If you grew up in that glorious era when the video store reigned supreme, then you remember walking past the box for Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye with a young Drew Barrymore cradling an ever-watchful cat on the cover. While the box makes the film look like a feature about a girl and her cat, it’s actually an anthology of King-penned short films that are thematically tied together by a cat, and it’s one of his best films. The three shorts in Cat's Eye allow King to work in a few different modes. There’s a gripping tale of dependency, a grimy thriller, and a fantasy-horror short with easily one of the creepiest monsters of the ‘80s.
King has never really left the cultural consciousness since Carrie put him on the map, but the ‘80s were a special time for adaptations of his work. Films based on his writing (like Cat’s Eye) were specifically B-movies, and many of them go off the rails in delightful ways that no review could tarnish. Hold your cat tightly and make sure they sleep in your bedroom tonight while we take a look back at one of King’s darkest films, Cat’s Eye.
As fantastic as King can be, each story in Cat’s Eye uses a real fear as the catalyst for the insanity that fills each section. “Quitters, Inc.” not only plays off the fear of someone hurting your family, but the worry that many addicts have that they’re not in control - that no matter what someone does to solve their dependency, they’re always going to be one slip up from disaster.
“The Ledge” is a short and nasty King story where it’s clear he’s having fun putting his characters through hell. Both the protagonist Johnny Norris and his antagonist, simply named Cressner, are placed on a skyscraper ledge and forced to walk around the outside of Cressner’s New York penthouse. You don’t even need to have an intense fear of heights to know that this is a situation that you never want to be in.
“General,” the story of a little girl who’s being terrorized by a creature while she sleeps, is something that every child has experienced. You may have not been afraid that a creature was going to off your parakeet and take your breath in the middle of the night, but perhaps you believed there was some boogie man coming from your closet or under your bed.
King loves anything that can alter his consciousness, be it a good story, cough syrup, or coke. He admitted as much in his biography:
I didn’t just have a problem with beer and [coke]. I was an addictive personality, period. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, I loved Listerine, I loved NyQuil, you name it. If it would change your consciousness, I was all for it.
The first short in Cat’s Eye, “Quitters, Inc.” follows a man who’s so desperate to quit smoking that he puts his family’s life in danger. He has such a problem putting his smokes down that he allows an omniscient organization into his life. This group watches his every move just to catch him slipping so they can victimize his family to teach him a lesson. Their methods work on King’s protagonist, Dick Morrison, but for how long?
“The Ledge” has the the poor luck of being sandwiched between an increasingly stressful story about a vicious company and the short with a super-creepy jester monster. Even though it’s in the middle of the film, that doesn’t mean it's the bathroom break of the movie. "The Ledge" is a stylish noir thriller that’s about how people can be corrupted by revenge and how scary heights can really be.
Thematically, the short also takes a look at how the 1% looks down on the working class. Cressner, a wealthy syndicate, doesn’t just punish the tennis pro who’s sleeping with his wife, but he takes glee at the fact that he’s going to slay a guy and then buy his way out of the problem.
As a child, everyone was afraid that something was going to get them in the middle of the night. Whether it was a vampire, some unnamable creature from behind a peach orchard, or a little jester, it was going to snatch you up in the middle of the night or take your breath and leave your body for your parents to find in the morning. “General,” the third story in Cat’s Eye, delves into every child’s fear of the unknown by putting the terrifying face of a jester monster on it.
To make things even more upsetting, even though a young Barrymore knows exactly what’s happening, her parents don’t believe her. No matter what she says, they think she’s just having nightmares or has an overactive imagination. King perfectly articulates what it’s like to not be believed, which is why a story that could be ridiculous hits so hard.