With a first series that included directors the likes of Joe Dante, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Spielberg himself having failed to top the TV charts, a second run was always going to be a struggle and NBC cancelled their interest once the two-season contract had expired. Which is not to say that this second series doesn’t continue to produce some small-scale gems, and provide a platform for the kind of themed anthology storytelling that was rare at the time.
Beginning with the Danny DeVito starring and directed The Wedding Ring, a sweet and somewhat saucy story about a couple reviving their love life via supernatural means, Amazing Stories treads a fine line between horror and fantasy, often dovetailing into distinctive Spielbergian whimsy along the way, but rarely straying into purely science fiction territory. There’s a good deal of black magic and spectral presences and the springboard for many of the stories is the question ‘What if?’, like a paranormal Americanised version of Tales of the Unexpected. At a running time of 23 minutes apiece (with one exception, the Robert Zemeckis-directed Go to the Head of the Class starring Christopher Lloyd), the stories never outstay their welcome and indeed many are as crammed with ideas as any number of feature productions. This second series also includes the animated episode Family Dog – later a short running series in its own right and the directorial debut of one Brad Bird, whose subsequent resume speaks for itself – but concludes with Tobe Hooper’s embarrassing Weird Al Jankovic-starring Miss Stardust in a prime example of the inconsistency in quality.
Starsky star Paul Michael Glazer’s Blue Man Down is better, a story of a ghostly cop, but perhaps exposes the series’ biggest issue, its predictability. The short story form rather imposes the twist or revelatory resolution on the show, but the surprises are very rarely sprung out of the blue. Instead, Amazing Stories is a collection of genre staples and fantastical fables reimagined in a palatable form for the kind of viewer who wouldn’t necessarily stump up for a cinema visit to this kind of thing. For aficionados, it’s an often toothless experience.
Nevertheless, this set is well worth a revisit (it includes a more than reasonable transfer of some very 1980s images and associated picture quality), comprising as it does a fairly easy-going collection of familiar story types.
STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS AMAZING STORIES SEASON 2 / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: PATRICK SWAYZE, HAYLEY MILLS, DAVID CARRADINE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW