"Cat's Eye" gives us Stephen King with a grin on his puss. A scaremeister whose output is rivaled only by that of the author of the Yellow Pages, he emerges every three months or so, the literary Sasquatch of the North Woods, planting his Bigfoot in our mouths.
This jokey horror movie, adapted in part from King's short stories, is composed of three brief tales, the perfect form for him. Instead of having to create characters and a story, King simply has to come up with a gimmick and a punch line -- and on to the next. The first involves Morrison (a finicky James Woods), who is trying to quit smoking; he ties up with "Quitters, Inc.," a sort of SmokEnders run by a sadist (Alan King, who takes a greasy, finger-lickin' pleasure in the role). In the last, a wee lass (Drew Barrymore) is tormented by nighttime visions of a monster. Her parents tell her it's just a stray cat, but sure enough, it is a monster (created by the ubiquitous Carlo Rambaldi).
The middle episode is the most fun, because of the presence of the peerless Kenneth McMillan. He plays a big-time Atlantic City hoodlum who confronts his wife's lover, then offers him a deal -- if he can walk around the ledge of the oh-so-high hotel tower, he'll give him his wife and a nice wedding present. With his pampered, florid face and a pennant of silvery hair streaming across his brow, McMillan is a pillowy pixie enlivening an Irish wake. He plays here with a good-humored burlesque that recalls Jackie Gleason.
All the episodes repeat the same formula. The "horror" springs from an ordinary psychological problem (addiction to gambling or cigarettes, fear of heights, nightmares). Onto this King layers smug self-references (Barrymore's Mom reads King's "Pet Sematary" in bed), pop culture allusions (scraps of Top 40 songs, a Cabbage Patch doll), and a healthy dose of sadism (a cat electrocuted, a pigeon kicked while feathers fly). King is popular for the same reason McDonald's is popular -- you always know what to expect.
Director Lewis Teague brings a nice flair to the action sequences, although he's not much with actors. Except, of course, the cat, who appears in all three episodes as observer, chorus, and felinus ex machina. Many an actor could learn something from this uncredited tabby, who can express inquisitiveness, hurt, anger, fear, and grim determination -- he's a furry Montgomery Clift. Chow chow chow!