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CAT’S EYE (1985)

"You gunna guard me? I hope so…."

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Director: Lewis Teague

Starring: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, Candy Clark, James Naughton

Screenplay: Stephen King

Synopsis: While being chased by a dog, a stray cat becomes trapped in a removalist’s van and finds itself in New York City, where it falls into the hands of Quitters, Inc., a company dedicated to helping people to stop smoking. When Dick Morrison (James Woods) reluctantly signs up with the company, its head, Dr Donatti (Alan King), uses the cat in a graphic demonstration of what will happen to Morrison’s family if he ever smokes again…. Escaping, the cat is accidentally transported to Atlantic City, where it ends up the property of crime boss Cressner (Kenneth McMillan) after he wins a two thousand dollar bet that the animal will safely cross a busy road. Having had his thugs kidnap his wife’s lover, Norris (Robert Hays), and plant heroin in his car, Cressner offers Norris a choice: jail, or his life and his lover – if he can successfully negotiate a circuit of Cressner’s penthouse suite on the ledge that runs around the outside of the building…. Finally, the cat finds a home in Wilmington, North Carolina, with a young girl called Amanda (Drew Barrymore) who is plagued by nightmares of a monster living within the walls of her bedroom….

Comments: With Cat’s Eye, Stephen King proves once again that he should stick to writing fiction and leave the adaptation of his stories to others. They may not do any better than he, but there isn’t must chance of them doing any worse.

The screenplay of Cat’s Eye gives us two of King’s stories from "Night Shift" plus one original tale, linked tenuously, and pointlessly, and frankly irritatingly by a ubiquitous cat that is clumsily inserted into the first two sections of the film before becoming the focus of the third. As with Maximum Overdrive (1986), where he committed the double sin of being writer-director, King has taken two of his scariest short stories and ruined them. "Quitter’s, Inc.", in particular, is turned from a subtle and frightening story of paranoia (the worst kind of paranoia, too: it’s all true!) into a heavy-handed effort mixed with largely unsuccessful attempts at humour.

"The Ledge" is truer to its source, but the story has been padded out at the expense of the psychologically accurate characterisations of Cressner and Norris that made the short story believable. The final story, concerning our heroic feline’s battle to the death with a nasty little creature that likes to invade Drew Barrymore’s bedroom at night, is just plain silly – or would be if it wasn’t underlain with such a streak of meanness. While King and director Lewis Teague were undoubtedly trying for an air of comic book ghoulishness, a la Creepshow (1982), they overstepped the bounds here by including far too many scenes involving cruelty to animals. Now, I realise that I may be in a minority here, but I really don’t find scenes of a cat being placed in an electrified room, or almost being run over, particularly funny.

Despite all the death and mayhem being dispensed throughout the movie, there is nothing, nothing more distressing here than the brief scenes inside death row at an animal shelter, where our hero almost loses his life. Birds fare even worse: three of them are sent to avian heaven by the end of the film. The constant self-referencing also wears a little thin. During the first story, James Woods is seen watching The Dead Zone (1983), of which he inquires, "Who writes this crap?" (Right question, wrong film.) Earlier, the titular tabby had been chased by a ragged looking Saint Bernard, and almost run over by a red Plymouth Fury (which bears a bumper sticker reading, "I am Christine", just in case we don’t get it). Funnier, and subtler, is Kenneth McMillan’s promise to Robert Hays, that if he wins their bet he’ll get "the girl, the gold watch, and everything…." Although released by MGM, Cat’s Eye was one of a string of Dino De Laurentiis-produced Stephen King adaptations, and probably contributed to the demise of DEL.