The new Netflix hit Stranger Things mines the 1980s for its dramatic and thematic cues – and three legendary names in particular
Stranger Things is the new Netflix Original show you need to watch.
OK, you’ve heard that line many times before, but the thriller series comes with some serious commendations.
Horror master Stephen King tweeted that Stranger Things is “pure fun. A+”:
STRANGER THINGS is pure fun. A+. Don't miss it. Winona Ryder shines.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 18, 2016
Fantasy film-maker Guillermo Del Toro added that that “Stranger Things may be a lot of things: King, Spielberg, 80’s, myself… but what it is, above all, is good!!”
Stranger Things may be a lot of thngs: King, Spielberg, 80's, myself (Duffers pointed that to me) but what it is, above all, is good!!
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) July 17, 2016
Add to that the fact that it’s currently sitting with a 9.2 rating on IMDb and a 92% review score on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can see how the tsunami of hype is only set to grow for a show that only debuted on Netflix last week.
Creators the Duffer Brothers (twins Matt and Ross) are clearly on to a winner with their gripping sci-fi mystery about a boy who goes missing in Indiana in 1983 – and it’s the show’s obvious but deftly handled homage to that decade’s movies that is winning it a fast-growing audience.
Still unsure whether you want to invest eight hours of your time in Stranger Things?
Well if you’re a fan of any of the following three creative visionaries you won’t be disappointed.
(Don’t worry: no spoilers here.)
Judging by Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers clearly grew up on a diet of Stephen King, so it’s no surprise the veteran author rates their TV breakthrough “A+”.
Carrie, memorably adapted by Brian De Palma in 1976, is an obvious influence, in the character of Elle, a girl with telekinetic powers who has grown up in a similarly stifled environment.
Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie
Then there’s the gang of four boys who could be stand-ins for the gang of four boys who feature in Stand By Me, the 1986 Rob Reiner coming-of-age classic based on King’s novella The Body.
(Although they’re equally reminiscent of The Goonies, thanks to the Dustin/Chunk similarities).
And then there’s the title design, which is obviously indebted to the cover for King’s 1991 novel Needful Things:
Stranger Things is full of nods to John Carpenter too, including the school radio kit that can be used as a way of reaching another dimension (The Fog), and the poster for The Thing that can be seen in the basement of Mike’s house.
But perhaps the clearest influence of the iconic director is in the soundtrack for Stranger Things.
Aside from the liberal inclusion of retro hits like Toto’s ‘Africa’ and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s original music for the show has been widely praised for its atmospheric, synth-based simplicity.
The opening sequence, which sets the tone perfectly, is not unlike Carpenter’s own music for films like Assault on Precinct 13 or The Fog.
The titan of 1980s pop culture that the Duffer Brothers reference perhaps more than any other, though, is Steven Spielberg.
E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial was released the year before Stranger Things is set, and it’s the show’s dominant influence, from the story of supernatural forces at play in a normal suburbia, to Winona Ryder’s portrayal of the hard-working single mother, via government agents in protective suits, and the kids riding bikes through creepy forests on the edge of town.
More than that, Stranger Things might be set in Indiana rather than the California of E.T., but it almost feels like a companion piece to the Spielberg classic.
While lesser TV dramatists may have fallen down under the weight of such influences, Stranger Things works for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s brazen about it. Just watch the opening credits again, and tick off the cinematic references in the first episode alone.
Secondly, it’s got the dramatic heft to back it all up: an excellent cast (David Harbour is great as the lazy police chief), genuinely suspenseful directing, and a script that hits the sweet spot between multiple genres.
Stranger Things is available to watch in full on Netflix now.