Two years after the success of Cujo, director Lewis Teague returned to Stephen King country, but with a much different movie. With King himself writing the script, Dino De Laurentiis producing, and E.T. child star Drew Barrymore acting, Teague set out to direct a trio of stories. King would base two of them on short stories from his Night Shift collection, and write one fresh for the film, connecting the three with a cat. The results are uneven and not really scary, but as a whole, the film is moderately enjoyable.
The film begins with an extreme close up of a cat’s eye. The camera follows the cat as a rabid St. Bernard chases it across a street, where it almost gets hit by an old red Plymouth Fury. Ending up on a truck, the cat leads the audience into the first story, "Quitters, Inc." The singular best element of the movie is the performance of James Woods as a man trying to quit smoking. When he arrives at Quitters, Inc., he realizes too late that the company has a unique method to make sure its clientele stays off the butts. The cat then leads us to "The Ledge," in which a tennis bum makes a unique wager with a man whose wife he has stolen. In the final tale, the cat arrives home in Wilmington, Delaware to save little Drew from a demonic troll in the wall.
Of the three, "Quitters, Inc." is by far the best. Woods brings an intensity to the role, and a remarkable sense of humor. For anyone who’s ever tried to break a habit, it’s easy to sympathize with him and his jangled nerves. Unfortunately, in converting the story to the script, King changes many small elements that make it a little less charming than it was in print; especially painful is the omission of an issue with the billing for the procedure, which was the best part of the story.
Anyone who’s seen Creepshow, another anthology movie that King scripted, will recognize several similarities between "The Ledge" and that film’s "Something to Tide You Over." Their plots and characters are almost exactly the same: a young man having an affair with the young wife of an older rich man; the rich man’s plans for revenge; the ironic twist that turns the table on him. In fact, lead actor Robert Hayes shared scenes with Creepshow’s Leslie Nielsen. in Airplane. Fortunately, the story itself doesn’t suffer. Robert Hayes is great as Johnny Norris, the young lover on a ledge; as his foil, Kenneth McMillan (a veteran of King’s miniseries Salem’s Lot) balances himself off nicely. There are some nice gags along the way, and some creative camera work.
The last story, "The General," is by far the weakest of the bunch. I prefer supernatural horror with monsters to more earthbound horror, and this is the only one of the three with an unworldly presence, but I can’t buy into it. The troll in the wall is not even remotely scary; even with the wooden acting (the cat is the best thespian in the segment) and uneven tone, the episode might have succeeded if the monster weren’t so silly looking. Even when it menaces a sleeping Barrymore with a knife, its appearance destroys any credibility or sense of tension. Though the first two segments had been moderately enjoyable, the movie goes out with a whimper.
The DVD doesn’t fully whimper out in the special features, though. The theatrical trailer misguides horror fans by playing the film off as being much scarier than it is (it’s only rated PG-13). The other extra of note is a commentary by Teague. He gives some background on the film, including tidbits on shooting in Wilmington, and how the shortened prologue confused many audience members on Barrymore’s connection to the cat. He also addresses all the not so subtle references to Stephen King’s other works (as I did a little more subtly in my synopsis). Most interesting is his discussion of "The Ledge," where he chats about the used of miniature sets and forced perspective to give the illusion of a character on a high rise’s ledge. Much like the film, the commentary is moderately entertaining, but Teague leaves way too many dead spots, and repeats himself frequently. He might’ve done better if accompanied by a moderator. As it stands, it falls flat far too often.
I doubt Cat’s Eye will ever be any horror fan’s favorite movie, or for that matter, favorite Stephen King adaptation. It’s uneven and falters with the last tale, but it is decently entertaining. And it does sport two fine performances, one by James Woods and one by a cat.