Stranger Things is the pop culture phenomenon of the year — but it’s only eight episodes long, and Season 2 is a long, long, long way off. Here are a few ways to kill time until it returns.
It’s not just dominating your Facebook feed — Stranger Things, The Duffer Brothers’ ode to ’80s horror, sci-fi and adventure stories, has captured the attention of Netflix subscribers around the world.
Netflix doesn’t release their streaming data, but start-up SymphonyAM claims to be able to provide approximate viewing figures, and their numbers put Stranger Things well ahead of other zeitgeist-y Netflix shows like Daredevil, Making A Murderer, Jessica Jones and House of Cards.
It’s a hit, and Season 2 is all but assured — but as far as anyone knows, The Duffer Brothers haven’t even started writing it yet, let alone filming it, so it’s going to be a while until you can take another trip into The Upside Down.
In the meantime, why not delve deep into the films and books that make up the DNA of the reference-heavy show?
WARNING: If you read any further, we’re assuming that you’ve seen Stranger Things, and you’re looking for something to fill the Stranger Things-shaped hole in your life. If you haven’t seen Stranger Things, turn back now. Oh, and watch Stranger Things. You’ll love it, seriously.
Plan a Steven Spielberg marathon…
One of the more interesting bits of trivia in film history is that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Poltergeist started life as the same movie.
Spielberg’s original idea, Night Skies, was about a spooky alien force that terrorised a family, and even after he decided to split that idea into two separate films with very different tones (and, technically, different directors, although Spielberg has long been rumoured to be the uncredited director of Poltergeist), the projects retained some key similarities in their suburban settings up-ended by forces from out of this world.
“I think people lead lives where their deepest wish is that something would interrupt the mundane everyday routine,” Spielberg said in a 1982 interview, noting the similarities between the films, which ended up being released just one week apart from each other. “And someone (or something) comes into their lives and disturbs everything, disrupts everything, makes them suddenly have to work at life and to live it [to the fullest] to survive.”
If you’re wondering what the resulting film might have been like if Spielberg hadn’t split his idea in two, wonder no longer, because it would have been a lot like Stranger Things.
E.T. is the most obvious source of inspiration in Stranger Things. The Duffer Brothers have said they pitched Stranger Things as “really dark Amblin“, and it shows.
Both E.T. and Stranger Things are set in small towns backing onto a forest; both involve a group of kids riding around on bicycles, and, most importantly, both involve a young boy bonding with a supernatural being and hiding them away in their home.
The telekinetic Eleven is, for all intents and purposes, E.T., right down to the moment when Mike dresses Elle up in a wig, or the scenes where they run from shadowy government agents in hazmat suits. She even uses her powers while she’s on a bicycle with Mike, although just when you expect the bike to take off, The Duffer Brothers go in a spectacularly different direction.
But the influence of Poltergeist is also strong, as Joyce’s communication with her missing son through the walls of her house while he’s trapped in another dimension brings to mind Poltergeist‘s little Carol Anne communicating with her parents through a television channel broadcasting static after she gets herself transported to another dimension.
The Spielberg inspiration doesn’t end with those two films, though. Joyce’s obsession with contacting Will through supernatural means gradually leads to her destroying her home, much like Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Mike and his gang of lovable misfits on BMX bikes, and Nancy’s bespectacled best friend Barb, are kindred spirits with characters in The Goonies (directed by Richard Donner, but produced by Spielberg), and the slow, deliberate introduction of the ‘Demogorgon’ takes its cues from the way Spielberg draws out the reveal of the shark in Jaws.
There’s another reason The Duffer Brothers hung that Jaws poster so prominently in Stranger Things, too — Chief Hopper, a big city cop who has relocated to Hawkins, and who takes Joyce’s conspiracy theories seriously when nobody else does, is awfully reminiscent of Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody. Oh, and as long as we’re talking Spielberg, Hopper’s wide-brimmed hat and two-fisted investigation technique is straight out of the Raiders of the Lost Ark playbook.
…or a John Carpenter marathon
One element of Stranger Things that has nothing to do with Spielberg is its soundtrack. Spielberg has always been a big fan of orchestral themes, relying heavily on the music of John Williams to make his films feel timeless. Stranger Things, on the other hand, is absolutely drenched in synths — both in the score by S U R V I V E and in the pop songs on the era-appropriate soundtrack — to help establish a very specific ’80s mood.
No director did more for synths in ’80s films than John Carpenter, who also composed the soundtracks for most of his movies. He made a string of incredible flicks in the ’80s, none better than The Thing. In Stranger Things, Mike has the film’s poster hanging in the basement; it’s also the movie the science teacher is watching when Dustin calls him at 10pm on Saturday, interrupting his explanation of how the film’s gory effects were achieved.
Legendary film music composer Ennio Morricone provided the synth-heavy score for The Thing, and its influence is easy to spot on Stranger Things‘ brilliant theme music.
Other Carpenter classics that should be musts for Stranger Things fans include Halloween, The Fog, Prince of Darkness, and his Stephen King adaptation, Christine.
Curl up with a Stephen King book
If any one person had a bigger impact than Steven Spielberg on Stranger Things, it’s pop culture’s other Steve. His influence is so on-the-nose that when Terry Ives’ sister asks Chief Hopper if he’s read any Stephen King, it feels a little bit like Luke Skywalker turning to Han Solo and saying, “Hey, how good is Flash Gordon, by the way?”
It, King’s story about a group of pre-teens who call themselves ‘The Losers’ Club’ investigating a supernatural force terrorising their town, was such an inspiration to The Duffer Brothers that they actually tried to do a straight-up adaptation of the book, only to be informed that True Detective director Cary Fukunaga had already been assigned to the project. (Fukunaga has since walked off that film, replaced by Argentine director Andres Muschietti, who has cast Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard (Mike) in a key role.)
Denied the opportunity to take on the It remake, The Duffer Brothers realised that the story would work better as a TV series, anyway, and started to create the pop cultural melting pot that is Stranger Things. Even with all the other influences they ended up taking on board, though, It still shines through — Mike and his friends wouldn’t be at all out of place in The Losers’ Club, especially when Dustin is threatened at knife point by a bully, just like when Ben Hanscomb is threatened by a switchblade-wielding Henry Bowers in It. A slingshot also plays a key role in both stories.
Mike, Dustin and Lucas would also fit right in with the boys in Stand By Me, the 1986 film based on a King novella, and the scene in Stranger Things when the group walks along a railway track is a clear shout-out to that film. (The name of that King novella, by the way? The Body, which is also the name of the second episode of Stranger Things.)
Then there’s Eleven, who owes a lot to Charlie McGee, the protagonist of Firestarter (played by a young Drew Barrymore in the film adaptation). Charlie’s parents are test subjects in a secret government operation, much like MK Ultra. Both of her parents have telekinetic powers (her dad even gets nosebleeds when he uses them), and they pass those powers on to her.
After the death of her mother, Charlie and her father go on the run from the government. (In Stranger Things, we don’t know who Eleven’s dad is, but there’s always a chance he’ll turn up later.)
King may have even inadvertently helped to cast Eleven. Here’s a tweet of his from 2014 about actress Millie Brown, who ended up playing the telekinetic wunderkind in Stranger Things.
Millie Brown, the girl in INTRUDERS, is terrific. Is it my imagination, or are child actors a lot better than they used to be?
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) September 28, 2014
And let’s not forget The Upside Down, an alternate dimension opened up by a government experiment gone wrong, causing supernatural creatures to invade our reality. It’s a set-up that’ll sound very familiar to anyone who’s read The Mist, or seen the 2007 film adaptation.
If you’re worried about King taking offence to his ideas being lifted, don’t be. It turns out he got as caught up in the show as everybody else.
Watching STRANGER THINGS is looking watching Steve King's Greatest Hits. I mean that in a good way.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 17, 2016
STRANGER THINGS is pure fun. A+. Don't miss it. Winona Ryder shines.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 18, 2016
Go back to the fake ’80s
lf you’re not quite ready to leave the fictionalised 1980s, set aside some time for a Freaks and Geeks marathon. This might seem like an odd recommendation, considering Freaks and Geeks is a comedy that has no supernatural elements whatsoever, but lead characters Sam and Lindsay Weir are uncannily similar to Mike and Nancy Wheeler in Stranger Things (Sam is a geek who spends all his time with two equally nerdy friends, while Lindsay, his older sister, is a good student who starts to fall in with a ‘bad crowd’, much to the dismay of her bookish best friend).
It’s set a couple of years before Stranger Things, in 1981, but the attention to detail is incredible, so if part of the appeal of Stranger Things for you was sheer nostalgia, you’ll love Freaks and Geeks. Of course, the show is old enough now (it aired in 1999) that it’s nostalgic on two levels, because it’s also a chance to see stars like James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen in some of their earliest roles.
Speaking of Rogen, he pops up in another faux ’80s classic, Donnie Darko, that should be essential viewing for Stranger Things fans. Not only does director Richard Kelly draw on many of the same influences as The Duffer Brothers (and employ a similar soundtrack), but it could be argued that the film is an influence on Stranger Things, particularly in the relationship between Jake Gyllenhaal’s Donnie Darko and his science teacher, played by Noah Wyle, who does his best to answer Donnie’s exasperating questions about time travel (it’s easy to imagine Donnie asking his teacher why he’s keeping a curiosity door locked).
Donnie Darko‘s star has dimmed over the years because of a questionable Director’s Cut that actually made the movie significantly weaker; Kelly’s terrible follow-up films; and the fact that every first-year uni student wanted to share their dumb theories about it in the early ’00s, but the theatrical cut is available on Blu-Ray now and worth watching (or revisiting).
It seems unlikely that anyone who likes Stranger Things hasn’t already seen Super 8, JJ Abrams’ own ode to the Spielberg movies of the ’80s, but it fits in so perfectly with The Duffer Brothers’ work that Netflix should probably start playing it as soon as the credits for the last episode of Stranger Things roll. (Spielberg actually produced Super 8, so it has his blessing; he hasn’t commented on Stranger Things yet.)
Then there’s director Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, released earlier this year — it’s not technically set in the ’80s, but it tries so hard (and mostly succeeds) to evoke the spirit of ’80s Spielberg films and King novels that it might as well be. There must be something in the water.
Comic book writer Brian K Vaughan and artist Cliff Chiang must have been drinking that water, too, because their new series, Paper Girls, is set in the ’80s and tells a story about kids on bikes dealing with monsters and parallel dimensions in a small town. It’s worth taking a trip (preferably by bicycle) to your local comic book shop to grab the first volume.
Make everything stranger
One of the first indicators that Stranger Things would be heavy on the period references was its logo, which uses a modified version of the Benguiat typeface that you’ve seen on loads of Stephen King novels.
Now you can make everything — your name, your company’s name, your pet’s name, completely random gibberish — look like the beginning of an eerie 1980s horror story with the Stranger Things Type Generator.
Go to a party
OK, so you’ve been binge-watching Stranger Things from the comfort of your couch — now it’s time to get out of the house and be social.
As we reported last week, Fortitude Valley bar Barbara (105/38 Warner Street, Fortitude Valley) is hosting a Stranger Things-themed party this Saturday 20 August from 9pm.
They’ll be decking the venue out with plenty of fairy lights, stocking up on Eggos, giving out a prize for the Best Dressed guest, and presumably playing plenty of tunes like these.
We can only assume the Barbara bar staff will be dressing as, well, Barb. It’s a small bar and the event is free, so make sure you get in early!
What was your favourite reference in Stranger Things? We’re sure we missed plenty, so share your wisdom in the comments below!