Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today.
Cat’s Eye is a 1985 anthology film written by Stephen King and directed by Lewis Teague. The feature is divided into three parts of which two segments are lifted from King’s Night Shift collection. While each story is self-contained, everything is tied together through the journey of one tabby cat ultimately named General. An enjoyable horror film from the 1980s, Cat’s Eye maintains good humor and character-driven performances.
Teague begins the film by bombarding General with several Stephen King references. After being chased by a dog bearing a striking resemblance to Cujo, he has a near-miss hit with a 1958 Plymouth Fury such as the model from Christine. General’s main mission comes from visions he has from a little girl played by Drew Barrymore. Barrymore had recently starred in the film adaptation of King’s Firestarter. There are more references made to the author throughout the film, and Teague’s initial choices with this direction lets the audience know they are in for a playful movie. The film’s appeal is not for shock value but instead for the audience to see how the main characters will get themselves out of horrific situations. The characters that succeed usually can see the irony or satire in the situation.
Quitters, Inc. is the first story and revolves around Dick Morrison (James Woods) breaking his smoking habit. After reluctantly seeking the help of the titular company, he discovers the program’s design works by threatening members of his family. The president of Quitters, Inc. is Donatti (Alan King). Donatti is ruthless and will resort to any horrific methods he deems necessary to help Dick succeed.
The Ledge follows Johnny Norris (Robert Hays) as a tennis instructor forced to take a bet. Norris has been having an affair with a gambling man’s wife and there could be potentially sky-high consequences. The gambler (Kenneth McMillan) has a wry sense of humor and does not like to lose.
The final part of the anthology centers around General and his heroic nature. General befriends Amanda (Drew Barrymore) in this dark fairytale segment. Something has been creeping around Amanda’s room late at night and it is up to General to help. However, the monster is not the only obstacle facing General. He must first get around the girl’s mother (Candy Clark), whom appears to be more of a bird person.
Cat’s Eye succeeds on many levels. The main element making this film so effective is how it revolves around average and relatable characters. These are people placed in unusual situations forced to find out how they will handle overwhelming stress. Even General must use his intelligence to overcome potentially insurmountable odds. Each segment comes down to two opposing forces representing varying degrees of good versus evil. Although there are moments of dark terror and suspense, each section ends with a sardonic wink to the audience. This allows the viewer to feel in on the joke and the mood becomes optimistic.
Even the music weaves itself into the film’s sense of humor. A version of The Police’s Every Breath You Take becomes thematically utilized within two of the three pieces. In Quitters, Inc., the song illustrates that every time Dick takes a smoke, the company “will be watching you.” Later, a record spins in the climax of General during a scene involving the stealing of breath. This use of the song is effective in being relevant as well as cutting the tension. Once again, the filmmakers choose to let the audience not take things too seriously and instead just enjoy the story.
The lead performances help to propel the quality in each of the different tales from the anthology. Drew Barrymore is as charming as ever in one of her pre-teen roles. James Woods does a fantastic job as a family man using humor whenever placed into an uncomfortable situation. The viewer easily believes the struggle he faces trying to quit smoking while under intense pressure. Each segment is successful in telling an individual story. My own preferential standout section is The Ledge and Robert Hays’ performance has a lot to do with it. In a short amount of time, he manages to become the reluctant and vulnerable hero. The premise of this part of the anthology is very simple, yet captivating and nail-biting.
Fans of 1980s horror that enjoy ironic twists will find Cat’s Eye to be an excellent addition to their collection. This flick achieves a nice mix of horror and humor. The viewer will find themselves laughing with the film rather than laughing at it. That is an elusive factor for some films from the 1980s trying to balance horror with comedy. The feature works well because of excellent casting. Not surprisingly, another well done adaptation is created from the works of Stephen King. Proving that he can work with either canines or felines, Teague also directed another King adaptation with Cujo. When working with man’s best friend the tone becomes more serious, thus implying that cats have a more wicked sense of humor.