Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Little Girl Goes Solo

This is my entry in the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old days of Hollywood

Drew Barrymore probably wasn't Stephen King's favorite, but she did appear in two adaptations of his work early in her career.  Springboarding from her role as "Gertie" in E.T., she immediately landed the role of () in Firestarter, and subsequently, the next year, as the main protagonist in Cat's Eye.

A side note:  I always thought my first experience with Stephen King was when I was introduced to Night Shift in high school.  However, I recently remembered something I had quite forgotten.  My family used to visit the rest of my father's family in Houston twice a year.  We stayed at an uncle and aunt's house during these stays.  At Thanksgiving in 1976 I discovered a stash of Penthouse magazines under my uncle's bed.  In the July 1976 issue there was a story I read, "The Ledge" by Stephen King.  At the time the name meant nothing to me, I just read the story because I liked to read.

Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore's first starring role after her appearance in ET was as Charlie McGee in Firestarter.  Charlie is the offspring of two young 60's students who were part of a secret government project to try to foster psychic abilities.  I'm not quite sure what the mother (played by Heather Locklear in flashbacks) ended up with, since she is dead by the time of the present in the movie.  But Andy, the father, played by David Keith, ended up with an ability to influence people's actions.

Charlie herself is a prodigy, and you don't want to make her angry, you wouldn't like her when she's angry...(sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?)  Charlie has an innate ability to start fires with just her mind.  And the beginning of the movie only shows a small inkling of what she is capable.  In the beginning, Andy and Charlie are on the run from the secret government organization, called "the Shop". (Probably a subversive version of the offspring of the CIA and the NSA, if you ask me).

Andy uses his own abilities to get out of a few jams (and why does he have to put his hands to his head to make the power work?  Is he afraid his head will explode if he doesn't?  Maybe that's why his nose bleeds every time he does it...)

 Eventually Andy and Charlie meet up with a kind hearted elderly couple who help them out (Art Carney and Louise Fletcher).  They get to see fully of what Charlie's talent is, as government agents show up at their farm to take Andy and Charlie hostage.

But Charlie "saves the day" by making all their cars go up in flames. (and yet another oddity, which King himself has also pointed out, why does her hair need to flutter when she engages her power?)

Meanwhile, back at the HQ of "the Shop", director Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen, who just may be playing the same ruthless character he played in The Dead Zone... it sure seems like it), and John Rainbird (George C. Scott as an Indian...?) make plans to try to capture the pair.  To that extent, Rainbird goes to the cabin where Andy and Charlie think they are safe and uses tranquilizer darts to subdue them.

The second half of the movie involves the Shop trying to get Charlie to show just how powerful she is, while Andy tries to figure out a way to get him and Charlie away from the evil organization. Rainbird does his part to help the Shop by pretending to be a friendly orderly to get on Charlie's good side.  And she does fall for the ruse, by taking his advice and helping out the Shop, with the idea that if she does she will; get to see her daddy again.

Working together the two do manage to get to a helicopter barn where Andy has the idea that he has controlled the agents and escape is imminent.  But the fly in the ointment is Rainbird, who has been planning all along to take the both out of the picture.  Once again, no one learns the basic lesson, it's not wise to get on Charlie's bad side.

Stephen King used to say this was the worst movie version of one of his stories ever.  (I guess he said that before Lawnmower Man, but then that's just my opinion).  I have to admit a lot of talent was wasted on this film, nobody seems to be able to break free from the confines of the script, which was better in the novel, but here comes off as just plain ridiculous.  Fortunately all of the people involved were able to redeem themselves in a future movie or two.

Cat's Eye (1985)

Like the first Creepshow before it, Cat's Eye was not a fluid feature length movie.  Instead it was a compilation of three short stories by King, two previously published in his book Night Shift ("Quitters, Inc." and "The Ledge"), and a third original piece called "The General".  And like the aforementioned Creepshow, the only connecting sequence was a sort of guide through the series.  This time it was represented by a cat, and instead of being just a "guide", the cat interacted in the stories, although it was only a star of the movie in the third sequence.

Barrymore only really appears in the first and last sequences for any reasonable period of time.  But she is a presence in the first two as a ghostly figure that only the cat can see, encouraging him to come and save her.  (This event is the focus of the last story).  In the opening sequence she also appears as the mildly retarded daughter of the main protagonist.  In the meantime, in the prologue, in Wilmington, NC, the cat is chased by a dog, and it escapes by way of a truck.

(An interesting side note: According to the director's commentary on my DVD, there was supposed to be an entire sequence that had the cat trying to save another little girl in Wilmington from the troll that appears in the third story of the actual film.  The mother thinks the cat is responsible for her daughter's death, as opposed to the troll, and goes after it with a machine gun.  The sequence was deemed too over the top and was deleted, so we only see the basic motivation for the cat through the first two encounters in the two previous stories.)

In the first scenario, based on "Quitter's Inc.", the cat is captured by a flunky for the company and taken to a caged room.  James Woods plays Dick Morrison, a habitual chain smoker who takes the advice of a friend to go to a company to help him stop smoking.  (Some "friend", as will become apparent.)  Morrison meets Donatti (Alan King) who introduces him to the company's radical aversion therapy process.

"Quitter's Inc", it seems was founded by a chain smoking capo di tutti capi (that's Mafia boss for those of you slow on the uptake...).  The process is to make the smoker an offer he can't refuse.  (I'm not being flippant, this whole segment seems to have been played for laughs, if you watch it).  Morrison is shown a hidden room where the floor is wired for shock.  The cat is stuck in the room and gets to do a little dance for Morrison's viewing.  (I should note here that on the commentary the director says the hit was hit with little puffs of air to make it look like he was getting shocked and was not hurt at all.)

The first time Morrison lights up, he is told, his wife will be put in the room and he will be forced to watch.  The second time, his daughter will be taken and put in the room.  The third time, and two burly men will show up at his home and do something crude to his wife.  There will be no fourth time.  Of course, if there were no infraction by Morrison, this would be a rather short segment, but you will be pleased to know that Morrison's mildly retarded daughter escapes a second infraction.

Barrymore only briefly appears in this sequence in a scene where Morrison shows up at her school and gives her a doll.  But she also is the guiding force in which the cat is appealed to return to Wilmington to save her.  She also appears in a commercial on a TV in the second sequence, which finds the cat has made it as far as Atlantic City.

Here Kenneth McMillan plays Cressner, a rich egotistical bastard.  He makes a bet with his companion outside a casino as to whether the cat, which is on one side of a busy thoroughfare will be able to navigate across it to safety. (Why did the cat cross the road?  To get to the other side...where these dumbasses were calling it.)  Cressner's wife has been carrying on an affair with a tennis pro, Johnny Norris (Robert Hays).  Norris and Cressner's wife are in the process of making plans to fly from Cressner's empire, but Cressner kidnaps Norris and has him brought to his penthouse.  There Cressner tells him that he has planted a large chunk of heroin in Norris' car, and if norris doesn't play along with the plan, Cressner will call the cops.  It doesn't help matters that Norris has been in trouble with the law before and stands to go away for a loooooooooooooooong vacation if caught.

Cressner, an admitted gambler, makes Norris a deal.  If he, Norris can go outside the building and navigate the ledge just below the floor line, Cressner will destroy the heroin, give him a large chunk of dough, and let Norris have his wife.  The ledge, however, is only a few inches wide, and the penthouse, needless to say, is not on the ground floor.  And if you are a little leery of heights, be glad you didn't see this on a big screen.

After Norris manages to navigate the ledge, circumstances turn the wheels on Cressner, and Norris makes the same wager with him to do the trick.  Meanwhile, the cat has escaped and finally manages to make it back to Wilmington.  You don't actually find out the whole back story, but it seems that the cat and a troll that appears in the third sequence have been fighting and ongoing battle.

The troll appears at the home of Hugh (James Naughton) and Sally Ann (Candy Clark), and their young daughter Amanda (Barrymore).  Amanda is immediately taken by the cat and asks to keep him.  Her mother insists that he stay outside.  She appears to have some preconceived notions about cats which are proven right in her eyes.

Amanda wants the cat to stay in her room because a monster lives in the walls of her room and keeps coming out at night.  (in this case, its not her imagination, its the troll.)  The cat, whom Amanda has named "General", manages to find it's way into her room.  The troll kills Amanda's pet parrot to silence it (and guess who's going to be blamed...)  As opposed to the old wive's tale that cats are dangerous because they try to steal children's breath, it is the troll that is actually trying to achieve this endeavor.

The cat manages to fend off the troll, but is left as the supposedly guilty party in the aftermath.  Mom captures General and takes him to the shelter to be put to sleep.  But not to worry, the wily cat manages to escape.

An epic battle occurs in the finale between the troll and the cat, encouraged along by Amanda.  This troll, although reminiscent of Jim Henson's Muppets, is not a likeable fellow in any sense of the word.  Hang on to the end to see how the cat manages to save the day.

This one is a better movie, all around.  As I intimated above, everyone from Firestarter  got a chance to redeem themselves and Barrymore didn't have to wait long.

Enjoy the rest of your evening.  drive home safely, folks.



  1. Thanks for participating in the blogathon with a will written and detailed history about these two films. I've never seen these movies, but they sound really interesting. I will have to check them out.

    Also, don't forget to put the banner for my Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon on your blog, as I have you down on the roster for "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner", as per your request.

    1. If you only choose one, go with Cat's Eye. As far as putting up your banner how about a trade? You can join my Texas blogathon.

  2. I can't say I'm sad I gave these movies a pass, but it was fun reading about them.

    1. You could do worse as far as horror movies go. I've seen some real stinkers. Thanks for reading.

  3. A double feature of early Drew is perfect, with this wonderful pair of Stephen Kingish horror flicks! Both are now on my scary movie list, thanks Quiggy!

  4. I'd go with Cat's Eye first. That way if you don't like Firestarter it won't be as disappointing.... Thanks for reading.


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