Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #26
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: April 12, 1985
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $13,086,298 (US)
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Lewis Teague
Producers: Dino De Laurentiis, Martha Schumacher
Screenplay: Stephen King
Special Effects: Carlo Rambaldi
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Score: Alan Silvestri
Editing: Scott Conrad
Distributor: Metro Goldwyn Mayer (US)/ De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (Worldwide)
Stars: James Woods, Alan King, Robert Hays, Kenneth McMillan, Drew Barrymore, Candy Clark, James Naughton, Tony Munafo, Mary D’Arcy
Suggested Audio Candy:
Alan Silvestri Cat Chase
Much has been made of the varying quality of the legendary Stephen King’s cinematic excursions and I have always found general opinion to be a little pernickety. By and large, I believe that his tales have translated rather well to the silver screen, aside from the odd calamitous misfire of course. One prime example of fortitude based on the master’s fiction was George A. Romero’s Creepshow. This playful and iconic compendium of terror performed well theatrically, gaining King countless new friends in the process which, in turn, afforded even greater exposure for the legendary novelist. Keen to take advantage of his recent upturn in popularity, he joined forces with Dino De Laurentiis three years later in an attempt at repeating the feat and Cat’s Eye was the bi-product of this collaboration.
Did he succeed? Yes he did and, at the absolute premium, Lewis Teague’s supremely affable anthology bolstered his already sturdy reputation. However, as tempting as it is to place all the kudos squarely on his doorstep,I shall resist the urge to don my lipstick and introduce you to the real reason I believe that Cat’s Eye works so well. You see, he is assisted in no small manner by a veteran actor of whom I have long since been an admirer, the irrepressible James Woods.
The prominent adjective when mentioning this magnificent man is edgy, making him the obvious choice to play a slave to nicotine reluctantly attempting to kick the habit. As an individual continually taunted by those demon receptors in my own brain, I understand his character’s torrid plight and there are parallels not only to the manner in which his demons manifest but also the damaging effect it has on his family and loved ones. That’s not to say that my nearest and dearest have ever been subjected to the electric shock chamber as punishment for any lapses in willpower but you get my general drift. I can relate.
Quitters Inc. would be the ideal opener to any anthology and is perhaps my all-time favourite vignette, which is high praise indeed. Twitchy family man Dick (Woods) pays a hopeful visit to the shady corporation of the title in the vain hope of taking his last drag on these nicotine nasties. During an enlightening initial assessment with Dr. Vinny Donatti (Alan King), Dick is informed of the organization’s unorthodox approach to snuffing out the smokes. Failure to do so is punishable by his wife and child being introduced to an electrified chamber and even worse should he continually wobble. No pressure then.
Much as we like Dick a lot and are desperate to see him triumph, this is offset by an uncontrollable urge to witness said chamber in action. Donatti obliges by throwing a cat in the sin bin and downright hilarity ensues as our hapless moggy leaps like a salmon each time voltage is cranked. For as much as this exercise is devilishly rewarding, we’ve had a taste and are primed for a repeat performance. When the inevitable slip up occurs and we are granted our wish, any pleasure is laced with sorrow. We feel godawful for Dick as it’s fair to say that he is clearly traumatized by his penance for slipping up, not to mention his hapless wife as she exits the chamber a little crispier around the edges than on her arrival. As the voltage passes through Cindy with her every involuntary bounce, the freeze-frame button on our remotes is provided with a sound workout.
However, it is Woods’ gloriously tormented turn that elevates this black-hearted opening segment to truly legendary status. He was simply born to play this character and is so convincingly edgy that, by the time this tale draws to its satisfying close, we’re left debating whether or not to go for that mid-interval smoke after all. If the government wish to deter people from lighting up then they should play Quitters Inc. in health centre waiting rooms on perpetual loop then sit back and watch Nicotine sales plummet.
Quitters inc. Judgement: 10/10
Ray Stevens Cat’s Eye
Not only does our next story have the ominous task of threading together its surrounding segments, but it has the unenviable task of maintaining momentum and following up on such a formidable opener is a tough ask indeed. To its eternal credit, The Ledge really tries. Its premise is sound and casting inspired once again. Robert Hays plays retired tennis pro Johnny Norris, and spends the majority of his screen time shuffling along the slender outcropping of a colossal skyscraper in slip-ons. Like Dick, his success has a lot riding on it as, should he make it around said building and in through the adjacent penthouse window without swan-diving unswervingly into New Jersey traffic, then he will be reunited with the woman he loves, who has been seized by her estranged husband. One false move, however, and it’s curtains for both of them.
Sounds like child’s play right? Not exactly. When Johnny’s sole companion on this particularly perilous pilgrimage is a persistent pigeon with a penchant for ankle pecking, it suddenly turns into a far less enticing proposition. Cue a hefty wedge of rousing rivalry between man and bird that culminates in our beleaguered hero finally ridding himself of his airborne antagonist. The moment when he kicks his opponent to the curb and flashes a satisfied smile provides the kind of comedy gold of which the Airplane star is no stranger and is made all the more hilarious by the fact that he stands tall amidst sufficient feathers to construct an Amish beard replica. However, any pleasure is short-lived, as he remains firmly in nosebleed territory.
The Ledge is never anything less than engaging and Hays makes for an immensely likeable lead, leaving me soundly baffled that he has never gone on to further success. Alongside Quitters Inc. it fares less well but this is only to be expected and, what it does, it does more than adequately. As it reaches its immensely gratifying conclusion, our feline friend is let out of the bag once more, and we are off to greener pastures for our parting segment. With two out of three already nailed, the finish line is now visible and we approach the home straight with fond memories and high hopes.
The Ledge Judgement: 8/10
Our final playground is situated deep in the heart of North Carolina and the suburban residence of a young Drew Barrymore to be precise. She plays the simply adorable Amanda who happens across our globetrotting stray by chance and promptly wraps her parents round her finger, convincing them to take it in. Timing is of the essence here as the cat’s arrival coincides with another far less benign visitor. Each bedtime like clockwork, a mutinous troll rears its ugly head and commences to steal Amanda’s breath while she slumbers. Worse still, this pint-sized villain plans to frame her new pet for its crimes before wandering off to terrorize another pre-scholar. Needless to say, it’s not going to get away with such treachery without a fight and her four-legged friend has come way too far to take the rap. Game on.
It is here that Cat’s Eye hits something of a minor snag. Whilst The General ambles along more than agreeably and doesn’t necessarily falter per se, it cannot help but struggle in such enigmatic company. Barrymore is effortlessly endearing as our damsel in distress and the story certainly moves briskly enough, with no end of amusing incident as our sparring pair battle for supremacy. The chief problem is its family friendly tone as Amanda’s plight feels a tad slight, after Dick and Johnny’s perilous prior predicaments.
Having said that, taken on its own merits, The General is a charming tale. It is worth noting that King wrote this segment solely for the movie whereas both Quitters Inc and The Ledge were plucked from his Nightshift Collection. I think that is where it struggles as, while not commiting any real crime, I can’t help but feel that it is a little tacked on, likely to appease executives looking to ensure that Cat’s Eye remains marketable to a wider audience. As it reaches its crowd-pleasing conclusion, our time with our kinetic kitty comes to an end also.
General Judgement: 7/10
The manner in which our wraparound is woven through the three tales from the cat’s perspective is decidedly novel and ensures that any subsequent baton passes occur without incident. Moreover, Teague wisely refrains from investing too much time in these interludes which results in seamless transitions.
Wraparound Judgement: 8/10
Cat’s Eye is unquestionably one of the more commendable post-Hammer anthologies and, minor blips aside, never less than enjoyable throughout. In Quitters Inc. it possesses a bona fide bite-sized masterpiece and, taken as the sum of its parts, Teague’s effort barely puts a paw wrong. Whilst never quite reaching the collective highs of Creepshow, it provides further proof that anthologies really aren’t that hard a nut to crack, despite all the stigma surrounding them. Besides, I make no secret of my fondness for felines so what’s not to like?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: Move along please as there is precious little to see here. One fleeting glimpse of a decapitated head, a pocketful of mashed-up troll giblets, some crispy paws, and a few pigeon pecks to the ankle is about all the grue that Cat’s Eye provides us. You shouldn’t let that put you off but, at the same time, don’t go expecting a bloodbath or you’ll be found truly wanting.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)