Stranger Things—an eight-part Netflix series that debuts today—is set in the 1980s and is heavily influenced by Stephen King and Steven Spielberg works of the era, including E.T., Firestarter, It, Stand By Me, and Poltergeist. Heavily, heavily influenced. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not when it’s this much fun to watch, and we have a clip of the suspenseful first eight minutes down below.
The story begins on November 6, 1983, in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. The only interesting thing about Hawkins is that its outskirts are home to a mysterious laboratory operated by the Department of Energy, a place that’s dripping with Cold War paranoia and some very weird science. In Stranger Things’ first moments, we witness something break free from the facility and cross paths with young Will Beyers as he’s bicycling home from a heated Dungeons & Dungeons campaign.
The disappearance of Will Beyers—which is also the title of Stranger Things’s first episode—is the crisis that sets everything in motion. The kid-goes-missing scenario is one that we’ve seen countless times before, on TV and in movies; the kid-with-creepy-powers trope, which takes the form of a girl who turns up in Hawkins after Will vanishes, is also a well-traveled path. But being so reminiscent of the works listed above (especially E.T.), as well as The Goonies, Carrie, and others, is one of Stranger Things’ greatest strengths.
This familiarity is a deliberate choice. The Duffer Brothers (whose previous credits include writing episodes of Wayward Pines) wrote and directed nearly every episode with the goal of crafting “a love letter to the cult classics of the ’80s,” according to Netflix’s official description. The nostalgia factor is huge: the retro theme music and soundtrack choices, carefully-chosen props and decor, nerdy pop-culture references—even the casting of 1980s and 1990s icon Winona Ryder as Will’s frantic mother has throwback appeal.
Even more importantly, while Stranger Things may revolve around a pack of preteens, it certainly doesn’t pull back from the horror that’s a big part of its story. And it’s horror that treads on many levels. Obviously the thing that escapes from the lab provides plenty of physical terror; the fact that it can manipulate electricity only adds to the something-wicked-this-way-comes vibe that precedes its every appearance. But there are also schoolyard bullies who are nearly as scary, at least to Mike and his friends, as the sinister government conspiracies that lurk below Hawkins’ Anytown USA facade. Discovering evil as a coming-of-age concept is nothing new—“You read any Stephen King?” asks one character, who might as well be addressing the audience—but when it’s done this well, it’s still completely satisfying.
After having watched the clip, do you feel thoroughly hooked? Are we beginning to see a resurgence of movies and TV shows with a 80’s feel to it? Do you like the blending of a show that serves as an 80’s love letter, but is also mixed with present day horror story telling?
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