Bad Movies Done Right — Cat's Eye

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Cat scratch fever!

Watching a film adapted from a Stephen King novel is, more often than not, an event akin to trick-or-treating at evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick’s house  — it’s nothing more then time wasted in search of fun where there is just none to be had.

This sad fact is not due to a lack of trying. Most of King’s stories have each seen at least one attempt at a big-screen adaptation. Some have even gone in for seconds or thirds.

Cat’s Eye, an anthology film written by the King himself and currently celebrating its 25th anniversary (at least in my home), is a rare case where a director not only fails to butcher the King story it set out to adapt, but actually provides some quality entertainment in the process.

Cat’s Eye adapts two short stories from King’s Night Shift collection along with an original tale written for the film.

Director Lewis Teague, who had previous experience in adapting King’s work with the almost-masterpiece that is Cujo constructed a low-key horror film that relied upon satire-filled black comedy and genuine tension rather than clichéd “gotcha” scares culled from the surplus of ‘80s-era slasher films.

The three stories in Cat’s Eye revolve around a stray cat in search of the mysterious girl (Drew Barrymore) who calls for help in the cat’s dreams.

Barrymore, giving Eddie Murphy a run for his money, actually plays four different roles throughout the film — including a mentally retarded girl. Being this is Drew Barrymore, though, all of the girls are essentially the same performance.

As the pussycat makes his way across the country in search of the girl, he encounters two different men in danger of being crushed by their own vices.

In the first story, “Quitters Inc.,” the always-entertaining James Woods plays Richard Morrison, a smoker in search of a cure to his addiction. Morrison enlists the help of Quitters Inc., a firm specializing in the use of negative reinforcement to help break bad habits.

Don’t expect swear jars or slaps on the wrist if Morrison slips, though. If he indulges in his habit, Morrison’s wife will experience increasingly severe torture — including shock therapy, rape and eventually the sharp end of a knife.

Running Quitters Inc. is a sinister thug played by Alan King in a wonderfully loony performance. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a smoke-filled dream sequence that climaxes with Alan King lip-singing along to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Cat’s Eye is your movie.

As Morrison struggles to break away from his nicotine dependency, he realizes the firm’s threats are anything but idle.

Woods’ portrayal of Morrison is a wonderful exploration into a paranoia-prevalent decade where espionage technology was growing in leaps and bounds. Everywhere Morrison goes, he imagines (or perhaps it isn’t his imagination) spies sent from the firm to watch his every move — all of them searching for any sign of cigarette smoking slippage on Morrison’s part.

In the second story “The Ledge,” Robert Hays (Airplane! ) stars as Johnny Norris, an adulterer caught by his lover’s husband.

His life threatened, Norris is given the choice of either being shot through the head or attempt a walk around the edge of a high-rise building — perched on nothing but a tiny ledge.

As Norris scales the side of the building, he must confront strong winds, destructive pigeons and the sadistic mind of a very angry husband who will utilize everything from high pressure water hoses to noise makers to ensure Norris does not meet his challenge.

The story is a throwback to the E.C. horror comics of the ’50s where the Cryptkeeper would gloat over his tales of revenge and just desserts. The short tale focuses on a mounting sense of dread to portray the hopelessness struggle of a sinner who might not deserve the hell he has found himself in.

In the final story, “The General,” the cat is finally united with Barrymore’s character, that lisp-sporting precocious cutie pie that has called out to him throughout the movie.

Moving away from the suspense-filled morality tales that made up the first two-thirds of the film, the last story finds our hero cat protecting his new owner from a pint-sized troll in search of a child’s breath.

Utilizing some well-constructed miniature sets and costumes, the troll sequence — while definitely a departure into the fantastical — is an entertaining end to an entertaining film.

In fact, growing up the troll segment from Cat’s Eye was one of my favorite things ever. My sister and I would watch the last part of the film on repeat for entire afternoons — thrilling as the Frank Welker-voiced Troll had his fateful showdown with the hero cat.

Cat’s Eye succeeds where most horror anthologies fail because of the fact that each story is strong on its own right. While I would love to have seen full-length versions of any of the stories in Cat’s Eye, their presentation in the film is just the right length.

Cat’s Eye is an unfortunately little-remembered gem that horror fiends can find cheap on DVD. For Stephen King fanboys, the movie is a must own. A meta-trip through the author’s work, keep an eye out for references to Cujo, Christine and The Dead Zone — just to name a few.

Robert Saucedo wants to challenge Robert Hays’ record for long-distance pigeon punting. Follow him on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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