Box Set culture has very much been a “thing” for a the best part of a decade now. TV is king, and binge watching is totally acceptable, even desirable. With sights laser focused on our spare time, Netflix delivered Stranger Things, the Duffer Brother’s paean to both Stephen’s (King and Spielberg) spooky American midwest evenings. If you don’t want to feel left out in every TV-based conversation on campus this semester, we recommend you watch it. Plus, there’s going to be a second season, so when conversations shift to “the upside down”, “pollywogs” and “Fuck Barb” you should be all clued up.
When you inevitably cave, or even if you’ve already watched it three times through by now, you’ll undoubtedly be hankering for more of that music, that creepiness, that oh so giddy supernatural intrigue. Here’s a guide to some of the influences it so artfully stitched together over its eight episodes, and some similar modern works:
Stranger Things is all about the Spielbergian wonder of the normal turning odd and there’s no better place to start with his work than ET, which the Duffers heavily riff on, to the point where whole shots are lifted verbatim. For something a little more spooky, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (heavily curated by Stephen himself) is remarkable. The Duffers have gone on record saying they wrote a “bible” to the Stranger Things universe, and it shows in the consistency behind the scares something Spielbergian, giving the scares a legitimacy and grounding that modern horror films have ditched in favour of audience baiting scares.
If that’s not esoteric enough, give Ken Russell's mind bending Altered States a shot. Aside from both sharing a sensory deprivation tank as a pinion for their plots, Russell’s film and Stranger Things also share similar title sequences thanks to the production crew studying Richard Greenberg’s work in both Altered States (and Aliens). Compare the openings of all three and the similarities are crystal clear. Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic animation Akira is also worth watching, it’s a dizzying SciFi masterpiece in both written and cinematic form.
Aside from its woozy synth soundtrack reminiscent of Cliff Martinez meets John Carpenter, Stranger Things’ young cast is one of its most distinct aspects. There’s something about their wide-eyed wonder when faced with the impossible that borders on reverence rather than reticence. If that optimism appeals to you, give the paranormal, teen-movie aping game Oxenfree a go for more whip smart dialogue and supernatural goings on. If games aren’t your forte, Brian K. Vaughn’s latest comic Paper Girls has the advantage of being deliriously twisty making the perfect companion piece.
Unless the Duffer Brothers pull a total about-face, it’s likely that the above will serve you in good stead to unpick the threads of influence and themes in Season 2. Thanks to the cryptic trailer released by Netflix, there’s reason to believe they’ll be leaning even heavier towards the Stephen King side of things with a couple of nods towards King’s 2001 novel Dreamcatcher. All in all, Stranger Things is a wonderful tapestry of references, an invitation into the world of cult horror and SciFi - being able to identify the influences weaved through the Duffer Brother’s work is a great addition to the overall experience.