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“Prepare… to meet… the misters!”
– Professor B.O. Beanes
We’re kicking off our celebration of some of our favorites in Halloween entertainment with 44 minutes of TV that’s seared into the brains of a generation of viewers with its brand of grotesque comedy and horror. It’s a wonder that a story featuring the word “sex” a half dozen times in its opening and a graphic decapitation would get a spot in prime time back in 1986, but when you’ve got the collected might of 1980’s Spielberg, Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis, and horror mainstay Mick Garris onboard, you might be able to swing a little extra violence in programming ostensibly for the family set.
So come back with me to a time of backward masking, satanic rites, and sadistic teachers as we look at Amazing Stories 2.8: “Go to the Head of the Class.”
First, a little background for those of you unfamiliar with the series: the weekly anthology Amazing Stories was the brainchild of Stephen Spielberg, carrying the name of the long-running science fiction magazine. Spielberg’s idea: to use top-tier directing and writing talent to bring a mix of hour long and half hour programming to TV across the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genres.
Now by top-tier, I’m talking Spielberg himself (he directed two episodes in the first season with a story credit on 14 of the 24 episodes), Clint Eastwood, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, and of course, Robert Zemeckis.
Despite racking up a handful of awards, no one was really watching Amazing Stories during its original run, and it was quietly cancelled heading into a third season. But that still leaves us with 45 solid to excellent episodes of fine genre programming from superior talent that NBC didn’t really attempt again until 2008’s Fear Itself, helmed by Mick Garris.
“Go to the Head of the Class” sees Amazing Stories in EC Comics territory with the tale of a doomed attempt at supernatural revenge by a pair of teens (Scott Coffey, Mary Stuart Masterson) on their cruel English teacher (Christopher Lloyd).
This was Zemeckis’ first foray into horror after directing Used Cars, Romancing the Stone, and Back to the Future. Still, there was something a little dark beneath the surface of his early work, from the morbid efforts of Kurt Russell and company’s efforts to keep the death of their car lot owner a secret in Used Cars to the existential horror that is your own teenaged sex-crazed mom coming on to poor Marty McFly. Zemeckis would later spearhead Tales From the Crypt on HBO (a far more successful attempt at a genre anthology that early on racked up some very solid talent, even if it did overstay its welcome by the time it hit the UK years).
Co-writer Mick Garris, on the other hand, was still early in his career at the time, hammering out scripts for nine episodes of the series, and later a go-to collaborator with Stephen King for the television adaptations of the novelist’s work. He also created a horror anthology in Masters of Horror over at Showtime which, like Amazing Stories couldn’t get past two seasons.
Lloyd takes on a rare villainous turn here as Professor B.O. Beanes, a high school English teacher who struts around the classroom talking down to his terrorized students. Mostly, they fear having to “meet the misters,” specifically Misters Funk, Wagnall, Webster, et. al in his own brand of classroom torture involving balancing a pile of hefty dictionaries in each hand while kneeling.
One subject of this particular punishment is Coffey’s Peter Brand, a tragically in-love teen, the object of whose affections is the manipulative Cynthia Simpson (Masterson) who, with a little more time, might graduate to femme fatale. After Peter takes the fall when Cynthia plagiarizes his paper (“Surprisingly coherent,” Beane sniffs by way of compliment), his crush proposes a little payback by way of a spell on a backward masked track on a metal album.
Ignoring the fact that no respectable metal act would call itself “Blood Sausage,” the band’s album has some very specific spells with wildly varied effects depending on how the ingredients are combined. Cynthia promises it’ll just give the bad professor hiccups so bad he’ll have to go to the hospital (she’s already performed the ritual on her mom, the first sign that maybe Cynthia’s not too stable). The sadly, stupidly smitten doesn’t realize Cynthia is bad news, and before you know it… decapitated, living-dead teacher.
I, of course, skipped some bits here (“Go to the Head of the Class” stretches out the preamble to the actual spell and its effects, and a desperate counter-spell), but the ending sequence involving a chase through a gothic mansion and a coup de grace finale that’s creepy, even if it doesn’t quite make sense (so how did he hex the students?), but it’s well worth putting on your Halloween playlist this year.
Amazing Stories’ first season got a Region 1 release back in 2006, while the complete series got a full release in Europe, meaning you might be out of luck to immediate catch “Go to the Head of the Class.” Thankfully, the entire series is up on Netflix Instant (watch this in a double bill with season one’s “Mummy Daddy” if you want the optimal Amazing Stories horror experience).