be exceptionally good…hey get back here The Crow, this applies to you too… and don’t think you’re getting away unscathed Vampire In Brooklyn!!). I just wanted to point out that this movie has some extra bits of fun for Stephen King fans and one little inside joke for all the Robert Hays fans out there. James Woods, during his sequence is shown watching the David Cronenberg film version of King’s book The Dead Zone (another future blog film) and says “Who writes this crap?”, the cat at one point has an encounter with a St. Bernard as a shout out to Cujo, the cat nearly gets squashed by a red Plymouth Fury (nodding to Christine) and the mom in Drew Barrymore’s section is shown reading King’s “Pet Semetary”. The last little bit of obscure trivia is that line I mentioned from “The Ledge” about “the girl, the watch and everything” which is the name of a successful TV movie that starred Robert Hays back in 1980 (still fresh in King’s mind I suppose while writing this in 1984).

So, yeah this movie won’t change your life or anything but I suspect you will really enjoy it and hopefully it’s something that you’re not familiar with that can spice up your Friday night instead of renting that latest Apatow movie. Grade: B


  1. Oooh... don't brow beat me on this, but... *gasp* I -really- enjoyed the Steven Weber version of The Shining. Now, I loved Kubrick's rendition as well... but much more so before I read King's book. The actual work is so integrally different, particularly in the area of important fine details, that it can be argued that Kubrick's take was more of a retelling than a filming of King's story... so I am not surprised he was pissed.

    King seems like he's probably a man with a vision... a very specific vision. Now why he would scoff at Kubrick but toss his good name all around Hollywood for a handful of other craptacular projects, I will never know.

    I have not yet seen The Cat's Eye, but should I come around again one of these days to return to my taste for horror films, perhaps I'll give it a spin;)

  2. I can understand what you mean about the Steven Weber Shining in terms of being more faithful to the book. The problem was the subpar acting (not Steven Weber who I think is pretty good but DeMornay and the kid were kind of annoying), lousy special effects, I don't know it was just the usual sub-par TV version of King work that seem to come out at least once a year. They're usually tolerable but rarely good and never great (I could argue that The Stand is great but I think I just have sentimental attachment to it as much as anything else).

    Also, go out and get Cat's Eye I assure you it is not at all a horror film, it's more a comedy with some horror elements but no gore and nothing upsetting. I promise you it won't rub you the wrong way (unless you just don't enjoy it...but it won't be for it being a horror film).