Top image: Still, Stranger Things (2016) via Netflix
Stranger Things is the show everyone’s talking about. Set in a small American town during the 80s, new hit series from Netflix revolves around the story of a Will Byers, a missing twelve-year old boy. Episode by episode the show spins us into a mind-melting fantasy world of government conspiracies, alternative universes and above all, a big dollop of 80s nostalgia.
A love-letter to the decade that saw Spielberg fly a bike across the moon, the show reminisces on a time when mullets were worn long and shorts short, when the latest Marvel release came in paper form, and horror films owned the cinema screens. Chock-a-block with 80s movie references, from the subtle to the glaringly-obvious, Stranger Things‘ creators Matt and Ross Duffer pay homage to their childhood flicks in the most captivating way possible. From that eerie John Carpenter-inspired synth theme tune (think Blade Runner meets X Files), to the many Dungeons & Dragons references, the cult horror posters that decorate character’s bedrooms and the clever shots that replicate iconic scenes, Stranger Things is a straight up nod to 80s cinema.
We binge watched all eight episodes and it’s left us craving more. To cope with going cold turkey, we’ve curated a playlist of the show’s reference points to satisfy all retro requirements whilst we impatiently wait for season two to hit our screens. Expect cringe-y effects, old-school dress codes and unrealistic gore, but most of all, some quality retro viewing.
Warning: small spoilers ahead – watch all episodes first!
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) dir. Steven Spielberg
“Bike like this is like a Cadillac to these kids,” says Stranger Things‘ hero Chief Hopper in reference to the single-speed bikes that were the means of transport for every 80s child, and this set of childhood pals is no different. Shaggy haired kids speeding through the streets on a wild adventure, remind you of something? Yup, how can it not take you back to Spielberg’s iconic loveable alien E.T.
Whilst E.T. opted for Reese’s Pieces, Eleven has her Eggo’s, and that scene where they dress El up in a wig and dress, well that’s a throwback to when Elliott tries to pass E.T. off as a human with a similar outfit. Who wore it best? We’ll let you decide.
Speilberg’s classic obviously played a big part in the Duffer brothers’ childhood, and there’s sprinklings of that 80s magic throughout. I’m sure somewhere Stevie S. is sat on his couch with a bag of Butterkist pointing out all the nods to his work.
The Goonies (1985) dir. Richard Donner
Ahh, The Goonies, the film that realised all those childhood adventures we dreamt up in our young imaginations. The pack of kids at the heart of Stranger Things brings to mind those kooky Goonies, with a collective M.O. of fighting the bad guys and saving the day with slingshots and a determined faith in friendship. Similarly to the Goonies gang, the Duffer brothers have created characters with heaps of charm and charisma, providing these kids with some killer witty one-liners, especially Dustin, who might as well be the grandson of The Goonies’ Chunk.
From spit handshakes to falling out over a girl, this is what childhood friend groups are all about. Enjoy it whilst it lasts, kids: bills, rent and the crushing reality of adulthood is just around the corner.
Firestarter (1984) dir. Mark L. Lester
Based on the Stephen King novel, Firestarter centres around Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore – you’ve made the list twice, Drew, congrats) a young girl who shares a strikingly similar upbringing to Eleven: both have telekinetic powers and both have daddy issue thanks to father figures who encourage them far too much.
Bad guys wearing hazmat suits? Check. Made to wear brain wave monitors so everyone can see how they’re progressing? Check. Starting fires with their minds? Check.
The Shining (1980) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Nobody does paranoid psychopath quite like Jack Nicholson, and in Kubrick’s The Shining, he’s on top form. Built loosely around the Stephen King story, we see Jack (Nicholson), his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) taking on caretaker duties at The Overlook Hotel. Seemingly alone, they are in fact sharing the residence with the hotel’s ghostly memories, including a previous caretaker who killed himself after chopping up his wife and children.
Featuring iconic scenes such as the blood-filled elevator and those creepy identical twins, it’s the subtle details that make this film so great (for Kubrick, OCD came in handy), ever noticed how the typewriter very gradually becomes darker as Jack loses his mind? These intricate elements are what amps up the fear factor, and like in Stranger Things, it gradually builds a paranoia that envelops both the characters and the viewer. Plus, the scene when Winona Ryder’s character plunges an axe through the wall of her house, that’s a real “Here’s Johnny” moment.
Alien (1979) dir. Ridley Scott
Well, we don’t want to give too much away here, so let’s keep this one brief. When Alien first came out it captivated cinema goers with it’s creepy, jump-out-of-your-skin thrills and chilling extraterrestrial creatures. Stranger Things takes elements of Ridley Scott’s classic and gives it a fresh twist.
All those flashlights and protective hazard suits characters wear when going into the ‘upside-down’ world, so Alien. Then there’s the monster that HR Giger would be proud of, and the sticky residue it leaves in its wake, you didn’t think that was a reference to Get Your Own Back, did you?
In space no one can hear you scream, but in the ‘upside-down’ world, one girl can.
The Evil Dead (1981) dir. Sam Raimi
The Evil Dead chewed up the horror rulebook and vom’d it out, leaving 80s cinema audiences screaming (if they hadn’t already fainted), and you can bet your savings that Matt and Ross Duffer were sat at the back loving every gory moment of it. Created with a super low-budget, this supernatural horror set in a cabin in the woods warned us that countryside retreats aren’t always champagne and log fires, sometimes what should be a fun get-away becomes a full blown death spree – just warning you. And that realistically grim feel to the film? Yeah, that’s because the actors worked through freezing nights in the woods and slept on rock-hard floors during production.
With Evil Dead‘s iconic posters plastered across character’s bedrooms, and foggy woods a-plenty, Stranger Things gives a big thumbs up to the horror classic. Containing (or not, as the case may be) plenty of demonic possession to fill your boots. Or underwear. Expect flesh-possessing demons released from audiotape, and serious gore, making for a blood-soaked experience that’ll leave your eyes popping and your limbs chopping.
For all Twin Peaks aficionados, watching Stranger Things is like a bit wallop of deja vu. After all, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult TV show set the gold standard for that small town mystery narrative.
Like Stranger Things, Lynch’s story revolves around a missing child, Laura Palmer, but it quickly spins wildly out of control. With bizarre characters such as Log Lady and Bob leading the way, viewers are drawn into a world where all is not what it seems (especially those owls). However, we’re going to keep descriptions to a minimum with this one to avoid any sniff of a spoiler. And with the show set to return in 2017 after 25 years off-air, this is the perfect time to pour yourself a fresh helping of some damn good coffee and enter the world of Twin Peaks.
P.S. Twin Peaks‘ Sheriff Harry S. Truman and Stranger Things‘ Sheriff Hopper would make a pretty mega good cop, bad cop double team, right?
The Fly (1986) dir. David Cronenburg
A reboot by David Cronenburg of the 1958 original, this revisit certainly stole the leading spot and screams 80s. A perfect mix of bittersweet humour and tragic romance with a brilliantly geeky sci-fi centre, there’s little sprinkles of The Fly’s nerdy science narrative throughout Stranger Things, and loveable science teacher Mr Clarke is quite clearly a mad-scientist trapped in a sleeveless jumper and tie combo.
The plot? Well, eccentric scientist seth brundle (Jeff Goldblum) officially manages to frankenstein himself after a fly gets stuck in the mix of an experiment, becoming the perfect recipe for a human-fly hybrid and providing one of the best Halloween costume inspiration ideas going.
“Be afraid, be very afraid.”
Blue Velvet (1986) dir. David Lynch
Another Lynch reference for you, and again it’s that small town mystery theme. Blue Velvet all kicks off when college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) takes a shortcut home through a field and stumbles across a severed human ear. The ear leads to a drug ring, a kidnapped father and child, and a sadomasochistic relationship between nightclub singer Isabella Rossellini and monstrous local crime boss Frank Booth, brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper (after watching, listening to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams will never be the same again).
Upon first finding the hacked off body part, Lynch’s camera dives deep into the ear, taking us through the rabbit hole and into this vivid, bizarre and utterly captivating world – it’s David Lynch, what did you expect?
Pretty in Pink, 1986 dir. John Hughes
High schools are the epicentre of 80s teen flicks – you don’t have to be John Hughes to know that – and the Stranger Things teenagers could quite easily be enrolled in Pretty in Pink’s uber-80s school of nostalgia.
Take Steve Harrington, for example. Rich kid, smooth talker, and a head full of mousse. And then there’s the wardrobe, varsity jackets, Mom jeans, converse and denim jackets. We dig.