Think of a universe with the main characters from the Wizard of Oz, then throw in …
In 1983 Microsoft Word was released, McDonald’s introduced the Chicken McNugget, the Swatch Watch was all the rage, and Vanessa Williams became Miss America.
And if this story is to be believed, the small town of Hawkins, Indiana experienced a paranormal phenomenon that parallels the original survival horror game “Silent Hill”.
The story line is reminiscent of Goonies, where we follow a small group of young boys and older teens as they go on an adventure. Unlike Goonies, this isn’t some feel-good romp in caves to release a pirate ship and find gold. The formula is familiar: group of social outcast boys (introduced as D&D players and AV nerds) find a strange, alien-like girl (a la E.T., but without looking more like an alien) with ESP (a la Carrie/Fire Starter), while they’re in search of their missing friend who has been captured by a monster (Stephen King “IT”, anyone?). Folded into the story, some horny high schoolers (Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street/take your pick) find themselves added to the narrative when same monster (IT) captures and kills one of the female teen outcasts.
Similar to “Nightmare on Elm Street”, there is an alternate world, dark and distorted, where victims find themselves before they get killed. Stranger Things is a thriller set to the nostalgia of the 80’s: repeating lines from The Clash’s 1982 hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, and songs like The Bangles’ 1985 hit from the “Less Than Zero” soundtrack “Hazy Shade of Winter”, and Peter Gabriel’s version of David Bowie’s 1977 classic “Heroes” tie up episodes. The clothing, with their waist high Brooke Shields inspired denim and earth tone plaids, trucker hats, and late 70’s/early 80’s hair, attempts to bring you back to the era. The addition of Winona Ryder doesn’t hurt either, even though her popularity started in the late 80’s into the early 90’s.
With only eight episodes, Stranger Things works, if you don’t get knit picky of the framework. Essentially taking fragments from well known horror films from the 80’s, with strong influences to Stephen King’s material, Matt and Ross Duffer create a work that is appealing, but not overly much.
Some of the monster design, phasing of characters, alternate world, and laboratory story line seems to be pulled directly out of the “Silent Hill” video game series (not the films). The main monster is reminiscent to the mannequin monster or the plant monster in the first Resident Evil game. No matter where they were from, there are certainly shades of the games in this story, especially the final bathroom scene with Will facing the mirror as the room flashed back to the alternate realm (think James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2).
Stranger Things, season 1 was only 1/3 of a season long (eight episodes), which seemed to be just enough story to keep everyone engrossed. Since the announcement of the green lighting of season 2, and the news that it would take place in the Fall of 1984, with the same characters, we know they won’t be running this show like American Horror Story, which was what we were hoping. If you’re looking for something to binge watch this Labor Day, Stranger Things is a good option.
Stranger Things, season 1 is currently available on Netflix.