With at least 59 novels and over 200 short stories under his belt, author Stephen King has created an expansive multiverse within his literary works. It first began with the familiar Maine setting leading to crossover character nods in novels and slowly evolved into a dizzying, extensive mythology to alternate worlds and timelines. Only a Constant Reader stands a chance at piecing it all together. Hulu’s “Castle Rock”, set to take its first season bow this week, has been touted to be the first to craft its own original epic-scaled universe based on King’s best-loved works and fictional town, but the often-forgotten anthology Cat’s Eye beat them to the punch in many ways.
Released in theaters in April of 1985, Cat’s Eye was directed by King alumnus Lewis Teague fresh off directorial work on Cujo. It’s an extra wink to the audience considering the stray cat, General, that tethers all three segments together spends the opening sequence being chased by a bloodied, foam-mouthed Cujo. As if that’s not daunting enough, General is also nearly run over by a certain 1958 red Plymouth Fury, Christine. Again, that’s just the opening scene. General sees visions of a little girl pleading for help and journeys from Maine to New York to Atlantic City to finally Wilmington, North Carolina; each stop a separate story.
The screenplay was written by Stephen King himself, with “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge” adapted for screen from his short story collection Night Shift. The final segment (and overarching story), “General”, is completely original and written only for the film. King wrote the screenplay with Drew Barrymore in mind for the three different girls that appeared throughout the film because producer Dino De Laurentiis loved her performance in Firestarter. Like the setting of “General,” Firestarter was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The first segment, “Quitters, Inc.”, sees General crossing paths with a company that employs extreme tactics to ensure a near perfect success rate and guarantees that their clients will never smoke again. General is used as a demonstration for the company’s electroshock technique in a pass the torch scene to introduce the segment’s lead, smoker Dick Morrison (James Woods). He soon finds that it’s his daughter and wife who will suffer the most horrific punishments for any infractions in his quest to quit smoking. In another wink to the audience, we find that his daughter attends Saint Stephen’s School for the Exceptional, established in 1939, a year significant to Salem’s Lot character Hubie Marsten. Morrison is also seen watching The Dead Zone on TV, muttering to himself, “Who writes this crap?”
General next crosses paths with crime boss and casino owner Cressner, who takes the cat in just before kidnapping the man sleeping with his wife and forcing him to circumvent the entire penthouse apartment from the outside ledge. The segment makes a nod to the original short story “The Ledge” by having Cressner flip through the same Penthouse magazine issue that it originally appeared in. General watches from the comfort of the penthouse as the story plays out before hopping a freight train to his final stop in North Carolina.
It’s in “General” that the stray tabby cat finally meets the little girl, Amanda, that had been sending him disembodied pleas for help; a spiteful little troll has taken up residence in Amanda’s bedroom wall and desperately wants to steal her breath. Understandably, her parents don’t believe her and therefore don’t believe she’s in any danger. Mom suspects the stray cat as the source of trouble, and even goes so far as to trap General to have him euthanized. The hostility toward the cat is extreme, until the scene that features Amanda’s mom and dad in bed together. She’s reading Pet Sematary. Considering the relationship in King’s novel between Ellie Creed and her cat Church, Mom’s fear and hatred toward General suddenly makes a lot more sense. She’s channeling the same fears as Rachel Creed about death, albeit in this case it’s directed toward Amanda’s beloved pet parakeet and his natural adversary.
Though there are nods and Easter eggs woven into every segment, it’s the overarching story of General and his quest to save Amanda that lends itself to the creation of an original Stephen King universe. Within it are characters and stories made richer by existing King works, both new and old. Cat’s Eye was released still early in King’s novel-writing career, his literary multiverse only just beginning. This anthology, only the 8th film adaptation of his works, was the first iteration of the multiverse on screen.