TV Review – The Best of Amazing Stories Part 3

Go to the Head of the Class (Season 2, Episode 8)
Original airdate: November 21, 1986
Written by Mick Garris & Tom McLoughlin and Bob Gale
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Hot off the heels of 1985’s summer hit Back to the Future, Amazing Stories brought Robert Zemeckis, Robert Gale, Alan Silvestri, and Christopher Lloyd back together again for this silly horror tale. The producers understood what a big deal they had on their hands and made this only the second hour-long episode of the anthology joining Spielberg’s The Mission. You can also see the production value is a little higher here with some really impressive animatronics for a series that would show its budget in many weaker episodes.

In the opening, we meet Peter (Scott Coffey), a teenage boy who loves horror movies and is also enamored with Cynthia (Mary Stuart Masterson). Cynthia exploits his crush to have Peter complete homework for her, but now they’ve been caught. English teacher Professor B.O. Beanes (Christopher Lloyd) has caught onto them and issues a punishment to Peter. Later that day, Cynthia plans to get back at Beanes using a spell she found on a rock record when she played it backward. The teenagers end up at the Beanes family crypt and gather some ingredients. When they cast the spell, things get wild, with Beanes becoming a headless man chasing after them through his house and the community.

Go to the Head of the Class exists somewhere between a Disney take on horror and something gorier. It is certainly a higher level of gross-out moments than I expected. You have an animatronic head made by Stan Winston of Lloyd that is both impressive and wild to have on network television. The story never loses its sense of fun and satirizes the satanic panic over rock music at the time. It’s a horror-fantasy about students getting the sort of revenge on a cruel teacher that teenagers still imagine. You have many creators at the top of their game here just having fun and delivering a wildly entertaining tale.

Family Dog (Season 2, Episode 16)
Original airdate: February 16, 1987
Written & Directed by Brad Bird

Family Dog is the only animated episode of Amazing Stories and marks the directorial debut of Brad Bird. Bird would go on to helm The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and more. Family Dog eventually got its own short-lived spin-off series that has been all but forgotten. If the stylized look of Family Dog stands out, that is likely because character design was handled by Tim Burton. This is not as gothic as much of his work can look, just darkly exaggerated. The music will also ring familiar as it’s Danny Elfman delivering the bouncy chaos he is best known for.

Jonah, the titular family dog, has worn out his welcome amongst the Binford family. He is only concerned with eating, sleeping, and hiding from the rabid children. When the family decides to go out for a movie, they leave their house secure because Jonah will protect the homestead. The dog is too burdened by his dinner, so when the burglars break inside and steal everything. Jonah is given another chance and fails again, so the patriarch Skip decides to turn the household pet into a killer guard dog. This, of course, has wildly chaotic and funny consequences.

The animation here is A-tier. Everyone moves incredibly fluidly, and the character designs help make them more expressive. You can understand each person’s personality immediately just by looking at them. It’s clear Bird is a fan of the animation legends, especially Chuck Jones. Characters are just malleable enough that they twist and contort to express elevated emotions. Family Dog would pop up again in 1988, running before The Land Before Time as a short film.

Gershwin’s Trunk (Season 2, Episode 17)
Original airdate: March 13, 1987
Written by John Meyer and Paul Bartel
Directed by Paul Bartel

Gershwin’s Trunk is a comedy-musical episode that is also a noir tale. Bob Balaban plays Jo-Jo Gillespie, a Broadway composer who broke off his longtime writing partnership with Jerry Lane. Gillespie is much more bitter about the break than Lane and is determined to pen a musical that blows away anything his now rival could make. Failing to find inspiration, Gillespie seeks out the help of a psychic, Sister Teresa (Lanie Kazan). She channels George Gershwin’s spirit, who sings out original compositions that Gillespie jots down to use his production. Things go awry, and Gillespie ends up with a dead body on his hands and an NYPD detective blackmailing him.

Gershwin’s Trunk is fast-paced, not wasting a minute of its 25-minute runtime. It goes in lots of directions with lots of settings. There’s Gillespie’s apartment, a restaurant where Broadway types hang out, the rehearsal for Gillespie’s musical, and Sister Teresa’s darkly lit room. There’s a wry sense of humor, not afraid to tread into darker territory. Our protagonist, the villain of the story, so we’re in a perspective that challenges us. Not even the police detective we think might bring him to justice; he’s just as rotten. But Bartel never allows the narrative to drift into bleak cynicism. It’s an enjoyable romp through musical comedy.

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