80s horror

STRANGER THINGS Season 01: REVIEW and REFERENCES

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I have a confession: I loved season one of Stranger Things. It’s a show I had been putting off watching since it’s original release, mainly because I had class Monday to Friday for three weeks, and I felt that if I get caught up in a TV show; [albeit, only eight episodes] I’d fall behind. Now, with class being done since July 27th, I finally watched this show in it’s entirety.. and holy fuck, this show was fantastic!

Let’s get one thing straight first though, Stranger Things isn’t the first TV show/movie to try and recapture the feeling of the 80s horror/adventure films. Think of  J.J. AbramsSuper 8 – the difference here is that you’ve never seen anything quite like this series. The show is essentially genre-less too, with numerous references and allusions to the 80s, allowing itself to become a mysterious sci-fi horror complex story that ends up being something extremely unique and individual. Some of the things that happen are Weird, others are Strange. It’s a really refreshing feeling to see story telling like this. We see many throwbacks to the 80’s Sci-Fi and Horror genres respectively, with heavy influences from John Carpenter and Stephen King. It doesn’t only look like an 80s time capsule, but feels like one too! I have to hand it to the Duffer brothers, they really captured the essence of the 80’s – and I wasn’t even born yet!

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“there’s how many references in STRANGER THINGS?”

As I said above, there are a lot of references in Stranger Things, some obvious; but some are more cleverly hidden. Most notably, Stranger Things gives a ton of nods to films that I grew up with – films like E.T. and The Goonies: the bikes, the dark backyards, the group of kids, and the flashlights. But if you were to look at the lighting and sets, you’ll notice there’s so much that feels like Alien, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Firestarter. Other homages include Poltergeist, Explorers, The Shining, Stand by Me, and Carrie. Of course, this is only some of the “Easter eggs.” There are still so many more, although you will just have to re-watch Stranger Things to see them all! Below, I’ve included some of the ones that I noticed. [Did you notice other ones? Let me know in the comments!] As expected, these references include major spoilers for Stranger Things: Season one so make sure you watch all eight episodes first.


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UNDER THE SKIN:

Whenever Eleven uses her powers to read other people’s minds, she seems to enter a dark, featureless world that is gives off the same eerie feeling that the “black room” in Jonathan Glazer‘s artsy film Under the Skin had. In both cases, the enigmatic female character is seen to walk across a mirrored black surface that behaves like both a solid and as a liquid.

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STAR WARS:

This one is fairly easy to notice, but there are plenty of Star Wars references in Stranger Things – and I’m not just talking about the poster. Mike owns a Yoda action figure, and is in awe at Eleven‘s “Jedi powers”. When Lucas thinks Eleven is lying to the gang, he calls her “Lando” – after Lando Calrissian. [For those unaware, Lando is the character who betrays Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back]

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ALIEN:

Eager to investigate the gooey [and gross looking] inter-dimensional portal in their basement, the team at Hawkins Laboratory send in a disposable technician [Right] to check it out, with only a flashlight. The whole sequence is a call back to the first act of Alien, when the similarly-outfitted Kane [Left] explores the surface of the planet with his crew. Both characters are attached to a safety-cable which, in the end, does absolutely nothing for their safety.

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E.T.

E.T. is probably the most important reference in Stranger Things because there are just so many of them! From the moody flashlight search sequences, to the general logic of kids on bikes outrunning a shady government organization who are after them. When she is left to her own devices at Mike‘s house, Eleven is often seen exploring the world with the same child-like fascination as E.T. Even during the scene where Mike and his friends “disguise” Eleven in a dress and wig to help her blend in at school is a clear call to a scene in E.T. in which Gertie gives the alien a “makeover.” [The only real question here is: who wore it better?]

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET:

The final episode of Stranger Things, which sees Jonathan and Nancy try to kill the “demogorgon”, matches up exactly with the climax of the original 1984 A Nightmare On Elm Street film: in both films, the teenage heroes trick a dimension-shifting monster into going into a house filled with traps, before setting it on fire. Meanwhile, in episode two [titled “The Weirdo On Maple Street”] sees the the “demogorgon” stretch the wall of Will Byers‘ room, which was also recalling a similar scene in Nightmare.

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THE GOONIES:

The tone that Stranger Things sets owes a lot to Steven Spielberg‘s adventure story, The Goonies which sees a group of misfit friends discover a long-lost treasure map. As one could easily see, there are similarities between The GooniesChunk [top, right] and Stranger ThingsDustin. [below, centre]

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STAND BY ME:

 The sequence in which Mike, ElevenLucas, and Dustin walk along an old railway track is a reference to the 1986 coming-of-age film, Stand By Me – which is based on a Stephen King short story called The Body. [Oddly enough, this was also the title of the episode when this happened..] In both, a group of friends work together to track down a missing child.


AND FINALLY..


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ALTERED STATES:

If you look carefully enough, The Sensory Deprivation Chamber Eleven uses in Hawkins Laboratory [left] closely resembles the isolation tank William Hurt‘s character enters in Altered States. [right] Both Altered States and Stranger Things play with the idea that sensory deprivation can awaken dormant parts of the brain.



Again, these are just some of the references/call backs to various science fiction and horror films from the 80s. As expected, I wouldn’t be able to write all of them here, because I would never leave my chair. [I didn’t even talk about the Movie Posters on the kids’ bedroom walls, or the movies playing on TVs in the background!] The question is though, which references did You see? Which ones stood out the most for You? Let me know in a comment or two below! [if you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, I strongly recommend it!]

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THANKS FOR READING.

these toys can walk, talk, and even KILL! DOLLS [1987] review:

Imagine the following scenario: you, along with your significant other [or if you don’t have a partner: imagine a close friend] are with a group of travelers on a trip, when you realize you need to find shelter due to a storm. Thankfully, just up the road; there’s a pricey looking mansion belonging to an elderly couple who happen to be doll-makers – who agree to allow you to stay the night until the storm settles.. Would you agree? That’s essentially the main plot in the movie Dolls, except for one significant difference: these “dolls” are actually humans that the couple has miniaturized and turned into tools for their evil plans!

Dolls is an underrated film from Director Stuart Gordon, who horror fans will remember as the man behind Re-Animator and From Beyond. Dolls is eerie yet playfully entertaining, especially in it’s tone. The movie follows a group of adults, [the “travelers” from earlier] who are basically sentenced to death for losing the child-like aspects of their personalities. But being as the people sentencing them is an elderly couple, they use their “Dolls” to do their dirty work for them. Being exactly as it sounds,  this film follows some obviously killer dolls that makes the movie fall under the same vein as Puppet Master or Demonic Toysas they should, since Charles Band produced this movie as well!

I would have a heart-attack being surrounded by this many dolls.

as a whole, Dolls isn’t that scary of a film, since it’s more cheesy than anything – even if the Dolls are scary as hell. The special effects are one of the biggest standout elements of the movie, and the way that the dolls move gives the film more of a creepy vibe, as opposed to something terrifying. Unlike Child’s Play, [a film I actually enjoyed] A film about killer dolls really shouldn’t work as well as it did in Dolls, but it did – which is definitely a good thing! The film has a very short running time, running at only 77 minutes, and for that reason; it’s not all that surprising it’s so short – considering the amount of time and effort the animators must have took to get those fucking dolls to move!

Unfortunately, The fact that the centralized plot idea is never really explained makes the film lose quite a bit of credibility, which could have worked if there had been an explanation. The theme of the movie – which is ‘not losing your inner child-like spirit’ – an awesome concept, but can also be seen as strange, or even silly. Gordon as a Director, gets my respect the way he adds suspense, makes us worry for the characters, [even just a little] I just hope that if we do get a remake in the future, the writers add a slightly better explanation than “don’t lose your inner-child”. I’m hoping more for a reason for not losing it. [just me?] Dolls isn’t a terrible film, it’s just trying to do a thousand things at once: especially in such a short film-time. Either way, the giant killer teddy bear in the movie is worth the price of the film alone!

Shout! Factory also released a fucking awesome re-release of the film!

So is Dolls a worthwhile flick? I’m going to go with a solid “YES”. As I’ve said a few times above, it’s not terrible – it’s just a “busy” film. So to make this film review short, I’d say it’s worth watching, just to say you did, at least once or twice – unless you’re into killer toys and evil old people.

THANKS FOR READING.