Way back at the beginning of the 1970s, Steven Spielberg directed a creepy little made-for-TV haunted house movie called Something Evil before breaking into the big time in 75 with Jaws and then moving on to aliens with Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 77. By the 1980s, his touch was magic, whether directing or producing films, and he was a massive force in the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres.
And so he brought that magic to the small screen with the anthology series Amazing Stories. Spielberg was just a producer on the show, with many well-known directors of the time taking on individual episodes, which featured plenty of familiar actors of the day. Despite the high production values, the series only lasted two seasons, perhaps because of its inconsistent tone—each episode definitely has that Spielberg magic, but the catch is, Spielberg’s magic spans a wide range. Therefore, Amazing Stories offered a little of everything. There were sci-fi stories, campy comedy, Twilight Zone-ish tales, poignant heartstring pullers, fantastical yarns, family fun episodes, and yes, horror that might be too scary for the kiddies to watch.
It took years, but season 2 was finally released on DVD. Although it’s an Australian release, it is indeed region free. Wahoo! So I can at last do a post about the entire series. Naturally, I’m going to give a brief rundown of only the most awesomely 80s horror/sci-fi episodes of each season.
“Mummy Daddy” – While filming a movie as a mummy in a swamp, an actor gets notice that his wife is in labor.
Without time to get out of his costume, he races to the hospital…only to be hunted by the local rednecks, who think he’s a real monster. Bronson Pinchot, aka: Balki of Perfect Strangers fame, plays the director of the film.
“The Amazing Falsworth” – It couldn’t start any more 80s horror than this – neon lights drench an alley as a woman is strangled by a killer in a trench coat…who then strangles a homeless man trying to call the police in a phone booth.Awesome.
The story focuses on the late great dancer Gregory Hines as a nightclub psychic who picks up the vibes of the killer in the audience.
“Fine Tuning” – Actor Bob Balaban, who would go on to direct horror comedies Parents and My Boyfriend’s Back, brings us this sci-fi episode about teens who make contact with aliens obsessed with American television. Stars Matthew Labyorteaux of Deadly Friend.
“The Sitter” – Mama from What’s Happening!! is a Jamaican voodoo babysitter, so bratty Seth Green and his brother better watch out!
“Boo!” – Joe Dante of Gremlins and The Howling fame, brings us a porn episode! How modern. Actually, a sweet old ghost couple isn’t so happy when a porn star and her sleazy husband move into the house they inhabit. So they try their hardest to be scary and get rid of them.
“Mirror, Mirror” – Martin Scorsese directs this creepy story about a horror author – played by Sam Waterson – who doesn’t believe in what he writes…until he begins seeing a gruesome stalker every time he looks in the mirror.
“Hell Toupee” – Irvin Kershner, director of the thriller Eyes of Laura Mars, gets campy, with a tale of a moving, killer toupee!
“The Wedding Ring” – Danny DeVito directs and stars in this campy killer episode with real life wife Rhea Perlman.
There’s an anniversary gift, mannequins with knives, and Rhea transforming into a bombshell psycho seductress.
“Miscalculation” – Horror director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play, The Temp, Thinner) gives Weird Science a darker twist, with Jon Cryer as a weirdo college kid who figures out how to bring women in magazines to life.
“Welcome To My Nightmare” – One of my favorite episodes, this one has a horror-loving teen landing in the most infamous scene from Psycho, wearing a dress and all! Keep an eye out for Christina Applegate, pre-Married With Children.
“The Greibble” – A campy episode about a woman who takes in a big, goofy, troublemaking creature that shows up at her doorstep after a rainstorm…and would you believe it’s from Gremlins director Joe Dante? This one stars Disney child star Hayley Mills of the original The Parent Trap from 1961.
“Life On Death Row” – While not a particular favorite of mine, this one from director Mick Garris (Critters 2, Psycho IV, Sleepwalkers, The Stand, Riding The Bullet, The Shining mini-series) is notable for sharing the same premise as Stephen King’s novel The Green Mile, which came a decade later. Patrick Swayze stars as a man on death row who has the power to heal.
“Go To The Head Of The Class” – This special one-hour episode is another favorite. Mary Stuart Masterson and Scott Coffey, who would reunite for Some Kind of Wonderful, play a couple of teens who use black magic to get back at their mean teacher, played by Christopher Lloyd.
Things go horribly wrong, with macabre results, and Lloyd rules! Directed by Robert Zemeckis of Back To The Future fame, this one could easily be an episode of Tales From The Crypt (Zemeckis directed some of those, too).
“Such Interesting Neighbors” – When truly bizarre things begin happening at a family’s house one night, they suspect the weirdness is coming from the new neighbors, so they begin spying on them. Things take a very 80s family sci-fi turn, and new waver Adam Ant stars!