Sweet baby new year is almost here and our resident reviewer, Cory Robinson, has decided to take a break from celebrating and put down his bottle Crystal Head vodka to provide us with this terrific review of the very first episode from Amazing Stories.
For you youngsters, Amazing Stories is a scifi anthology series created by Steven Spielberg that aired on NBC back in the 80’s. Enjoy everyone.
Warning: This review contains spoilers, so if you wanted to watch the episode first click the link below where you will be redirected to the NBC site.
After watching the intro with awesomely cheesy CG and the beyond swelling John Williams score, we start with the first episode entitled “Ghost Train” with screenplay by Frank Desse (The Principal) based on an idea by Steven Spielberg (you’ve seen at least one of his movies) who is also in the director’s chair for this episode. The episode starts out with young Brian Globe (played by Lucas Haas best known as the kid from Witness) as he is depressed because his parents moved from Chicago to a new real estate development away from kids his own age. To compensate the parents invite his Grandpa, “Old Pa” Globe (Played by Roberts Blossom best known as the mysterious old man from Home Alone to the mysterious old man from Christine to the mysterious old man from…… you know what, you get the picture) to live in their new house so Brian doesn’t have to see his Grandpa in a retirement home anymore.
Things start to get eerie when Old Pa realizes that their new house is built on a site that caused him a near death experience close to 75 years ago. Old Pa starts to go into the story but the parents hear nothing of it and immediately tell him not to tell “ghost stories” to Brian as the stories will give him nightmares. Old Pa does make things easier for Brian since he moved away from all of his friends but all Old Pa can do is tell Brian stories about the wars between the Native Americans and the white men until he tells him the story about “The Highball Express” which was a well-known train that came through where the house was built. Old Pa proves his theory by pulling an old railroad spike out of the ground and tells Brian that the Highball Express ran off of its tracks one night in a spot close to where the house stands that killed everyone and everything on board. Brian asks his grandfather more about it but is more occupied with the old railroad tracks because he believes that the train is going to come back and go straight through their new house damaging more than half of their property.
Brian’s parents are dismissive about this at first but then Old Pa tells Brian that when he was a boy he was supposed to be a passenger on the highball express but the train was running late. Being concerned, he laid down near the railroad track in order to hear the train coming but eventually it took so long that he fell asleep on the train tracks. Unfortunately the train started coming but he couldn’t wake up despite the conductor blowing his whistle as hard as he could. The conductor didn’t have the heart to run him over so the conductor put on the emergency brakes just in time for the kid wake up and see the train rolled over while hearing the screams of all the passengers. Old Pa who has been haunted of this memory everyday, believes that the train is going to come back and pick him up “to where he should be” where that is the story doesn’t tell us but we are guessing that it is the afterlife. To be honest, as much as I like the grandpa character it’s amazing that he lived a life considering as a kid he fell asleep on railroad tracks, I say he’s going to get what is coming to him.
The next scene has Old Pa telling the family that they need to get things out of the house because the Highball Express is going to blast through their house and he has to be on that train to go to his “destination”. He further proves his point by showing his old ticket that he has saved for 75 years claiming that it is needed to go on the train. Of course the mom and dad think that he is crazy and decided to call a psychiatrist to come in and pump him full of drugs so he sleeps through the night thus missing his chance to catch the train. Brian pleads with his parents to wake up Old Pa and move everything out of the house because of the Ghost Train but his parents say they had enough and tell him to go to bed.
Brian wakes up in the middle of the night to hear the train coming and sure enough it blasts through the house miraculously killing no one in the process and wakes up his grandfather even though he was injected with sedatives, so he can board the train. The parents wake up by this time and start to see all the ghosts coming out of the train to meet up with the grandfather in order to take him away on the Highball Express. Brian starts to cry because he doesn’t want his grandpa to go away but Old Pa says that he needs to because it was his original destiny. They say goodbye while Old Pa says that he is going to see Brian in 100 years while the conductor apologizes for breaking through the house but tells the family that they should never built the house on a railroad track to begin with. The story ends with the family waving goodbye to old pa while he finally gets his train ride on the Highball Express.
Given that this was the pilot to Amazing Stories and that it was directed by Stephen Spielberg himself, this episode had some high expectations. While this episode met some of them, I have to say that it is average at best. Spielberg does a good enough job directing with the train scenes being some of the highlights to some of the lighting. Some scenes come off ambitious but just feel awkward with one being with Old Pa wrestling with the doctor while Brian watches a silhouette of the fight through a lamp with the mom bounces up and down. As far as acting is concerned, Roberts Blossom does a great job as the grandfather and there are few actors in my opinion, are as good as playing senior citizens as he does as he is by far the strongest thing in this episode. The scenes where he is on-screen with Brian talking about the railroad are done so well including the heartbreaking scene of him talking about his torment of causing the accident so many years ago. He even brings on a chuckle or two by doing a goofy dance while the train destroys the house which makes this episode worth watching.
Lucas Haas does a decent enough job but sometimes he underplays a lot of scenes including ones where he has to yell at his parents which works well at first but then he just kind of stands there waiting for the scene to be over rather than keep up with the emotions. The parents are the worst in this episode with some of the most flat line delivery that I ever heard in television, they just mumble through their lines so much that I had to put subtitles on my dvd player to understand what they are saying. The worst thing about this episode is the script, which has so many plot holes I don’t know where to start. It isn’t really clear why Old Pa is going on the Ghost Train, is it because he is being punished because he fell asleep on the train tracks so many years ago or is it because he was supposed to die 75 years ago and that he missed his train to do so. Also, how coincidental is it that the accident just so happened right where is son built a new house? A lot of things are left unanswered and a lot of the episode just feels rushed, if they took more time developing the story I think they could have had a classic episode on their hands but the finished product just comes out okay.
Overall on a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate this a: 7/10. This episode comes across with the best intentions but the script is just shoddy while Spielberg tends to film some ambitious scenes that don’t come out the best which gives with whole production with a feeling of being rushed including the acting which ranges from great to terrible as if they didn’t have time for a second take. I still recommend watching this episode but for a pilot and considering that Spielberg has his name attached, don’t go in with high expectations.
You can watch the episode here: http://www.nbc.com/amazing-stories/video/ghost-train/2907948
Come back next week when the next episode will be The Main Attraction which I can tell you right now is one of the low points in the series so be warned.