By now, you’ve heard the rave reviews for Netflix’s new series, “Stranger Things.” It’s a nostalgic throwback for anyone who grew up in the ’80s and witnessed the glorious rise of Stephen King and the reign of Amblin Entertainment.
The Duffer Brothers have presented a tale to the small-screen that is both reminiscent of classics that came before it, but also uses those nods as a jumping off point into something new. Could this be the streaming service’s first truly successful supernatural series? Our fingers are crossed.
In the meantime, as more and more people discover the creepy goodness of “Stranger Things,” Zap2it thought it’d be fun to list the best cinematic influences that helped make this show possible. Please be aware, if you haven’t watched the show and want to avoid spoilers, turn back now!
This is the big one right here, right? As soon as the first trailer for “Stranger Things” hit the web, everyone was raving about it being “a love letter” to Stephen Spielberg. That statement is not far off either. The 8-episode series has a whole cavalcade of scenes reminiscent of the 1982 classic.
From Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) burgeoning bond with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), to the scene where she explores the house alone, to playing dress-up and finally, that bike scene. It was almost beat-by-beat to the above scene … except here, Eleven caused a Hawkins van to flip. They may not have flown, but that feat got them further space from Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his crew.
The mention of MKUltra in “Stranger Things” is a tip the iceberg to a dark and twisted time in the CIA’s history. We’re not going to go down that rabbit hole, but the story of mind control experimentation on children, lead by the sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, is what leads to Eleven’s crazy powers. It’s a familiar story of kids against the government that can not only be seen in the likes of “E.T.” but also Stephen King’s classic, “Firestarter.”
In the ’80s, kids rode bikes everywhere. It was a part of growing up and it’s a cultural detail that helps bring the “Stranger Things” viewer in. There may not have been a Dungeons & Dragons angle in the movie — directed by Richard Donner, story (again) by Spielberg — but the pirate legend of Chester Copperpot fully makes up for that. And Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is pretty much the new Chunk (Jeff Cohen) — with or without the Truffle Shuffle.
‘IT’/’Stand By Me’
It’s hard to not mention both “IT” and “Stand By Me” when discussing “Stranger Things.” While there is definitely a Spielbergian vibe living throughout Season 1, Steven King’s influence is also very present. Early on in the episodes, all we know is that a Demogorgon-style beast is wreaking havoc on the town and only Mike, Dustin and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlan) have the clues to track Will down. The fact that Finn Wolfhard is playing Richie in the “IT” reboot, further makes our case.
The lack of knowledge or involvement of parents and adults — aside from Joyce Beyers (Winona Ryder) and Chief Hopper (David Harbour)– make this fully entrenched through the kids’ experience.
‘Cloak & Dagger’
Another detail in “Stranger Things” that keeps the kids’ lives a secret from those clueless adults, are those dang walkie-talkies. We totally had one around the time “Cloak & Dagger” hit theaters in 1984 and they helped with all that spy-like make believe that seemed prevalent before the rise in popularity of video games. If only we were like David (Henry Thomas) here and had our own personal Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman) to see us through the tough times.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’
There are a few beats that transpire in “Stranger Things” that seem very reminiscent of Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare On Elm Street.” Again, tapping into pop culture from the early ’80s, the relationship between Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) — her name is Nancy! — and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) felt like a callback to that of Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Glen (Johnny Depp) in the 1984 horror film. That was apparently the year for sneaking into bedroom windows of high school girls.
And while her relationship hit the skids with Steve, teaming up with Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) to hunt the monster felt like another nod to the “Home Alone”-style end of the Wes Craven classic.
‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’
Originally, when viewing the clips for “Stranger Things,” it felt like The Duffer Brothers were bringing a classic alien abduction tale to the small-screen. However, we’ve now learned that to not really be the case. Yes, we’re talking Stephen Spielberg again! And this time, we’re taking things back to 1977 with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It’s hard not to see the correlation even if Joyce is using Christmas lights as her means of communicating with her lost son.
‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’
We mentioned John Carpenter above and while the third installment of his famed “Halloween” franchise was not in fact written or directed by him, there’s a big influence from the “Season of the Witch” story. More specifically, it’s damn near impossible to watch Chief Hopper get embedded in his investigation and not think about Tom Atkins’ performance as Dr. Daniel Challis.
If you thought it was a familiar tactic to make Joyce’s phone burn every time Will tried to contact her from The Upside Down, that’s something that was scene in the cheesy 1987 horror film “The Gate.” Starring a very young Stephen Dorff, the story here follows a group of kids as the gate to hell is accidentally opened.
We’re not necessarily dealing with a gate to hell in “Stranger Things,” but there is a gate that Eleven admits to accidentally opening … and some creepy faceless beast is making its way through to pray on innocent kids. R.I.P., Barb (Shannon Purser).
Given the popularity of the new show and the open-ended nature in its Season 1 end, we’re hoping more creepy fun will be hitting the small-screen soon. In the meantime, “Stranger Things” is now streaming only on Netflix.