While it only lasted two seasons and run just a short while from 1985 through 1987, Amazing Stories, an anthology series developed by Steven Spielberg, never the less found and subsequently held an audience who, twenty years later, remember the series fondly. While a few episodes were released on VHS years ago, the series hasn't appeared on DVD until now nor has it ever seen a complete season release until now.
A big part of the reason so many eighties television shows are showing up on DVD is isn't because people think that they're particularly great but because of the nostalgia factor. Thankfully, with Amazing Stories, despite the fact that it is a rather hit or miss series, there are some seriously great moments in here which makes this more than just a cash in on the fond memories of those of us know in our early thirties who grew up on this stuff. Spielberg's series was different and while it didn't always work as well as it could or should have, at least it tried to give viewers a family-friendly show that didn't pander to its audience or try to dumb everything down. Some episodes are funny, others rather dark while some are mysterious and others quite comedic but throughout the twenty four half hour segments we're treated to some consistently interesting material made by a 'who's who' of name talent.
A brief run down of the twenty-four episodes that appear spanned across the four discs in this set is as follows:
Ghost Train: An old man, Pa Globe (Roberts Blossom), was once responsible for causing a train to crash over seventy-five years ago when he was a youngster. He now feels that fate has decided for him that he must get one that same train once again, now that he's an old man. As he prepares to do so, he warns his young grandson, Brian (Lukas Haas), that the engine and it's cars will soon find their way to the family home where they'll crash through the living room. Steven Spielberg directs (and co-writes) this debut episode, and a young Drew Barrymore appears as a passenger on the train.
The Main Attraction: Brad Bender (John Scott Clough) is a popular high school jock who seems to have it all. When one of the nerdier girls in his class, Shirley (Lisa Jane Persky), falls in love with him he wants absolutely nothing to do with her – after all, she's nowhere near as cool as he is. When a freak meteor shower falls from the sky and manages to turn Brad into a literal magnet, he starts to rethink his stance on things. Matthew Robbins of *batteries not included and Dragon Slayer directs from a script by Brad Bird who also cameos as a scientist.
Alamo Jobe: Time travel is the order of the day when a teenage message boy dressed like Davy Crockett and fighting alongside his comrades at the vicious but now famous Battle Of The Alamo wanders out of the carnage around him, through a massive cloud of smoke, and into the future. He finds that the Texas of modern times is very different than the Texas he was fighting to defend mere minutes before his trip. Television director Michael D. Moore directs from a script by co-written by Joshua Brand who would later go on to do Northern Exposure.
Mummy, Daddy: Harold (Tom Harrison) is an actor who is currently employed playing a mummy in a horror movie (where Bronson Pinchot of Perfect Strangers plays the director!). When he leaves the set in costume one day after his wife goes into labor, he scares the pants off most of the people he runs into. To make matters worse for poor Harold, the real mummy who he has been playing in the film has come back to life and wants to kill the man he sees as an imposter. William Dear of Harry And The Hendersons directs.
The Mission: Steven Spielberg directs Kevin Costner and Kiefer Sutherland in this story about the flight crew of an American bomber operating during the Second World War. When the gunner who sits in the belly of the plane gets trapped and the landing gears break, it looks like these guys are going to crash and burn but the gunner, who is also an aspiring comic strip artist, just might be able to use his imagination and find a way out for he and his crewmates.
The Amazing Falsworth: Falsworth (Gregory Hines) is a psychic who performs his act to the patrons of a nightclub. One night while doing his thing he clues into the fact that someone in the crowd has murder on their mind and plans to take a life after the show. He manages to get the police out to take a look at things but will he be able to get them there in time and furthermore will he be able to convince them that his complaint is legitimate? Mick Garris, who would go on to create the Masters Of Horror series for Showtime provides the script directed by Peter Hyams who would later helm End Of Days.
Fine Tuning: A nerdy teenaged boy named Andy is building a device for a science project that should, if his plans work, intercept alien transmissions and broadcast them on his television set. Imagine his surprise when he and his friends sit down to watch and find that the people of space have been remaking popular Earth shows for some time now and that they've also sent down a team of alien explorers to look around. Andy figures they should head out and meet them, so they do, and they show them around Hollywood but the aliens want to bring back a real, live Earth celebrity… Milton Berle (who plays himself)!
Mr. Magic: Sid Ceasar plays the titular Mr. Magic, an aging magician whose career hasn't been what it was years ago. His act doesn't have the draw it once did nor does he have the charisma or presence that he did in his younger days. It all looks like it's going to fade away for him until he picks up a pack of magical cards that allow him to do tricks that no other man could possibly pull off – but does it all come with a price? Donald Petrie directs from another script by Joshua Brand.
Guilt Trip: Burt Reynolds directs his good pal Dom DeLuise in this one where he plays Guilt, the emotion we're all familiar with. Guilt spends his time running around making people feel bad for drinking too much or overeating but soon finds himself burnt out and in need of a vacation. He decides to take a cruise where he meets Love (played by Loni Anderson!) and of course, he falls for her, but their relationship proves to be far more complex than he expected. Charles Nelson Reilly shows up playing a priest in this episode.
Remote Control Man: Walter Poindexter (Sydney Lassick) lives with his wife who, to be blunt, is a nag. She complains about this and complains about that and quite frankly the old lady makes his life miserable. As such, Walter finds solace in the comforting rays of his television set, and when his interaction with said set starts to get a little more physical than normal, all the better. Directed by Bob Clark, this episode features some fun cameos from recognizable eighties TV stars such as Richard Simmons, Ed McMahon, Gary Coleman, Dirk Benedict and Barbara Billingsly.
Santa '85: When Santa (Douglas Seale) is out doing his thing, bringing presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world, he's shocked when the cops show up and throw him in jail. Thankfully a little boy (Gabriel Damon) knows what happened and through the magic of Christmas he's able to help jolly old St. Nick get the job done after all. Phil Joanou directs from another
Vanessa in the Garden: Byron Sullivan's (Harvey Keitel) life is looking up – he's a painter and his artwork is fast becoming the talk of the town thanks to his agent, Teddy (Beau Bridges) and his relationship with his wife Vanessa (Sondra Locke) couldn't be better. It all comes spiraling down for him when his wife is killed when their carriage over turns but he soon finds a way to bring her back to life through his paintings. Clint Eastwood directs this rather famous episode written by Spielberg.
The Sitter: Lance (Seth Green) and Dennis (Joshua Rodoy) are the terror of the babysitting world in their town. Every sitter that their mother hires for them winds up fleeing and never returning, they're just too much to handle. One day, their mother hires a woman named Mabel (Jennifer Mowbray) who finds a way to control the kids, not with discipline or psychology, but with voodoo!
No Day at the Beach: A platoon of Marines are about to hit the beach in Italy during an assault that takes place during the Second World War. One new recruit, Casey (Charlie Sheen), is chomping at the bit to get out there and give the Nazi's what for but he'll soon learn that there's more to being a hero than simply the guts to storm the enemy. Ray Mancini shows up here as one of the other soldiers on the boat.
One For the Road: A man with a drinking problem spends way too much time at the local bar for his own good. The men he considers 'friends' decide that since he's going to drink himself to death, they might as well get him to buy into a life insurance policy and make them the beneficiaries – sounds like a pretty easy way to make some coin. Things, of course, do no go as planned. Douglas Seale, Joe Pantoliano and Geoffrey Lewis star while Thomas Carter directs.
Gather Ye Acorns: A teenage boy named Jonathon encounters a strange troll like man who instructs him to collect comic books and action figures. As the years pass and he grows older, his collection becomes quite sizeable and by the time that he's older it turns out he's sitting on a small fortune which he uses to enjoy his golden years. The eclectic cast for this episode includes Mark Hamill, Forest Whitaker and David Rappaport, Norma Reynolds directs.
Boo!: A deceased man and his wife live on in the attic of their old home as ghosts, and they're quite content doing their thing alone. When a pair of newlyweds move in they're really not so happy with that change and so they start to haunt them in hopes of getting them to move out and leave them alone. Joe Dante directs.
Dorothy and Ben: An older man named Ben has just spent the last four decades of his life in a hospital bed where he's lived in a coma after an accident. When he suddenly awakes around the same time a little girl named Dorothy gets in a bike accident and falls into a coma, it turns out that he can communicate with her. Joe Seneca and Natalie Gregory star in the title roles while directorial duties are handled by Thomas Carter.
Mirror, Mirror: Jordan Manmoth (Sam Waterson) is the hottest ticket in horror fiction to come along in quite some time. His books are best sellers and he's insanely successful. Imagine his surprise when he becomes the victim of a haunting perpetrated by a ghost (Tim Robbins) who appears to him in his bathroom mirror. Martin Scorcese directs this excellent episode which also features an appearance from Dick Cavett who plays himself.
Secret Cinema: Jane (Penny Peyser) is an odd duck. She's been seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Schreck (Paul Bartel), for a while now and it hasn't helped much, in fact, she's pretty much convinced that he's somehow secretly filming her life and that her mother (Eve Arden) and her fiance are both in on the plot. Bartel not only stars in this one but he also wrote it and directed it.
Hell Toupee: Harry (Tony Kienitz) isn't happy at all about the fact that he's lost his hair and so he does what a lot of men do, he goes out and he gets a toupee. Though he's happy with his new look, there's a catch in that when he wears the toupee it somehow inspires him to want to kill lawyers! Irvin Kershner directs this darkly comic episode.
The Doll: In this rather eerie episode a man named John heads out to buy his young niece a gift. He finds a doll that he figures will be perfect for her and he lays down the cash and picks it up. The more time he spends with the doll, however, the more he's drawn to it to the point where it starts to become a rather unhealthy obsession for him. Phil Joanou directs this episode that was penned by the one and only Richard Matheson.
One For the Books: In the second episode in the series to be written by Richard Matheson, an old janitor named Fred (Leo Penn) toils away at his job day in and day out without really drawing much attention to himself. When he suddenly receives the gift of knowledge, he amazes and intimidates professors and doctors alike. Unfortunately, nothing good can last forever and it isn't too long before things take a sudden change for old Fred. John Alvin and Pamela Guest also appear in this episode.
Grandpa's Ghost: Timothy Hutton co-wrote and directed the last episode of the season in which Andrew McCarthy plays Edwin, a boy who whose grandfather died in his sleep a while ago. This begs the question…. If his grandfather is dead why does Edwin always see him lounging about in the apartment and talking to his grandmother? The short answer is because Edwin is seeing, as the title implies, his Grandpa's ghost – at least he's friendly!
As you can tell, there is a wide variety of talent involved in the series both in front of and behind the camera which means that even the lesser episodes, of which there are a few, are at least interesting to watch. At times things can get a little too soft in that they border on corny, but the end result is a selection of fun material none the less. Some of the effects have aged poorly as have some of the ideas but on the opposite side of the spectrum other episodes hold up really, really well. Things might be a bit uneven but such is the case with any anthology show, some episodes and stories are bound to be better than others. When you've got Matheson, Scorcese, Eastwood and Spielberg all lined up, however, you owe it to yourself to take a look.
The episodes are all presented in their original fullframe aspect ratio as they should be. Quality is decent, but hardly spectacular. There is a noticeable amount of mild print damage noticeable throughout the episodes and some softness present during a few episodes though in all fairness this could be due to the original photography and not so much a fault of the transfer. There are a few times where some of the colors look just a little bit washed out as well though thankfully this is the exception and not the rule. Overall though, the episodes look pretty clean and they're perfectly watchable, they're just not perfect.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite clean throughout the duration of the material here even if some of the channel separation that does occur sounds a little bit forced. That aside, the tracks are okay – you can hear everyone when they speak and the music and sound effects are balanced nicely and don't beat you over the head. It's just a shame that the hiss is there… subtitles are available in Spanish and there's an English closed captioning option as well. There are no alternate language dubs provided on this set.
The main extra on this release is the twenty minutes or so worth of deleted scenes that were never aired when the series was shown on television. The Main Attraction, Guilt Trip, Remote Control Man, Vanessa In The Garden, One For The Road, Boo!, Dorothy And Ben, Secret Cinema, The Doll, One For The Books and Grandpa's Ghost all contain little snippets of excised footage available off of their respective sub-menu screens. While none of these are going to blow your mind or change your opinion of the episode to which they are attached, it's nice to see them here even if the majority of them were likely cut out for pacing reasons and therefore don't add a whole lot to the show.
Aside from the deleted scenes, we're treated to some slick animated menus in addition to chapter selection. The packaging for the collection is nice to look though not all that practical. The discs are housed inside a package that looks like a leather book but which unfortunately tends to let the discs come loose fairly easily. Included inside the package, aside from the discs, is an insert that gives credits and release information for each of the episodes contained in this set.
While the first season's worth of episodes are a little hit or miss, the series gets considerably more right than it does wrong. Aspects are dated but the stories are still entertaining and at times pretty suspenseful and the roster of talented people involved in the series is evident throughout. Universal has done a nice job on the audio and the video and while a few more extras would have been welcome, Amazing Stories – The Complete First Season still comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.