Halloween Horror Diary #3: Stephen King's Cat's Eye (1985)

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As anthology horror films go, Cat’s Eye is one of the more decent entries I’ve seen. None of the segments are fantastic, but unlike most anthologies, all offer something memorable and none can be called a dud. The stories (all penned by Stephen King) are connected by a wandering cat, which seems to have a strange, unexplained connection to a young girl played by Drew Barrymore – he sees her image in a department store mannequin, then in a TV commercial, beckoning him to find and help her. Barrymore is a sort of connecting thread herself, playing different roles in the first and last acts.

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In the first act, “Quitters, Inc.,” Barrymore plays the daughter of Dick Morrison (James Woods), a smoker who’s urged to engage the services of an unorthodox clinic in hope of kicking the habit. Quitters, Inc. turns out to be more of a cult than a clinic – Dr. Vinny Donatti (played with memorable menace by Alan King) promises a series of escalating horrors every time Dick lapses and smokes a cigarette. As Dick soon learns, Dr. Donatti’s promise of “constant supervision” is not to be taken lightly. In “Quitters, Inc.,” to seek personal transformation is to surrender to malicious, omnipresent forces, and it feels in this way like a precursor to David Fincher’s The Game. The segment makes great use of James Woods’ natural mix of cockiness and bubbling-over anxiety.

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Next, “The Ledge” finds desperate gambler Johnny Norris (Robert Hays) at the whim of a murderous crime boss and Atlantic City casino owner, Cressner (Kenneth McMillan). On the balcony of his penthouse suite, Cressner points to a thin ledge encircling the skyscraper’s top floor and offers Johnny a wager: if he can walk the ledge all the way around, his debts will be forgiven. As someone who’s not great with heights, I found this segment excruciating to watch, but in a good way – “The Ledge” exploits an acrophobe’s nightmare scenario to great effect.

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The cat finally takes center stage in the final entry, “General.” He finds the girl who’s been calling for help, Amanda (Drew Barrymore), who names him General. But due to family superstitions, Amanda’s mother is reluctant to let her keep a stray as a pet. This suspicion is reinforced as strange and terrible things begin happening around the house, mostly focused in Amanda’s room.  None of it is General’s fault, of course – it’s the work of a tiny troll who lives in the walls. The troll is a triumph of practical effects work, presumably played by a little person in a suit with a mechanically controlled face. To achieve the right proportions on film – the troll appears to be well under a foot tall – it seems that huge sets were built, duplicating Amanda’s bedroom but at a much greater scale (like, “two-story desk” scale). We find out exactly why Amanda needed General’s help, though their strange psychic connection is never addressed. Ah, it’s no matter – Cat’s Eye isn’t the height of narrative sturdiness, but it’s a solidly fun watch.