Retro Recaps: Amazing Stories – Miscalculation

Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the television show Amazing Stories, it was a prime-time anthology series created by Steven Spielberg in the mid 1980’s. Created in the same vein as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, each week brought a new story that would often see ordinary people put into, or encounter, extraordinary situations.

One of the often-used concepts in television or story tropes is the guy who is unlucky at love. This was used in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes titled The Chaser, and was used in the Amazing Stories episode that we will look at today entitled, Miscalculation.

So, just what is this episode about? Well, let’s start the recap.

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The opening shot pans around a college dorm room, filled with lots of books and lots of pin-ups/centerfolds strewn all over the walls, as Robert Palmer’s song Addicted to Love plays from a radio. We are then introduced to Phil (Jon Cryer, or ‘Duckie’ to you Pretty in Pink fans), who is getting ready for school.

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As he attempts to cobble together something cool to wear (based on the examples in the magazines he has), a pizza boy named Bert (J.J. Cohen) comes through his door, with a stack of pizzas. Phil claims he didn’t order any pizzas, but ‘orders’ Bert to leave. The fast-talking pizza-dude takes the hint, but not before scoping out Phil’s pad, his dating tips book, and bashing his choice of wardrobe.

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Phil finally takes leave of the dorm, his head buried in the book on dating tips. Suddenly, the dorm mother’s daughter Angela (JoAnn Wilmette) comes up to him claiming she has a ‘charley horse.’ She begs Phil to massage her leg, but he just ignores her and continues walking. This is our first indication that there is someone who has a crush on Phil, and Angela is then given an establishing shot as she sadly watches Phil walk out the door.

It’s interesting how the show ‘frumps’ up Angela’s character: the glasses, her hair a little askew, a squeak to her voice. Wonder how she’ll fare through the rest of this episode.

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On his way to science class, Phil attempts to use the tips in the book he has, but strikes out every time. When he eventually gets to class, he tries a couple more pick-up lines, only to accidentally spill a pink concoction on some magazines on the floor. He right the bottle, but then knocks over one with some blue liquid, which also spills on the magazines.

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As he attempts to use some more pick-up lines on a couple other girls, his female lab partner notes that there’s a shar-pei puppy under the table! Phil happily gives her the dog, and attempts to ask her out again. Not only does she say no (“I’d rather have a root canal”), but the dog grumbles back as well.

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Phil’s gaze then returns to the floor, where he sees a dog magazine, with a blank space in it. Apparently, the mixture of the pink and blue chemicals caused the image in the magazine to come to 3-Dimensional life!! Naturally, Phil’s libidinous mind hits on a grand idea, and he grabs up the concoctions, and rushes from the building.

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Returning to his dorm, he ignores Angela’s pleas to help her with something, and goes straight to his room. Pulling the blinds and throwing away his dating tips book, Phil pulls out an issue of Sleek magazine, and opens it to a centerfold image of Miss August. He pours on some of each concoction, and steps back. As the centerfold image begins to smoke, the phone rings. It’s Angela, calling to see if he’s alright. As he attempts to tell her to go away, a female voice suddenly calls from behind him:

“Kiss me, and I can be yours, forever.”

This causes Phil to hang up and turn around eagerly…only his face then turns from happiness to shock.

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The chemicals have brought Miss August to life, but due to too much of each chemical, she’s a 10-ft giantess! Naturally, Phil is intimidated and she chases him around the room, first pleading to be kissed, and soon demanding.

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As the giant woman chases Phil around his room, the camera shows Angela sitting on the dorm’s lobby couch looking bored, as a nearby couple just keep kissing and groping each other. It just so happens that Phil’s room is right overhead, and Angela looks up as the ceiling shakes a little, dust rains down, and she can hear Phil and a female voice bantering.

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Meanwhile, Phil has barricaded himself in the bathroom, as the giantess’ tone suddenly becomes pleading, claiming she’s ‘starting to melt.’ Suddenly, her voice disappears, and a purplish liquid creeps under the door. Phil uses a towel to soak up the remains of Miss August, while he sadly peers around his ruined dorm room. At first he’s upset, but then he comes to the conclusion that if he hadn’t used so much of the substances, the girl would have been normal.

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He grabs a centerfold of a brunette in a black negligee, and then applies a little less than before. However, his glee soon turns to annoyance when Angela knocks at his door, wondering about the noise from before. Phil just tells her that he ‘dropped his bed,’ before slamming the door in her face.

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From behind him, a female voice pleads for a kiss. Phil turns and sees his latest creation, her face obscured by her long hair. As he approaches, she whips it back…

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…and reveals that the mixture was too little, making her face look gaunt, and no eyes in her sockets! She keeps pleading in a raspy voice for a kiss, but Phil refuses, and rushes for the bathroom again. Phil manages to trap her in there, where she begins to melt…

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…but not before her half -melted arms of flesh-and-bone break through the door in typical horror-film fashion, choking Phil.

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Downstairs, Angela is still sitting on the couch (with the oblivious couple next to her still making out), and after hearing screaming coming from Phil’s room, leaps to her feet. “That does it!” she yells, and whips off her glasses, heading to the nearby payphone (you know when a girl with glasses whips them off, it’s about to get real!).

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Upstairs, the latest centerfold has melted, but has left several punched holes in Phil’s bathroom door, with him lying with a shocked look on the ground. Without saying a word, he rises with determination, and grabs a magazine picture off his wall, of a girl from the waist up in a blue bikini-top. A look of madness flits across his face, as he places the picture on a table, and begins to apply the chemicals. “This one’s gonna work,” he says, chuckling crazily. “Third time’s the charm.’

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Naturally, Angela comes upstairs to find out what was going on with the screaming she heard before. She has called the Police, afraid that someone is being tortured in Phil’s room. He yells for them to go away, but when they refuse, he moves a chair in front of the table with the girl’s picture on it.

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Finally, the officers break down the door, only to find Phil sitting in the chair. Suddenly, the officers, Phil, and Angela are shocked when a girl’s arm appears, and soon more of her peeks out around the side of the chair. The officers simply assume that it was Phil and the girl making the noise and leave (with Angela not convinced that everything is alright).

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Once they leave, Phil eagerly moves the chair aside to get a better look at his creation…

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…only to find that since the picture was just from her torso-up, that’s all that has materialized!

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Down in the lobby, Bert the pizza boy has returned with some more pizzas, and is talking with Angela, when above they hear Phil cursing his misfortune, only his cries of ‘not again’ make Bert assume that Phil’s dating book worked for his love life. Naturally, Angela just sulks (and the couple nearby continue to make out).

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Back in his room, after the torso-girl has melted away, Phil chooses a magazine image of a dark-haired girl in a red dress, and then uses the last of the formulas on it, muttering nervously that this has to work. Worried about what might happen this time, he hides in the closet next to the main door.

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Downstairs, Angela and Bert are surprised when goo starts dripping from the ceiling, and rush upstairs. Both pound on the door and demand to be let in.

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However, Phil is entranced, as this time…he got it right! The girl in the magazine comes towards him, asking to be kissed. Phil is just about to rush towards her…

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…when Bert knocks open the main door, blocking the closet door. The girl turns her gaze towards Bert, asking to be kissed. Naturally, he does, and she leads Bert out of the room.

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Just as they leave, Phil rushes out of the closet door, eyes closed, unaware of what just happened. “Oh yeah,” he says, happily. “Kiss me and I’m yours forever!”

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Thinking he’s talking to her, Angela leaps into his arms and begins to kiss him. After a few moments, when Phil realizes she isn’t the girl he expected, he rushes outside, to see Bert walking away with the girl in the magazine.

Angela comes out of the room and apologizes for her outward behavior, but as Phil considers her groping and kissing, a thought crosses his mind. As he wraps his arm around her, Phil asks what she’s doing Friday night. With this question, Angela becomes slightly tongue-tied that her crush is paying attention to her, and stammers to answer.

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But, it’s not over yet. Back in Phil’s room, we see that the beakers containing the pink and blue chemicals have tipped over, and the remaining contents have mixed together, and started dripping over the side of Phil’s desk. As the camera moves over the edge of the desk, we find an issue of Fangoria lying on the floor. We see some drops of the chemicals falling on the image of an inside-out human, and smoke begins to rise from the issue, before we fade to black.

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And that was Miscalculation. While it won’t bring world peace or end hunger, it is a rather fun piece of 80’s tv. It’s part screwball comedy, a little bit of horror, and a little bit of romance all thrown together. It almost plays like a lighter version of a Tales from the Crypt episode.

Even so, it does follow some of the standard tropes in regards to quirky situations, whereas one person experiences the strange things happening, only for other persons to show up after things have died down, and find nothing wrong.

Jon McAdam’s character of Phil isn’t given much of a backstory, but then again, we only have 20+ minutes to tell a story. Though in his own wanton desire for conquests, Jon soon becomes his own worst enemy, notably when he botches the creation of girl #3, not realizing that he needs a full-body image. In some ways, the character of Phil reminded me of another ‘Phil’: Philip J Fry from Futurama, another young man who often doesn’t think through some of his own ideas.

JoAnn Willette as Angela I rather enjoyed regarding her gradual transformation over the course of the show. Naturally, for much of the show, she’s the girl that doesn’t have anything go right for her. The show writer uses humor to enhance her own predicament regarding love, with the couple making out on the couch next to her in the main foyer’s couch. One thing that the show creators did that was rather strange, was a major jump regarding Angela’s appearance and wardrobe near the end. If you look at the screenshots of Angela sitting next to Bert in the foyer, and then entering Phil’s room afterwards, she somehow styled her hair and lost the sleeves on her dress in a matter of minutes.

I almost had to wonder about some of the darker tones of the episode, until I realized who the writer and director were for Miscalculation.

The screenplay was written by Michael McDowell, who according to his filmography on IMDB, seems to have a thing for the dark, as well as the romantic. This is the guy responsible for the story/screenplay for Beetlejuice, and given the state of several of the girls Phil created, I was reminded a little of the waiting room occupants in the after-life scenes in Beetlejuice. Of course, McDowell also did a couple love-based segments for Tales from the Crypt, and Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie.

But who is directing this episode, you ask? Why, it’s Tom Holland. Horror and Thrills are part of Tom’s bag of tricks, as his filmography includes the original Fright Night, and Child’s Play.

Actually, Miscalculation would be one of several productions that both McDowell and Holland would team up on. Others include a segment of Tales from the Crypt, and an adaptation of Stephen King’s story, Thinner. Sadly, Thinner would be their last collaboration, as McDowell passed away in 1999.

Musically, I enjoyed composer Jack Marshall’s work on Miscalculationi as well. Throughout the episode, he brings in the rock guitars, and some string instrumentals, that I consider to be ‘Phil’s looking for love’ theme. It almost sounds like a combination of Huey Lewis’ Do You Believe in Love, and Hall & Oates’ Kiss on my List.

After the episode ends, a little humor was also added in the credits of the episode, regarding the names of each of the 4 girls: Ms Laura, Ms Awesome, Ms Eyeful, and Ms Crowningshield.

In the end, I find Miscalculation to be like some films or shows I’ve seen that defy a specific ‘branding.’ It seems stuck in the space between a black comedy (like Death Becomes Her), and a teen sex-romp (like Zapped or Spring Break). It’s cute and short, yet I do find it entertaining.

This was the second episode of Amazing Stories‘ 2nd Season on television. Sadly, you won’t find Season 2 of Amazing Stories on DVD in the States, but you can either import it on Region 2 DVD from overseas, or find episodes floating around online. In upcoming Retro Recaps, we will also look at some other episodes of Amazing Stories.

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

3 responses to “Retro Recaps: Amazing Stories – Miscalculation”

  1. Marina says :

    Hehe^^ You really uploaded it 🙂 I liked the video even as it was a little bit scary^^; But it had it’s funny moments and I liked the humor of the misunderstanding girl as she allways thoght he had a girl up in his room^^

    Like

  2. Dr. Jose says :

    I stumbled across this article while doing research for my own piece. You are correct in feeling that this plays like an episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, as it was directly inspired by the WEIRD SCIENCE (an off-shoot of TALES) story “Miscalculation”. The weird thing is, I’m not able to find anything online that credits the AMAZING STORIES episode as being adapted from the WEIRD SCIENCE story, despite the fact that they are identical right down to the title. You can see a synopsis of the original story here:
    http://www.comics.org/issue/9985/#88928

    Anyway, just a fun bit of trivia I suppose!

    Like

    • MWH1980 says :

      I’m really surprised how much attention this post has received.

      Then again, the weird and strange when it comes to some anthology series, are often the ones that have stuck in my noggin’ since I was young.

      Like

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