There's something I've been hiding from you all for the entirety of my blogging tenure. It wasn't intentional, but it happened. I just never thought it was important until now. The fact of the matter is that I am, with 100% certainty, a cat person.
I'm not talking the Simone Simon/Nastassja Kinski style cat person, but I am saying that I will take a cool cat over a mangy mutt any day of the week. Growing up in the country meant that my family cared for at least 100 cats throughout my adolescence, and most all of them were great friends of mine. I've yet to adopt my own cat as an adult - that's way too much time I'd have to commit to something that poops - but I still go out of my way to visit my friends and family's cats whenever possible. They're just so darn awesome.
Which brings me to one of my childhood horror pleasures, Stephen King's anthology flick Cat's Eye. Piggybacking off the success of other King films of the era - Cujo and Christine have cameos during the opening credits, and a scene from The Dead Zone is shown at one point - this trilogy of tales reunites King (who wrote the screenplay, his first) with Cujo director Lewis Teague and Firestarter star Drew Barrymore. (BTW, if anyone ever figures out what the deal is with Firestarter, please let me know. That flick gives me fits.) Cat's Eye also bears a slight resemblance to that other King anthology that came before it, Creepshow. If nothing else, the film is a living example of how popular King was at the time. (Also, the bridge on which a first act scene occurs would reprise its role as a bridge in Maximum Overdrive!)
I called this an anthology before, and I suppose that I should call it that. There are in fact three unique stories told, all tied together by the poor cat who has to suffer through them all. It all starts in New York City where a businessman (played by no less than JAMES WOODS!) tries to quit smoking with the help of a sadistic cessation company, then moves on to Atlantic City where we meet a gambler on the ledge, then on to North Carolina where Drew Barrymore lives with her parents and bird. But I like to look at the film as one story about one brave cat.
I know it's a stretch. In the first act our feline friend is merely used as part of an example of what our gangster anti-smoking advocates are capable of, and in the second he's merely a red herring to a game of cat and mouse. I'm not all that interested in these stories, though Woods' turn as a paranoid smoker going on ex-smoker is pretty fun and that segment has a few good comic turns alongside several unfortunately silly comic scenes. The middle segment (starring Airplane's Robert Hays) is technically sound and is sure to be memorable to those with a fear of heights, but seems a lot like filler and features a payoff that is also silly. I guess silly is an operative word for the film, but the final chapter is where it stops being annoying and starts being completely enjoyable.
In this segment, occurring after our heroic tabby cat - now named "The General" by Ms. Barrymore - has made this dangerous journey on paw, he comes face to face with his greatest nemesis - a six-inch tall troll who plans to suck the breath from a young girl. Yes, apparently little Amanda's grandmother once warned her family that cats would suck the breath out of you if you let them in your bedroom while they sleep, and this troll just happens to show up and try to suck Amanda's breath at the same time The General arrives. It sounds kind of ridiculous, and it is - but a live action horror in which a cat battles on the side of good? THAT's something I want to see.
The diabolical troll is one of the most haunting memories from my childhood, and it still thrills me today. The beady-eyed fellow with bells on his hat and a distinctive grunt is slightly amusing, but is no less frightening than the claymation creatures in the likes of Tibor Tikacs' The Gate. The battles between cat and troll are surprisingly action-packed, and there's a good bit of blood for a film which arrived in the early days of the PG-13 rating. The troll wields a tiny serrated blade that makes him even more menacing, and I remember checking my floor for tiny knives a few times when I was a kid. I won't go anywhere near spoiling how the final showdown ends, but rest assured that it still leaves me pumping my fist in excitement.
I'm a little sad that the cat who stars went uncredited, because that little bugger went through heck in this film. He's tortured by a slew of folks, from the fellows at Quitters Inc. to the Atlantic City casino bosses to that darn Candy Clark (who would appear later in the remake of The Blob!). He's electrocuted, kicked, imprisoned - and all before he has to battle the troll. Yet The General marches forward, riding hobo on trains and eating hot dogs with the homeless, because Drew needs a hero. Like I said, I should call this an anthology. But I'm telling you all that that cat - that darn cat! - is the star of this film, no matter what little Drew or James Woods says. Kudos to you, General. It's been an honor serving alongside your movie for over 20 years.