Cat’s Eye is a weird movie, but that’s part of what makes it so endearing. Of the Stephen King adaptations I watched over and over again as a kid, I always thought it would hold up the least. But in a weird way, it’s only gotten better as I’ve gotten older. It was until I revisited the movie a couple of years ago that it occurred to me that the only story I remembered was the third story, “The General.” I had a fascination/crippling fear of trolls as a child, so I have vivid stories of watching that all the time.
I just had never realized that those memories were so strong that they blocked out the whole rest of the film. Especially because there’s so much to like in there. Stranger than even realizing that I didn’t remember the first two stories was the realization that those two stories were based on two of my favorites from King’s collection Night Shift.
The first, “The Ledge,” is so frightening in its simplicity. It’s about a guy who’s forced to step out of the window of a high-rise apartment building and crawl on the ledge for the entire length of the building in order to earn his right to live. It’s an unexpected role for Robert Hayes post-Airplane, but that’s part of what makes it endearing. Even if it doesn’t quite nail the absolute tension of the story, it definitely gets the job done.
That’s followed by “Quitters, Inc.” which is easily one of the scariest stories in Night Shift. It’s a story about addiction, originally written at a time when Stephen King was right in the thick of all of his drug & alcohol habits. The story focuses on a company that will do whatever it takes to get you to stop smoking, from torturing animals to threatening to kill your family.
But I think the thing that makes Cat’s Eye such a bizarre anthology is that the first two segments, while they have their weird flourishes, are more or less grounded in reality. They’re what your non-horror loving friends would call “psychological thrillers.” The monsters are all completely human. All of that does absolutely nothing to prepare you for the final segment being about a cat fighting a troll to save a little girl.
I have to wonder what the intent was there. Maybe not having any kind of supernatural element in the first two segments would make the troll seem like a much more powerful adversary for the cat to have to overcome. After all, the girl is (somehow) calling to this cat the whole movie, begging for his help. He’s racing to save her and just keeps getting caught in what would in any other movie be wacky hijinx, but in Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye are pants-shittingly dreadful situations.
It’s these little narrative choices that are so out of left field that make Cat’s Eye such a weird anthology, but they’re also what wind up making it so memorable. Psychic Drew Barrymore (maybe?) cat vs. troll, these bizarre choices are all over the place and most of them originate right in Stephen King’s script. Even he seemed to be having fun with just making this thing as goofy as possible. And it works. Despite the scale and the cast, Cat’s Eye winds up feeling like what would have happened had Empire Pictures ever made a King adaptation.
As a King anthology, though, I think the most amazing thing is how clearly and confidently it separates itself from Creepshow. Once again, this is the author adapting his stories for the big screen in a series of diverse shorts and yet the two movies could not be more different.
This even goes out of its way to beat you over the head with its King connections, and still it feels like no other adaptation before or since. Not only do we have a Christine cameo, but it’s spelled out for us just in case with the bumper sticker “I am Christine!” Then we’ve got a whole chase sequence with Cujo, a reference that’s even more appropriate given that Lewis Teague directed both Cujo and Cat’s Eye.
For something that’s built on winks and nods to other bits of King material, it’s amazing that Cat’s Eye feels as individual as it does. It’s weird and quirky, sometimes incredibly dark, and you never know exactly where the tone is going to go next. That leads it to not quite connect with some viewers, and I understand that, but I think that’s ultimately what makes it such a fun roller coaster ride of a movie. It’s never entirely one thing, and yet at the same time, it is. There’s such a singular focus on the wraparound and building it toward a showdown with a troll in Drew Barrymore’s bedroom. And if we can believe those stakes, we can believe anything.
Anthologies tend to fall into a trap of being such a collection of various shorts from various voices that they often lose the ability to have a specific tone and style as a whole. Cat’s Eye and Creepshow both pulled this off well and it’s something that only a handful of recent anthologies—like Trick ‘r Treat and Southbound—have been able to do particularly well.
Cat’s Eye is quirky and bizarre and sometimes just as stupid as it appears to be at the onset. But even through all of that, there’s more to it than meets the, well, eye.