Remote Control Man (Season 1, Episode 10)
Original airdate: December 8, 1985
Written by Douglas Lloyd McIntosh & Steven Spielberg
Directed by Bob Clark
By 1986, Bob Clark had directed films like Black Christmas, Porky’s, and A Christmas Story. Quite an eclectic filmography. He was brought on to helm this comedic entry into Amazing Stories. Walter Poindexter is a paper pusher at the bottom of his corporate ladder, put upon by a shrieking housewife and two rotten sons. All Walter wants to do when he gets home is watch some television, but his wife sells the set while he is at work. Driving through the city, the man comes across a strange store that seems to grant the person’s ultimate wish. In this instance, Walter is given a magical television whose remote control brings the people out of the shows and into his home.
Throughout the episode, we get appearances by Barbara Billingsly as June Cleaver, Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson, and Dirk Benedict as Face from the A-Team. There are even cameos from Richard Simmons, Ed McMahon, the “Where’s the Beef” lady, and the Incredible Hulk. At its core, this episode is a “Be careful what you wish for” scenario. I doubt the audience will be surprised in any way about the direction things go when Walter starts overusing his magical remote control. It is an entertaining episode, especially for us children of the 1980s. NBC certainly pulled its strings and got many of its past and present stars to pop up to make the whole thing an enjoyably silly tale.
Gather Ye Acorns (Season 1, Episode 16)
Original airdate: February 2, 1986
Written by Stu Krieger & Steven Spielberg
Directed by Norman Reynolds
Norman Reynolds is best known as the production designer on the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He only ever directed two things, with both projects being episodes of Amazing Stories. Mark Hamill stars as Jonathan Quick, a man who spends his life surrounding himself with objects of childhood. This begins when he is a twelve-year-old and encounters a troll claiming to be the son of Nature. He encourages Jonathan to cling to those things that make him happy rather than toil in a job he hates. This garners the ire of the boy’s parents, but he appears to develop a work ethic as he gets older.
Ultimately, Jonathan accrues wealth from these objects, which have increased in value as the nostalgia collector’s market booms in his old age. Thematically this is a tricky episode. The items don’t necessarily hold an emotional value for Jonathan at a certain point but accrue value, and so he can make money. I walked away, not really sure what the message of this story was. It’s a bit messy, and I think it could have done with a good rewrite, but ultimately it’s a celebration of enjoying the things you love in life.
Mirror, Mirror (Season 1, Episode 19)
Original airdate: March 9, 1986
Written by Joseph Minion & Steven Spielberg
Directed by Martin Scorsese
People seem to forget Martin Scorsese had an extremely rough patch in the 1980s. After Raging Bull, he struggled to find an audience for the type of stranger cinema he wanted to make. The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Last Temptation of Christ all failed to please moviegoers or critics. Mirror, Mirror was an instance of friends reaching out to keep Scorsese working. It ended up being one of the more horror-centric entries into Amazing Stories, reminiscent of something that might have been seen on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.
This story follows horror author Jordan Manmouth (Sam Waterston), who is in the middle of a publicity tour for a film adaptation of one of his books. He arrives home late one night and begins seeing a deformed man every time he looks in a mirror, the man creeping closer to him and holding razor wire with the intent to choke Jordan. Every reflective surface becomes a threat, and Jordan loses his hold on his sanity, knowing that the figure will get him sooner or later. I loved that the danger is never explained, and the episode ends on an incredibly dark note, not the standard for Amazing Stories.
The Doll (Season 1, Episode 22)
Original airdate: May 4, 1986
Written by Richard Matheson
Directed by Phil Joanou
I absolutely love the episodes of Twilight Zone penned by Richard Matheson. I’d previously only known him as the man behind I Am Legend, but he possessed a great sensitivity and told very romantic stories. This Amazing Stories episode reminded me of Minature, where Robert Duvall falls in love with a miniature doll in a museum diorama. There are also shades of Matheson’s Somewhere in Time as well here. In this story, John Walters (John Lithgow) is a shy man who frequents the shop of Liebermacher, a doll-maker. One day, John purchases a doll he’s drawn to for his niece, but she’s a little old for dolls and doesn’t really care for the gift. He takes it home and begins talking to the object like it is real.
The Doll is an incredibly romantic episode, and it subverts our expectations. In the age of Annabelle, we expect that fantasy stories about dolls will be horror stories. There are moments where the doll moves, and our modern brains are programmed to think spooky. But not once does the story give into that idea and instead explores the nature of loneliness and how the smallest amount of affection can mean a lot to a person deprived of that. This is one of the more perfect Amazing Stories entries, showing us how different the show was from other television anthologies.