Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Off the Shelf: Cat's Eye

by Erich Asperschlager
Here, kitty kitty…

There was a time in my life I insisted that Stephen King was at his best in short story form: lean, oh-so-mean, and free from the flab of some of his full-length novels. My opinion has changed over the years. I love King’s novels for their rich characters and that feeling of going on a journey with a dangerous driver at the wheel. But I still have a soft spot for his short stories. I go back to collections like Night Shift and Skeleton Crew way more than his full length books. There’s nothing like that quick hit of horror when I’m jonesing for that chilly Maine midnight feeling.

Several of King’s published short stories appeared in the Creepshow films. Where those anthologies had a more general EC Comics vibe, the King-penned anthology Cat’s Eye is all him. Directed by Lewis Teague, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye is made up of three stories, two adapted from stories in Night Shift, and one newly written for the screen, all tied together by the story of a determined cat working his way back home.
The first tale, “Quitters, Inc.” is about a nicotine-addicted exec (James Woods) who needs help to quit smoking. A friend recommends a company whose unorthodox methods result in a near-perfect rate of success. As Woods finds out from the head of the company (Alan King), the reason “Quitters, Inc.” is so successful is because they torture their clients’ families if they don’t quit.

“The Ledge” is the story of a rich gangster (Kenneth McMillan), his wife, and her lover (Robert Hayes) — a tennis coach who is kidnapped by the husband and forced to walk a narrow ledge around the top of an Atlantic City hotel. If he can make it without falling, he can go free. If he slips, well, it’s a long way down to the street below.

The title tabby has his biggest role in “The General,” co-starring Drew Barrymore (who makes cameo appearances throughout the movie) as a young girl convinced there’s a troll living in her bedroom walls. Her mother (Candy Clark) is more concerned about the stray cat she’s invited home, and his carnivorous intentions toward the family pet parakeet. Little does she know the cat is the only thing standing between her daughter and a beastie with a taste for little girl breath.

Cat’s Eye isn’t as terrifying as Stephen King’s reputation would suggest. There’s nasty implications in all the stories, but it’s a lot less bloody than Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, or even Teague’s adaptation of King’s Cujo. Unlike most anthologies, the three segments in Cat’s Eye are good to great, with no outright clunkers in the bunch. The first two stories are the best, having been field tested in print. “The General” is the thinnest of the three, but impressive troll special effects and a leading lady performance from Barrymore keeps things interesting.
The movie begins with rapid-fire Stephen King references that suggest the film will be a broad celebration of the author’s work. The cat is chased by Cujo and nearly run over by Christine. Later in the film, The Dead Zone plays on a TV and someone is seen reading a copy of Pet Sematary. Those few easter eggs are there to give King fans a thrill. It’s too bad the movie never quite lives up to that Castle Rock amusement park promise. Cat’s Eye doesn’t capture Stephen King as well as Carrie, The Shining, Misery, or even Creepshow but it’s a capable horror anthology, which—as fans of the genre can attest—is still an accomplishment.

Cat’s Eye is out on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Bros. in a package that mostly justifies the upgrade. The HD transfer offers strong detail without obvious digital tinkering. The 2.40:1 2K scan looks natural, with film grain and vibrant colors (where those are found). The only knock against the image is a lack of clarity in deep blacks and shadows. The 2.0 DTS-MA audio track doesn’t pop but it’s open and clear enough to serve dialogue and music with ample separation for sound effects.

There are only two extras on the disc: the theatrical trailer (1:34), and an audio commentary recorded by director Lewis Teague. He shares interesting anecdotes, including a description of an original prologue that introduced the cat and set the stage for the final segment, but was nixed after test audiences found it too over-the-top (it sure sounds that way). Unfortunately, Teague also repeats himself, and drops out in spots for long enough that I grabbed the remote to make sure I hadn’t switched audio tracks by mistake.
I dig Cat’s Eye. It doesn’t have the most famous Stephen King stories, the biggest scares, or all-time classic anthology segments. What it lacks in superlatives, it makes up for in consistency—a quality often missing from both Stephen King adaptations and horror anthologies. This isn’t the film to show a King newcomer, but it’s a great movie for the “fan who has everything.” The Blu-ray comes with a similar caveat. It looks great, and the Teague commentary can be illuminating, but this is release is better to fill a gap in someone’s collection than to offset the cashmere sweater they gave you for your birthday. I'm feline good about this one.

Blu-ray release date: September 20, 2016
94 minutes/1985/PG-13
1.85:1 (1080)
DTS HD Master Audio (English)
Dolby Digital 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English (SDH), French, Spanish

Bonus features:
Commentary
Trailer

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Erich, I am a big fan of this film, I was wondering about the upgrad! I enjoyed a bit of tech talk about the release, nice to get DTS Master Audio sound, and if a remastered 5.1 was added I wouldof been more happy, a stereo 2 channel always makes me feel a bit less likely to upgrade
    Cheers Dennis

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